ODOT in hot seat for dangerous Highway 101 repaving job

ODOT in hot seat for dangerous Highway 101 repaving job

ODOT failed to extend a new layer of pavement
into the bicycle riding area of a long
stretch of Highway 101.
(Photo: Jeff Smith)

A recent repaving job by the Oregon Department of Transportation on the popular Oregon Coast Bike Route on Highway 101 between Yachats and Florence has raised eyebrows among veteran bike tourers, transportation department staffers, and national bicycle advocacy organizations.

It all started with an email sent yesterday from Jeff Smith, a veteran Portland Bureau of Transportation employee and a bike touring enthusiast, to ODOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Sheila Lyons. Smith — who sent the message from his personal email account and not as a PBOT employee — included a photo and a detailed description of what he called an “extremely annoying at best and dangerous at worst” section of repaving.

According to Smith, a 25-mile section of the popular Oregon Coast Bike Route from Yachats south to Florence has been re-constructed with a new layer of pavement that abruptly ends just a few feet past the fog line. Here’s more from Smith’s email:

“This represents a condition that, I’m very sorry to say, was the rule rather than the exception. Where there was a 3′ to 4′ shoulder the new paving went to about 1.5′ to 2′ over the fog line, leaving an edge that was very inconveniently in the middle of the shoulder. To make matters worse the edge between the new and old asphalt often appeared to be abrupt enough that I didn’t want to ride over it, or anywhere near it. Again, this was not an isolated occurrence; it went on intermittently for many miles.”

Here’s a larger photo:

(Photo: Jeff Smith)

This is a huge issue because the Oregon Coast Bike Route is one of the premier bicycle touring destinations in the world. Last month the Adventure Cycling Association reported on a new bike-friendly camping area at the Port of Siuslaw campground in Florence. According to ACA, 5,000 people ride bicycles through Florence each year.

Smith’s email went on to express his extreme dismay that ODOT crews would so blatantly disregard bicycle safety during this project. “I am gobsmacked by how unutterably inept this paving work is on the part of ODoT,” he wrote, “This is not a low traffic, low cyclist use roadway. This is the Oregon Coast Highway; it has heavy summer traffic, and many people come from all around the U.S. and the world to bicycle along it. Travel Oregon promotes it a premier cycling destination. The Oregon State Parks are some of the finest anywhere, with excellent hiker/biker campsites. The magical reputation of bicycling the Oregon Coast Highway precedes it, but after experiencing this I wonder how many riders come away with the feeling that it’s been completely over-hyped and under-served.”

With decades of experience in the transportation field, Smith’s email went out to some key movers-and-shakers across the state, including ODOT personnel, and the response was almost immediate.

Ken Dennis, the Chairman of the Newport and Lincoln County Bicycle and Pedestrian Committees and President of the Yaquina Wheels Bike Club said what ODOT did with this paving project, “could almost be construed as illegal because it’s taken something away from an existing roadway and has indeed made it a very unsafe place to ride a bicycle.” “Imagine, if you will,” Dennis continued in a “reply all” email, “a bicycle tourist with a fully loaded bike having to negotiate this shoulder. I think it puts them in a perilous position that could easily cause a loss of control that could send them into approaching traffic.”

Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, was also cc’d on Smith’s email. He responded by writing, “Let me know if there is anything we need to be doing from a national level…this is a major [inter]national resource after all.”

A spokesperson from the Adventure Cycling Association also responded by saying she’d loop in the organization’s Travel Initiatives Director Ginny Sullivan.

Eight hours after Smith’s email was sent, ODOT’s Northwest Region Manager Sonny Chickering responded. “I want to thank you for bringing this paving issue to my attention so that it can be reviewed, discussed and addressed.” Chickering said he’s scheduled a conference call for today to discuss the issue with his district managers and said we can expect an update from ODOT about how they intend to address the situation by the middle of next week, “with further updates as warranted until the issue is resolved.”

We’re glad to see quick attention to this issue from ODOT — especially since hundreds of people will be riding on it in a few weeks as part of the Amgen People’s Coast Classic Ride. In a larger context, we’ve had the poor cycling conditions on the Coast Route on our radar for many years. For being such an important and famous road for bicycle touring, it’s shocking how many safety issues exist on it. This repaving work also comes from an agency that has attempted to paint itself as much more sensitive to biking and walking in recent years.

I was already planning to do the People’s Coast Classic Ride next month and I look forward to taking a first-hand look at these issues. Stay tuned.

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Read our latest update to this story posted Monday August 26th.

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