Central Oregon residents are a bunch of drunks, it seems, especially those of us who live in Bend. And our local culture is to blame.

For shame, breweries!

Such is the message contained in the 2019 edition of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s highway safety plan, which was produced in May.

The plan, which serves primarily as an application for federal grants, will be discussed by the Oregon Transportation Commission on Thursday. OTC Chair Tammy Baney, who also happens to be a Deschutes County commissioner, should ask whether temperance zealot Carrie Nation served, literally, as a ghost writer.

The plan discusses a handful of safety-performance goals before looking more closely at challenges and progress in each of ODOT’s five regions. Most of this is pretty dry reading. For instance, problems in Region 1 — which covers Clackamas, Multnomah and Hood River counties — include crashes at intersections, vehicles leaving the road, excessive speed and, of course, impaired driving. The story is much the same elsewhere, and the plan generally avoids blaming the culture of any particular city or region for injuries and fatalities on the roads.

The glaring exception is Region 4, which includes Central Oregon. The following is listed among the region’s “problems”:

“Central Oregon is a major tourist destination, not just for its winter and summer recreational opportunities but also for its drinking culture. Bend, only metro area in the region, has the bragging rights for the most breweries per capita in the state and is actively marketed around the country for its ‘Ale Trail’ by the city’s Economic development organization. This culture of drinking, combined with the increased dangers of recreational driving, increases the dangers on the road.”

The plan doesn’t call out Southern Oregon for its longstanding reputation as a marijuana mecca. It doesn’t call out the winery-hopping culture of the state’s pinot noir region, which is even memorialized on the state’s “Wine Country” license plate. Yet ODOT characterizes Bend as a veritable Gomorrah of growlers.

Sure, Bend has plenty of breweries and marijuana dispensaries, and the Ale Trail is a nice marketing gimmick. On what evidence, though, does ODOT base its safety-related criticism? Not much. According to the most recent data contained in the report, for 2016, neither Bend nor Deschutes County stands out from the crowd when it comes to alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Survey results contained in the report also support District 4’s ho-hum status. For example, respondents in Region 3 (southwest Oregon) were the most likely to admit to driving within two hours of drinking. And those in Region 1 (the Portland area) were the most likely to admit to driving impaired during the previous two months.

But, hey, Ale Trail.

Those of us who live in Central Oregon might be insulted if we weren’t enjoying the sunshine in the great outdoors. Oh, and beer. Besides, how biting can gratuitous cultural criticism be from an agency whose most significant local project in recent years is sinking under its own weight in La Pine?

Overpass Pale Ale, anyone?

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