“That was the wrong decision and we are in the process of removing two stretches of that guardrail now.”
— Rian Windsheimer, ODOT Region 1 director
We’re happy to report that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is removing guardrails they installed late last month on the Historic Columbia River Highway near Troutdale.
On June 24th, ODOT installed three sections of guardrails on the west side of the highway along the Sandy River. They were noticed by a BikePortland Forum user who expressed concerns that the placement of the guardrails on the paved shoulder reduced valuable cycling space and created a safety hazard on a relatively narrow, high-speed road. This highway is part of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and it’s a crucial cycling route for thousands of people each year.
In an email today ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer reiterated comments made by his spokesperson last week, that the rails were necessary to address illegal parking and camping in the unpaved turnouts adjacent to the road. But Windsheimer also admitted that a mistake was made by placing them too far into the paved shoulder.
Here’s more from Windsheimer via an email he sent to BikePortland this afternoon (emphasis mine):
“ODOT installed guardrail along the Historic Columbia River Highway and the Sandy River to address safety and health hazards, including addressing illegal camping activity that often blocked the shoulder and was damaging the environment along the river. We intended to install the guardrail and preserve the shoulder area for cyclists. Unfortunately, during the course of construction we located a buried gas line and the decision was made in the field to construct the guardrail closer to the roadway to avoid hitting the gas line. That was the wrong decision and we are in the process of removing two stretches of that guardrail now.“
“The guardrail as previously installed made the roadway less safe for cyclists using this stretch of the Historic Highway, which was not our intent.”
— Rian Windsheimer, ODOT
One part of Windsheimer’s remarks do not line up with what Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton told us last week. “We certainly understand how this effort reduces space available for bikers and other users,” Hamilton said. He also claimed that because the guardrails prevent illegal camping they actually make the road safer for bike riders.
Today Director Windsheimer clarified ODOT’s stance on the issue by saying, “The guardrail as previously installed made the roadway less safe for cyclists using this stretch of the Historic Highway, which was not our intent.”
Adding to outcry over these railings was that fact ODOT did not consult anyone prior to putting them in. ODOT said that’s because it was considered just a maintenance project so the decision was made by crews in the field.
Jeanette Kloos, head of Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway told us via email today they were not notified about the project and would have preferred a different solution. And Chair of ODOT’s Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee Arthur Babitz also said he wasn’t aware of the railings. Babitz was concerned they jeopardized bike safety and might have even been out of compliance with state historic preservation rules. “I will be encouraging ODOT to use the HCRH Advisory Committee to vet issues like this in the future,” he shared via email.
Whatever solution for the illegal parking and camping they come up with, we’re glad to know it will be one that doesn’t sacrifice the safety of highway users.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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