Highway 199 that connects Highway 101 just outside Crescent City east into Oregon has become one of the deadliest corridors in Oregon, according to new details released this week by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
The details reveal a disturbing account of four traffic fatalities since June 1 on the highway itself and five fatal crashes off the highway along adjacent county roadways. The Highway 199 fatal crash rate has been as high as eight in 2016 and as low as two in 2014.
“We have struggled with this corridor for many years,” ODOT Public Information Officer Gary Leaming said. “This is not a new problem with this highway, but we seem to have run into a breaking point this summer.”
Highway 199, the Redwood Highway is a rural arterial highway that runs from I-5 in Grants Pass to Crescent City, California. Nearly 42 miles of the 80-mile highway are in Oregon. ODOT considers the route a critical link used by tourists and commuters and acts as a main street for many residents living on and off the highway.
The ODOT report lists several causes for the traffic crashes from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2018 along the Redwood Highway, which include driving too fast for conditions, following too close, and other driver error. Road characteristics in the crashes include straight or horizontal curve. The times of the crashes include all days, with Monday being the worst; crashes increase through the afternoon into the evening May through the end of the year, with July being the worst time.
The report finds drivers of all ages are involved with 20-29 year olds the highest age group. The injury severity is seen in crashes throughout the corridor with the worst between Kerby and Cave Junction.
“One of the things we are struggling with is the personal responsibility dealing with the conditions not being drunk drugged or impaired,” Leaming said. “Many of the crashes have one or the other of these elements.”
Because of the increasing fatality rate along Highway 199, ODOT has launched a new public awareness campaign, partnering with city and county groups and law enforcement agencies along the corridor. The effort includes portable electronic reader boards stationed along the route that caution drivers to slow down and a media and public outreach campaign.
ODOT has also launched systemic safety improvements, including rumble strips at the Applegate River Bridge and at Cave Junction. The rumble strips are designed to alert drivers if they are veering off the roadway. A US Highway 199 Stakeholder Working Group also has been established to seek long-term solutions, which might include development of a safety corridor along portions of the highway.
Also planned are Clear zones, removing roadside obstacles, adding guardrails and protection barriers and improving the side slope of the roadway to make it more recoverable in the event a vehicle runs off the road. That project will be funded at $435,885. A pedestrian bridge also is planned over Holton Creek in Kerby.
Leaming said over the past several years other safety improvements have been made.
“From milepost 7 to 28, along about 21 miles of the highway, we have added brand new pavement, recessed pavement markers, and in all we have invested $33 million in the corridor.”
The ODOT report finds area law enforcement by state police and county sheriff’s coverage of the area is lacking due to staffing issues. It cites community members asking for more public outreach on safety messages in the corridor and financial help for young drivers to take driver education.
“ODOT is committed to working with local and state partners - both short and long-term - to do what we can to help with the safety challenges along the Redwood Highway,” the report states. “We are committed to a corridor planning study to reveal long-term possible safety improvements.”
But the ODOT report also states, such a comprehensive effort is not expected until mid-2020, due to scope development, as well as formation of a local stakeholder committee to review the corridor study.
Follow this developing story in the print editions of the Curry Coastal Pilot and here online.