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New Safety Features Along I-84 Improves Wintertime Travel

LA GRANDE, OR — Two major Interstate 84 safety improvement projects that will benefit travelers during eastern Oregon winters have been completed. One includes improvements through the Blue Mountains between Pendleton and La Grande. The other improves travel through Ladd Canyon, about six miles east of La Grande. These areas represent the highest number of crashes and freeway closures along I-84 in Oregon.
Snow Zone Safety
Between Pendleton and La Grande is the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) I-84 Snow Zone Safety Improvements Project, which has added nearly two dozen new highway cameras and over a dozen new message signs in the mountain pass area. The project also included new road and weather sensors, dozens of lights along Cabbage Hill near Pendleton, new flashing curve warning signs near La Grande, freeway ramp gates, and more. Construction for the $15-million project began in 2019.

During project development ODOT conducted a corridor-wide study on eastern Oregon’s Interstate system to identify key contributing factors to crashes and freeway closures. The project team met with local law enforcement, emergency service providers, community representatives, the trucking industry, and others to identify measures that would help improve conditions for all travelers. A primary recommendation was to provide better real-time information to warn drivers of conditions on the road, such as ice, snow, fog, slow traffic, or a wreck ahead. The new freeway reader boards, along with the weather sensors and cameras are providing that information.

By checking the cameras on TripCheck.com before heading out, motorists get a clearer picture of conditions that help them make informed travel plans. Once on the road the digital reader boards take information directly from the various road and weather sensors and use that data to display warnings and recommend speeds.

Ladd Canyon Improvements
The Ladd Canyon Freight and Culvert Improvement Project will make a difference for winter travelers. Ladd Canyon is notorious for truck crashes and closures due to the steep incline with a sharp curve and icy bridge at the bottom of the hill. Eastbound trucks heading up the hill often spin out or crash, blocking the two-lane freeway for hours. The limited space also hampers access for emergency responders and tow trucks.

Because Ladd and Brush Creek shared the narrow canyon with the interstate, there were no easy solutions to a multitude of challenges that included: restoring fish passage in the creeks to pre-freeway conditions, reducing bridge icing, and adding the extra eastbound uphill lane so traffic can get around slow moving or disabled trucks.

This project is the final piece in a major program that first required realigning Ladd and Brush creeks that flow adjacent to the freeway between Exit 270 and 273. Creek modifications in the 1950s to accommodate construction of the freeway prevented fish from migrating upstream. Major upgrades to Ladd Creek in 2015 and Brush Creek in 2019 have restored access to over 14 miles of fish habitat that have been blocked for over half a century.

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Along with resolving waterway issues, the project replaced the I-84 bridge at Exit 270 with a large culvert to help reduce ice from forming on the freeway, one of the contributing factors to crashes and closures.

Travelers are already noticing less ice where the old bridge was, due to the insulating layer of earth between the top of the culvert and the road surface. Replacing the bridge was also needed to widen the roadbed for the extra eastbound climbing lane.

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