Highway 18 due facelift at Christensen Road
Adamson has been a longtime proponent of safety improvements on Highway 18, a heavily traveled route to the Spirit Mountain Casino and Central Oregon Coast. He has been active for many years on the Mid-Willamette Valley Area Commission on Transportation.
“Highway 18 from McMinnville to the casino has been much improved,” Adamson said. But he said important work remains, including “lifesaving” work on the Christensen Road intersection.
MWACT is a collection of public and elected officials charged with advising ODOT on projects in Region 2, which covers Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Yamhill and Western Washington counties. The region encompasses 5,100 lane miles of state highway — one quarter of the state total — along with 868 bridges, five tunnels and two high-elevation Cascade Range passes.
Over the years, Adamson often teamed with the late Mike Propes, a longtime Polk County commissioner, and Leslie Lewis, who served three four-year terms as a Yamhill County commissioner, to champion local improvements through MWACT. Their accomplishments include the installation of rumble strips down the center and along the shoulders of Highway 18 to warn drivers who begin to drift off.
“You used to always hear, ‘Speed kills, speed kills,’” Adamson said. “In that area, it was more about inattentive driving and falling asleep at the wheel.”
The three also fought to eliminate a passing lane between Wallace Bridge and Fort Hill, because it had become a serious problem spot.
Adamson began to examine the highway’s Christensen Road intersection in the wake of a December 2008 crash that claimed the life of 40-year-old McMinnville family man Miguel Martinez.
Martinez was driving a 1988 Chevrolet 4300 motor home that had been converted into a mobile restaurant. He was making an early-morning delivery for the operator, Rigo’s Mexican Food.
As Martinez began a left turn onto Christensen Road, he was struck from behind by a 2001 Mack tractor-trailer rig operated by Devin Lewis of Gresham.
Lewis was driving for the Walsh Trucking Co. Walsh operates a terminal in Willamina, but the tractor-trailer rig was operating out of a company headquarters in Troutdale.
The tractor portion missed the mobile restaurant, but the trailer swung into it, knocking it into the eastbound lane. It was struck there by a 1998 Kenworth log truck coming the other way. A memorial now marks the spot.
“That should not have happened,” Adamson said. “He was not doing anything wrong at the time.”
Lewis was charged with criminally negligent homicide, a Class B felony. After he waived his right to a jury trial, Yamhill County Circuit Judge John Collins found him guilty and sentenced him to 150 days in jail and 36 months on probation.
But that didn’t satisfy Adamson. He felt safety issues needed addressing as well.
“There are near-misses there daily,” he complained. “Look at the skid marks.”
ODOT has designated Alan Fox as project leader and given him a budget of almost $1.2 million. Its plan calls for addition of a left-turn lane for westbound traffic and widening of a very acute right-turn radius for eastbound traffic.
Fox said, “It’s not going to be major work. It will easily be done during a construction period.”
However, he said the project isn’t slated to go out to bid for another 18 months. And since the construction season extends only through October, the project may not get done until the spring of 2016.
“Engineering work has to be done,” Fox said. “Utilities have to be relocated, right-of-way has to be purchased and environmental permits have to be secured. We have to have environmental permits before we can use federal funds to buy the right-of-way.
“There are federal rules regarding time allowed for each stage of the right-of-way acquisition process in order to protect the property owner’s rights. We can’t start the entire process until we get the environmental permits.”
“I’d like to see it done tomorrow,” Adamson said. “The sooner, the better.”
In addition to a quicker solution, he’d like to see a more comprehensive solution. “The top dollar project would be to ‘T’ up Christensen to the highway.”
Fox acknowledged the fact that Christensen “does not intersect with Highway 18 at a right angle.”
He said he lives in Yamhill County himself and occasionally drives that route, so is familiar with it and sympathizes with the safety concerns.
“We would like to correct that,” he said, “but it isn’t going to happen because funding is limited. We’re not going to realign Christensen Road.”
Adamson is also concerned about one of two driveways leading into the Sheridan Dairy Queen from Highway 18.
The first provides safe access for eastbound motorists, he said, but if they proceed to the second one, they risk being rear-ended, colliding with a westbound vehicle trying to turn left onto the access road or running off into a roadside ditch. “There are three things that can happen,” he said, “and none of them is good.”
He said they are tempted to use the second one because it’s more direct. It doesn’t require them to drive around the building to reach the drive-through.
Adamson said he hasn’t spoken to the owners about the issue, but thinks its one that eventually needs addressing.