Wickiup Junction funds used for U.S. 97 safety improvements

Railroad tracks lead to the Wickiup Junction overpass in La Pine in this October 2017 file photo. 

State transportation officials hope to have alternative designs this spring to improve safety where Rosland and Burgess roads intersect at U.S. Highway 97, not far from the failed Wickiup Junction overpass.

The original solution for the area , the overpass, would have allowed Highway 97 traffic to travel over the BNSF Railway , but was scrapped in 2017. Officials discovered the overpass was being built on rapidly settling soil at the site. The soil was weakened by ancient microscopic creatures called diatoms. The department started dismantling the overpass in 2018.

ODOT officials want community feedback on what the public feels would make the area safer before engineers craft solutions.

“Let’s hear what people have to say first and then make some decisions,” said Peter Murphy, a spokesman for the department of transportation.

According to a recently completed traffic study, the area where the highway meets the railroad saw six car crashes involving serious injuries since 2013. Four crashes that were deemed possibly railroad-related also occurred in this time.

Two intersections — one at Huntington Road and Burgess Road, which sits west of the highway, and another at Highway 97 and Reed Road — exceed the state’s 90th percentile crash rate. The intersection at Highway 97 and Rosland Road exceeds the state’s critical crash rate, with all 10 accidents that occurred between 2013 and 2017 happening while a driver was turning either right or left to go east, according to the study.

Part of the issue is that there are fewer and fewer gaps between cars on the highway, Murphy said. And with population estimates showing that La Pine could nearly double from 1,833 people to 3,386 people by 2040, finding solutions for these intersections is even more critical.

“When you have smaller gaps … it increases the opportunity for collisions,” Murphy said. “That is one of the driving factors.”

Last week, the department of transportation held a community open house to start educating the public about the traffic realities of the area. The goal is to have a workshop in the spring, where potential solutions will be presented. Then, a refinement plan will be developed and presented both to the city of La Pine and Deschutes County and reviewed sometime in the fall.

“You have to start somewhere, and that’s where we’re at,” Murphy said.

Reporter: 541-633-2160,

bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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