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East stem of Bear Drive remains open until crews improve intersections at Ford and Falcon lanes

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - A high number of severe and sometimes fatal accidents along this stretch of Highway 97 prompted the Oregon Department of Transportation to close Bear Drive and Eureka Lane at the highway. The closure process begins Sept. 20.

After months of impassioned debate, the Oregon Department of Transportation plans to begin the process of closing Bear Drive and Eureka Lane where they intersect with Highway 97 south of Madras.

Several serious accidents have occurred along that short stretch, involving five fatalities in the past five years.

Vehicles slowing to turn left onto Bear Drive catch other drivers unaware, causing rear-end accidents when drivers can't brake quickly enough and head-on collisions when drivers swerve to avoid hitting other cars.

ODOT recommended and Jefferson County Commissioners eventually agreed closing the intersections at Bear Drive and Eureka Lanes.

Residents near the intersection can expect a mailer from ODOT next week saying the closure will be completed by the end of the month.

ODOT will first install signs.

"We will also be using portable, changeable message signs on Highway 97 to highlight the closure and alternate routes," says Bob Townsend, ODOT area manager. "We will then remove the electric signs after a few weeks once everyone has time to adjust."

The initial closures will use concrete barriers with additional construction barricades to highlight the closures.

Crews will place the barricades immediately adjacent to the highway, approximately 40 feet from the fog lines.

People who use Bear Drive, particularly farmers, said closing the road cuts off an important route for their equipment.

The county's agreement with ODOT includes improvements at Ford and Falcon lanes, moving utility poles away from the intersection and adding pavement to give cars and trucks a wider turning radius.

"Moving the utility poles could take as long as six months," said Townsend. "That's longer than we would like. ODOT certainly doesn't want to be the hold-up on the closure since we have approval for the closure."

County commissioners insisted on the improvements at Ford and Falcon before closing the east stem of Bear Drive.

"It's not going to be safer if we're sending people down to Ford and Falcon without those improvements," said Commissioner Kelly Simmelink.

"We need to work on getting those poles moved as soon as possible," said Commissioner Wayne Fording.

ODOT plans to make sure mapping software like Google Maps reflect the changes.

"It will be our goal that within a week of the changes those systems will be updated," said Townsend.

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