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OPINION: We need the Oregon Department of Transportation to bring forward a new plan that provides real fixes at Stone Road and Highway 26, the site of too many crashes resulting in injuries and deaths.

A conversation has been underway for more than six years regarding safety improvements to the intersection of Stone Road and Highway 26, east of Gresham. Actually that conversation almost certainly has been ongoing for far longer.

The Oregon Department of Transportation unveiled its proposed revisions for that intersection during an open house in January 2013. But with little forward progress since that time, this intersection continues to impose its toll on human lives.

Most recently, a motorcyclist was killed after his bike collided with an SUV on Thursday, March 14. The SUV was southbound on Stone Road and making a left turn onto eastbound Highway 26. The motorcyclist was westbound on Highway 26.

Then, on Sunday morning, March 24, another crash happened at this intersection. Damaged vehicles were off the road, and at least a half dozen emergency vehicles where at the scene, when my wife and I drove past on our way into Gresham.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office reported a semi-truck was heading westbound on Highway 26 toward Gresham. A car was traveling southbound on Highway 26. The car turned left onto Stone Road into the path of the oncoming truck. Both drivers received medical attention for their injuries. The car's driver was cited for a dangerous left turn.

Because I live in Sandy and work in Gresham, I drive past this intersection twice a day Monday through Friday, and sometimes on weekends. It's my most feared intersection, and for good cause. It's where I've driven past the carnage of too many crashes to remember.

I find myself bracing for impact each time I approach this intersection when I see vehicles on Stone Road waiting for their narrow gap to cross or merge onto the highway. It's only gotten worse with time.

The Outlook/Sandy Post quoted an ODOT official in 2013 who forecast that traffic on this highway will only get worse as development takes place in the Springwater area of East Gresham.

Meanwhile, rampant population growth in Sandy is producing a daily tsunami of commuters. The combined sum of vehicles on that stretch of road exacerbates a situation that was already bad six years ago.

During that open house in 2013, an ODOT official rejected the idea of controlling the intersection with traffic lights, saying "we have a number of studies that we've done in Oregon as well as a number of national studies that show if you put a signal in a rural setting you will see crash rates go up. That's been demonstrated and proven time and time again."

ODOT also said it had no funding to build a full freeway interchange — an overpass with on-and-off ramps.

But ODOT did propose modifications that maybe warrant another look. The state agency wanted to place median curbs in the center of Highway 26 at its intersections with 267th Avenue and Stone Road. 

The median curb would prohibit left turns from 267th Avenue onto westbound Highway 26, and left turns Stone Road onto eastbound Highway 26. It also would prevent motorists on 267th Avenue and Stone Road from crossing Highway 26. 

Left turns from Highway 26 onto 267th Avenue and Stone Road would still be allowed, as would right turns from the local roads onto Highway 26. 

The ODOT proposal wasn't entirely popular with people who live in the Boring community. They complained about the inconveniences of losing the ability to make left turns from 267th or from Stone Road. But If nothing else were to change, those alterations would be a good starting point.

ODOT should schedule another round of open houses, with a fresh plan in mind to address motorist safety at this deadly intersection.

Hopefully enough people have been hurt or died at this intersection, so that people might be less concerned with their personal inconveniences and be more willing to consider the bigger picture.

In the meantime, there is no substitute for defensive driving. If motorists would simply slow down and watch out for others, the number of crashes at this intersection could be reduced or eliminated without making one change. But the realist says that's not gonna happen.

That's why we need ODOT's help to bring forward a plan that provides real fixes at Stone Road and Highway 26.

Urgency is paramount: The injuries and loss of life at this intersection can't be allowed to continue.


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