ODOT’s dangerous paving work is widespread, goes against state guidelines

ODOT’s dangerous paving work is widespread, goes against state guidelines

Shoulder on Oregon Coast Route north of
Gold Beach after an ODOT repaving job.
(Photo: Sent in by reader)

As we reported on Friday, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has repaved many miles of state highways in a way that shows complete disregard for bicycling and creates unsafe conditions on some of Oregon’s premier bicycle touring routes. The situation occurs when a new layer of pavement is applied over an existing road. Instead of laying it down across the entire width of the road and shoulder, ODOT (and/or their contractors) are only going about 1-2 feet from the fog line. This is leaving a gravel mess in some cases, as well as what one commenter called a “death ledge” between the old and the new pavement that is placed smack dab in the middle of where people ride. This ledge could force people to ride even closer to the fog line, which puts them even closer to fast-moving cars and trucks on roads that already lack adequate bicycle safety treatments.

ODOT is currently looking into the issue and we expect a formal statement sometime this week.

However, since our story was published, we have heard that the paving problems are much more widespread that just on one section of the Oregon Coast Bicycle Route. In addition, by not applying the new pavement layer across the entire shoulder ODOT (and/or their contractors) may have skirted their own pavement design guidelines.

First, here are the other places we’ve heard about so far where ODOT is leaving a “death ledge” in the shoulder:

“This is a much broader problem than just Highway 101… Personally, I found biking on the “ridge” frustrating and, at times, dangerous.”
— Ginny Sullivan, Director of Travel Initiatives, Adventure Cycling Association

— In October of 2011, southeast Portland resident (and bike filmmaker) Merritt Raitt contacted ODOT with concern about this same issue. Raitt was bicycling on Highway 26 westbound from Government Camp near the Mirror Lake trail head when he noticed that a new layer of pavement went only half way into the shoulder. “They did not repave all the way to the edge of the old pavement,” he wrote to AskODOT@odot.state.or.us, “And as a result the is an abrupt pavement edge that comes in and out of the bike lane in several places creating dangerous transitions.” (Raitt also warned ODOT about a shoulder lane stripe that had vanished completely in one corner, but we’ll only focus on the pavement issue for now.)

Just four days later, Raitt heard back from ODOT Transportation Maintenance Manager Jim McNamee. McNamee told Raitt, “We will add a little asphalt so there is not an edge mid way on the shoulder in the narrow area.” McNamee said the new asphalt would be applied by that following summer. It never happened. Raitt emailed again one year later. At that time, McNamee said the work would be done as part of a “major project” that would be done “by 2014.” “We have been very busy this summer with many other highway issues… but we still have it on our radar to do,” McNamee wrote Raitt via email.

Almost another year has passed and ODOT is yet to take any action. Raitt emailed McNamee yesterday and was again told the issue would be taken care of in a project set to begin next spring.

— A reader sent us the image at the top of this story which was taken while driving northbound on Highway 101 between Gold Beach and Port Orford. The person who sent in the photo wrote that, “Honestly, a good portion of the paving on this section just makes you feel like you’re in South America.”

— A commenter posted on Friday that they experienced the “death ledge” phenomenon during a four-day bicycle tour from Portland to Coos Bay (on the Oregon Coast) last summer on roughly half the entire route. “It isn’t just a matter of smooth vs. rough, but rather a 2-inch lip, running jaggedly through the middle of an already narrow shoulder/bike lane,” is how the commenter described it. “If your front wheel hits that lip at anything roughly resembling parallel, buh-bye to staying upright.”

— A commenter posted on Saturday that they experienced this paving method while riding on State Route 551 near Aurora. She wrote that riding, “was extremely dangerous.” The commenter said the entire shoulder was full of a “dark, oily substance” that looked like pavement, but was actually fine, soft gravel that was, “totally un-rideable.” “So I had to ride directly on the white line as these semis barreled past,” she shared.

— Ginny Sullivan, Director of Travel Initiatives at the Adventure Cycling Association, wrote in to say she encountered this paving treatment periodically on highways throughout eastern Oregon as well during a recent biking vacation. “That means this is a much broader problem than just Highway 101,” she wrote. “Personally, I found biking on the “ridge” frustrating and, at times, dangerous.”

And Sullivan had some important insights for ODOT to consider when assessing this situation: “Hwy 101 is a “must fix” as is the TransAm route and any Scenic Bikeways that might be affected. We encountered numerous cyclists on the TransAm during our ride and there were at least 20 cyclists in the hike/biker site at Honeyman State Park last Friday night. Add to this those that choose hotels instead of camping and the bike events that take place on that highway and you’ve got a major safety concern.”

We’re still waiting to hear from ODOT about this situation; but it appears that they have clearly skirted their own pavement design guidelines — especially as they pertain to cycling routes.

ODOT’s August 2011 Pavement Design Guide (PDF), has sections on “Joint Location” and makes specific mention about what contractors should do to “accomodate bicycle traffic” when doing repaving jobs. Page 27 of the guide states that, “Overlays, including thin lift overlays, should extend across the entire shoulder.” There’s also a section heading that addresses what to do on “Published Cycling Routes”. In addition to referring to a map of cycling routes throughout the state (which include all of the Oregon Coast Route as well as Adventure Cycling Routes and State Scenic Bikeways), the section states:

“The ODOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program has indicated that they would like to adjust the inlay joint position out of the probable bicycle wheel path… If the inlay joint location needs to be adjusted further into the shoulder, specifically and only for the purpose of accommodating the probable bicycle wheel path, inform the ODOT project leader or project manager. Pavement preservation funds are intended to preserve the pavement from further deterioration, but not for recreational improvements.”

To that first point of a bicycle rider’s “probable wheel path,” ODOT guidance says, “On shoulders 4 feet or wider, bicyclists will generally ride about 2 feet off of the fog line.” That appears to be exactly where the ledge is located in the Highway 101 case we reported on Friday.

The last line of the section above about “recreational improvements” is very troubling. There is no reason ODOT should single out bicycling trips as “recreational” and therefore undeserving of accommodation, when they make no similar differentiation for recreational driving trips.

Under the section “Other Considerations,” there’s a list of exceptions where contractors can opt-out of paving the entire shoulder. They are: Where bicycling is prohibited or where a “separate bike path runs along the roadway”; where there is very low auto traffic (less than 2,500 average daily traffic); or when the designer believes that the extra width, “does not actually improve the travel of a bicyclist on a particular project.” When it comes to the Oregon Coast Bike Route, none of those exceptions seem to apply.

Also in August 2011, the above guidelines where singled out in a memo titled, New Pavement Services Guidance – Pavement Preservation Consideration for Bicycle Travel (PDF) that was sent to all regional roadway managers by ODOT’s Construction Section Manager Jeffrey Gower. In introducing the memo, Gower clarified that, “We have generally been following this guidance in past designs, and this new guidance is primarily a clarification.”

From what we know so far, it appears that either ODOT hasn’t been following these guidelines, or that the guidelines need to be clarified.

We’ll continue to track this issue and update you once ODOT makes an official response.

Comments are closed.