U.S. Highway 199, which runs east into Oregon from U.S. Highway 101 just north of Crescent City, has become one of the deadliest corridors in Oregon, according to details released this week by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
The study shows a persistent four traffic fatalities since June 1 on the highway itself, plus five fatal crashes off the highway along adjacent county roadways.
The Highway 199 fatal crash rate has been as high as eight, in 2016, and as low as two, in 2014.
It doesn’t seem to be improving.
“We have struggled with this corridor for many years,” said ODOT public information officer Gary Leaming. “This is not a new problem with this highway, but we seem to have run into a breaking point this summer.”
Highway 199 - the Redwood Highway - is a rural arterial that runs from I-5 in Grants Pass south and west to Crescent City. Nearly 42 miles of the 80-mile highway are in Oregon.
ODOT considers the route a critical link for tourists and commuters, and it serves as a main street for numerous residents living along and off the highway.
The ODOT report lists several causes for traffic crashes in the years January 2009-January 2018, including driving too fast for conditions, following too close and other driver errors.
Road characteristics in those accidents range from straightaways to sharp curves. The times of the crashes include all days, with Monday being the worst. Crashes increase through the afternoon and into the evening.
The months of May through the end of the calendar year see the most crashes, with July being the worst.
The report shows drivers of all ages are involved, although 20- to 29-year-olds are the predominant risk category.
The most-sever accidents occur between Kerby and Cave Junction.
“One of the things we are struggling with is personal responsibility dealing with the conditions,” Leaming said, “not being drunk, drugged or impaired. Many of the crashes have one or another of these elements.”
Because of the ongoing, even increasing, fatality rate along Highway 199, ODOT has launched a new public-awareness campaign, partnering with city and county organizations and law-enforcement agencies along the corridor.
That effort includes portable electronic reader boards stationed along the route cautioning drivers to slow down, plus a media and public-outreach campaign.
ODOT also has launched systemic safety improvements, including rumble strips at the Applegate River Bridge and in Cave Junction. The rumble strips are designed to alert drivers if they are veering off of the roadway.
A “U.S. Highway 199 Stakeholder Working Group” has been established to seek long-term solutions, which might include development of a safety corridor along portions of the highway.
Also planned are removing roadside obstacles, adding guardrails and protection barriers, and improving the side slope of the roadway to make it more recoverable in the event a vehicle runs off the road. That project will be funded at $435,885.
A pedestrian bridge is planned over Holton Creek in Kerby.
Leaming said that over the past several years, other safety improvements have been made. “From mileposts 7 to 28, along about 21 miles of the highway, we have added brand-new pavement, recessed pavement markers, and in all we have invested $33 million in the corridor.”
ODOT’s report says Highway 199 law enforcement by state police and county sheriffs is sparse, stemming from staffing issues.
It also cites local residents asking for more public outreach on safety messages in the corridor, plus financial help for driver-education courses, especially for younger motorists.
“ODOT is committed to working with local and state partners - both short and long-term - to do what we can to help with the safety challenges along the Redwood Highway,” the report states. “We are committed to a corridor planning study to reveal long-term possible safety improvements.”
But the report adds that a comprehensive effort is not expected until mid-2020.