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Walkway will improve safety along Highway 26 in Warm Springs; hillside cut back as well

 - ODOT constructions crews shave off the steep portion of a hillside next to Highway 26 going through Warm Springs to prevent boulders and sloughing debris from falling on the roadway.

People may notice the walkway most after a seven-month, $7 million Oregon Department of Transportation project where Highway 26 passes through the Warm Springs Reservation.

"There's a lot of pedestrians coming from the tribal community," says ODOT Project Coordinator Ron Snell, "and so we're making a path to give them access to the casino and the museum and go back and forth to the store and the restaurant."

Randy Nathan welcomes the path. "It's pretty scary having people walking back and forth there," says Nathan, who owns the Eagle Crossing Restaurant. "I almost ran over somebody by the old mill because he was laying down next to the highway."

"I've seen some crazy things," says Robinique Hatlestad, who works at Eagle Crossing. "I've seen people along the road needing help. It's a white line that blocks walkers from the traffic."

The path will run between the Museum at Warm Spring to the Shell station at the Kah-Nee-Ta junction. Shana Johnson owns the Shell station. "I'm glad they're putting it in because I would hate to see someone hit," says Johnson. "It would probably be a local. A lot of people walk there at night. I'm surprised no one has got hit."

"We'll install safety flashing beacons across the highway for pedestrians to go back and forth," says Snell, "for example between the museum and the casino."

"What we see today is the culmination of a long history of working with our partners, the tribes, to get us to where we are today," says Peter Murphy, ODOT public information officer. Murphy says planners have been working on this project for about five years.

"I think it's going to be good when it's all done," says Jeffrey Carstensen, Indian Head Casino CEO, "with a few growing pains until it's through."

Between March 1 when the project began and when Snell optimistically expects the project to end in September, traffic will intermittently narrow to one lane. Flaggers and pilot cars will direct cars.

It will take crews 20 days to pave the eight miles from mile post 111 and the top of the hill east of the reservation to the Kah-Nee-Ta junction on the east. Snell expects crews to pave the highway at night when traffic volumes are lower.

 - Randy Nathan owns the Eagle Crossing Restaurant on the Warm Springs Reservation. Robinique Hatlestad works there. They both say a new walkway will improve safety for many who live on the reservation.The most visible work this spring involves earthmovers shearing back the 170-foot hill just west of the Eagle Crossing Restaurant.

"That cut will be a huge safety factor in the highway," says Snell, "with all the boulders and sloughing over the years which can cause a problem over time."

Snell says the hillside hasn't been a problem yet. ODOT is addressing the hillside before it becomes a problem. A wall of shipping containers protects the road from falling material while crews shave away the steeper portions of the slope.

Tribal members make up part of the workforce on this project through the Tribal Employment Rights Office program. "The contractor hires local people through the TERO organization," says Snell. "So, we're having tribal people that are trained from TERO working on the project."

"It may be our highway on the surface," says Murphy. "But it runs over and through the reservation, so we acknowledge the tribe has a major role in helping us design what's going on."

 - A walkway between the Kah-Nee-Ta junction and the Museum at Warm Springs will be a main feature of the ODOT project where Highway 26 passes through the reservation.

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