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Jefferson County Commissioners voted two to one for closing Bear Drive and Eureka Lane

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Jefferson County Commissioners have approved the Oregon Department of Transportation plan to close Bear Drive and Eureka Lane at Highway 97 by the end of September. The east stem of Bear Drive will remain open until ODOT upgrades Ford and Falcon Lanes to accomodate the increase in traffic.

After six months of emotional input from both sides of the issue, Jefferson County Commissioners voted to close Bear Drive and Eureka Lane where they intersect with Highway 97.

"Hopefully, this makes some safety improvements, and we see less tragedy," said Commissioner Wayne Fording.

That stretch of Highway 97 has an unusually high number of serious accidents, including five fatalities in the past five years.

The Oregon Department of Transportation recommended closing Bear Drive and Eureka Lane to reduce the number of conflict points in that area.

Wednesday morning, Aug. 4, Commissioners Wayne Fording and Kelly Simmelink voted to support the ODOT recommendation. Commissioner Mae Huston voted against it.

"I was very aware of concerns expressed by farmers and ranchers for access," said Huston. Farmers and ranchers frequently drive large trucks and farm equipment on Bear Drive to access areas east of Highway 97. "They thought there might be other less disruptive and permanent measures that could have been tried first," said Huston.

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Closing Bear Drive calls for improvements at Ford and Falcon Lanes. ODOT will move the ultility poles and widen the pavement to improve the turning radius for the large trucks a d farm machinery that currently use Bear Drive for access east of Highway 97.

The agreement with ODOT includes improvements on Ford Lane and Falcon Lane to handle the additional eastbound traffic diverted from Bear Drive.

The county will work with ODOT to remove utility poles and other barriers and widen the pavement to create a better turning radius, especially for large trucks.

The east stem of Bear Drive will remain open until those upgrades are made.

"This is probably one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make in this seat," said Simmelink, who said safety dollars weighed heavily in his decision. "If Jefferson County doesn't use that $2 million, it will go somewhere else."

In addition to changes at Ford Lane and Falcon Lane, ODOT will spend safety money to expand the intersection and add left turn lanes at Dover Lane.

The county and ODOT still need to work out specifics such as along what point they will close Bear and Eureka, what kind of barriers they will use, and signage details. They expect to have the closures in place by the end of September.

Officially, the closures are temporary until the fixes are complete on Dover Lane, at which time the closures will be permanent.

ODOT doesn't expect to begin construction on Dover Lane until 2023 at the earliest.

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