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Uriel Mejia of Culver testifies before Oregon Department of Transportation

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Uriel Mejia, 17, drives Highway 97 from his home in Culver to school in Bend five days a week. Concerned about the number of head-on fatal collisions on that highway, Mejia testified before the Oregon Transportation Commission urging more safety measures.

Uriel Mejia, 17, travels almost daily between Culver and Bend on U.S. Highway 97. He lives in Culver and goes to school in Bend. "It's incredibly dangerous for how heavily trafficked the roadway is." Mejia took his concerns to the Oregon Department of Transportation by testifying before the Oregon Transportation Commission Thursday, Nov. 17. Speaking for himself and other commuters, Mejia said, "We're putting our lives at risk. Highway 97 is one of the deadliest highways in Oregon, with fatal head-on collisions occurring on almost a monthly basis."

Mejia pointed out the majority of fatal accident, like the one that occurred north of Madras the night before he testified, involved vehicles crossing into oncoming lanes. On the stretch of highway between Madras and Redmond, only a dashed yellow line separates fast-moving cars headed in opposite directions. "With this being the case, any jerk of the wheel, icy patch or dozing off driver can cause a potentially fatal head-on collision in an instant," testified Mejia.

He encouraged the panel to consider safety improvements like barriers, center lanes or turning lanes.

Those on the panel thanked him for his testimony, agreed with his concerns about safety, and told him to expect some changes in the near future. "I'm happy to see they acknowledge the issue," said Mejia. "I definitely want to see more urgency." Mejia spent three years urging the Culver City Council to build a skate park in town. He recently won his battle when, at a September meeting, the council passed a resolution to buy property for a new skate park. In both cases, Mejia admits it took courage to speak to adults in power. His success with the skate park buoyed his confidence. He says he's committed to keeping the concerns of safety on Highway 97 in front of the people in charge ODOT.

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