You may not know it, but you’re almost certainly grateful for Millican Road. Because Millican Road is there, traffic on U.S. Highway 97 is not the mess it could be.
The road is a 19-mile link between U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway 126 west of Prineville. According to the Central Oregonian newspaper, it began life in the 1980s, when, piecemeal, Crook County began paving the road in 2-mile stretches to provide access to the Prineville Reservoir.
The job was nothing fancy, and it does not meet the requirements of the loads the road is being asked to handle now.
Then in 2002, the road got a big boost when President George W. Bush signed federal legislation that allowed Crook County to realign the road, abandoning part of the Old Millican Road and assuming responsibility for part of West Butte Road in its place.
Meanwhile, in 2004 Crook and Deschutes counties combined efforts to extend the road 14 miles to Highway 20.
There were good reasons for doing so. Les Schwab Tire Centers was looking for a more direct route, lightly populated, for its trucks from Prineville, and both counties hoped that the new road would ease traffic on U.S. Highway 97.
The road has lived up to its promise. Today, as many as 100 so-called super loads are hauled on the road each year. They can be as big as 23 feet wide, 17 feet tall and 223 feet long. Loaded, they weigh upward of 500,000 pounds. Because of Millican Road, the trucks have another way to avoid passing through Bend or Redmond on U.S. Highway 97. The loads can be literally, traffic stoppers.
But the older section of the road is now in such bad condition that the road might essentially have to be closed to big trucks.
And that’s why the Oregon Department of Transportation, the counties and anyone else with influence over the matter, must examine if they can afford to have the old portion of Millican Road decline.