The agencies have teamed up to make improvements to Highway 213 and South Union Mills Road in an effort to reduce traffic crashes

The Union Mills Road and Highway 213 intersection is infamous for traffic crashes. Perhaps not any more.

Clackamas County and Oregon Department of Transportation are teaming up on a safety improvement project to help reduce the number of crashes at the intersection, with ODOT taking the lead.

In a recent audit of Highway 213 and the intersection at South Union Mills Road, the county and ODOT identified 11 crashes that occurred at the intersection between 2010 and 2014, with one life-threatening injury, according to Joel Howie of Clackamas County Department of Transportation, who spoke at a recent public open house.

The audit revealed that the majority of crashes at the intersection involved drivers making left turns, both from Highway 213 and from Union Mills, and then colliding with traffic. This was primarily due to low visibility and unsafe driving speeds.

"Behaviors that led to these crashes: drivers had a tough time judging gaps between vehicles, drivers driving too fast for the conditions, drivers following too closely and drivers failing to yield the right of way," Howie said.

The contributing road conditions include that there is just one lane for traffic in either direction on Union Mills, causing traffic to back up there at different times of the day, and the Highway 213 hill at this location reduces driver visibility.

In response to the audit and as a part of the agencies' safety action plans, the county and ODOT have begun work on the Oregon Highway 213 Safety Improvements Project at South Union Mills Road. In total, the cost of the project is $1.93 million. Both the county and ODOT were awarded funding for the safety improvements. The work is scheduled to continue through fall 2018.

The project includes the following improvements:

  • leveling out the crest of the hill on Highway 213 by raising the grade to improve driver visibility of oncoming traffic and turning cars
  • adding a right-turn lane and shoulder on Union Mills Road to separate left and right turn movements
  • adding a two-stage turn for westbound traffic from Union Mills that allows cars to move into a turning lane on the highway before merging with traffic
  • paving a section of the highway and Union Mills Road
  • installing new traffic signs, such as "Stop Sign Ahead" and "S. Union Mills Ahead"
  • constructing mountable curbs along properties at the intersection to divert stormwater
  • ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - Clackamas County and ODOT have teamed up on the Oregon Highway 213 Safety Improvements Project at South Union Mills Road in effort to reduce crashes at the intersection.

    Noticeably missing from the project plans is a traffic signal. This is because the location does not meet the criteria for installing a signal, and in addition, Howie pointed out that in rural areas, traffic signals don't necessarily reduce crashes.

    "An example of crashes where a signal was installed and highway crashes resulted—Oregon 213 at Leland Road," Howie said. "Six years prior to the signal being installed, there were 29 crashes and 10 property damage incidents. The six years after the signal was installed, there was a 20 percent increases in crashes…and there were 22 property damage incidents."

    While the construction project is expected to improve safety at the intersection, of course it will come with unwanted side effects, like noise and traffic delays due to lane closures.

    According to materials distributed at the open house, noise levels are expected to stay within a "moderately loud" range comparable to a busy, large business office or up to the level of a gas powered lawn mower at a distance of three feet. For after-hours noise complaints, residents can call the 24-hour noise hotline at 503-412-2322.

    On the highway, lanes may be closed during these times: Sunday through Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to the following morning at 6 a.m., Fridays from 8 p.m. to Saturdays 9 a.m. and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to Sundays at 10 a.m.

    On South Union Mills Road, there may be both daytime and nighttime lane closures, and there will be a 48-hour closure of the road during Clackamas County's paving.

    The scheduled completion date is November 2018, but is subject to change due to weather and site conditions.

    Kristen Wohlers
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