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Barbur hit-and-run renews calls for ODOT action

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 19th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Based on KATU reporting and Schmidt's own memory, we think the collision occured at the yellow symbol. The blue arrows shows the turnoff from Barbur onto Capitol Hwy.

"The reality is, we need cycle tracks on Barbur."
— Rob Sadowsky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

Once again, the community is reeling from a tragic collision on one of Portland's most well-known transportation danger zones: Barbur Blvd. As Henry Schmidt continues to recover after being hit by someone driving on Barbur at around 1:00 am Friday morning, advocates have begun to mobilize and discuss (once again) their next moves.

As we've covered for years here on the Front Page, the ODOT-controlled sections of Barbur Blvd are an absolute embarrassment to our city. Barbur is known for very high speed driving and unpleasant bicycling conditions. Back in 2010, we shared news about the formation of a grassroots "Friends of Barbur" group which was formed specifically to address major concerns about bicycle safety. In fact, our lead image for that story (below) shows the group's digital rendering of a protected bikeway in the same general location where Henry Schmidt was hit early Friday morning.

A design mock-up of SW Barbur with a dedicated and separated bikeway. Illustration is by Owen Walz, a co-founder of "Friends of Barbur."

The Friends of Barbur has remained active since then, more recently joining a chorus of advocates calling for a road diet treatment to the street that would re-allocate space and provide a wider — and safer — berth for people riding bicycles.

After Friday's hit-and-run, even the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is directing stern words toward ODOT and once again renewing calls for a re-design of the road.

"We've tried to make this clear," BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky shared in an interview with us today, "We need both an immediate and a long-term solution... This tragedy is just further evidence that we need separated facilities."

"Nothing we can do will ever ban crashes. We had a horrible crash with a guy who was walking on the side of a road with his bike at night. No effective permanent fixes will happen immediately."
— Don Hamilton, ODOT spokesman

Sadowsky pointed out that there's no adequate alternate route off of Barbur for people to ride on. "Unlike NE Broadway for instance, there's not a neighborhood greenway a few blocks away. That's what raises this issue to a crisis level is that Barbur is one of only a few places you can ride from southwest to downtown."

Sadowsky says Barbur is a perfect location to re-purpose the existing space in a way that makes bicycle travel safer and more comfortable. "We just see this as another example of why we need a real road diet there. We need real traffic calming." As stated in their recently released Blueprint report, "Repurposing underused motor vehicle lanes at the northern end of Barbur will allow for safe, protected bike lanes."

But so far, ODOT hasn't taken concrete steps toward any major changes to Barbur Blvd other than to direct our attention to the SW Corridor planning process being undertaken by Metro. This process includes a Barbur Blvd road diet as one of dozens of short and long-term changes to the corridor that might come with a future high capacity transit line.

While deferring to the SW Corridor Plan seems like a punt, ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton says that remains the best avenue for change. "I know you have some cynicism on the SW Corridor Plan," Hamilton shared with me via phone today, "But from what I understand there is pretty strong bike influence devising this plan." Hamilton pointed out that there are short-term fixes being considered in that plan, some of which could include a road diet on Barbur.

Hamilton said changes to Barbur are "certainly needed," given Friday's tragedy. "It's horrific," he said. When pressed on why ODOT doesn't step out of the SW Corridor process and make Barbur changes a higher, immediate priority, Hamilton said, "Nothing we can do will ever ban crashes. We had a horrible crash with a guy who was walking on the side of a road with his bike at night. No effective permanent fixes will happen immediately." Hamilton said it's a complicated situation that has to be carefully examined, that funding must be found, and ODOT must study how they fit together "all the different components of the operation of a safe road."

When asked if ODOT feels Barbur is a safety problem, Hamilton said, "It's definitely an area of concern, that's why its being looked at now."

Less than one mile south of where Schmidt was hit, ODOT is investing $5 million to rehabilitate two bridges on Barbur. While many thought that project might be a good trigger for significant bike safety improvements, ODOT plans nothing more than flashing lights and "Bikes on Bridge" signs.

As for claims that ODOT isn't doing anything to address the safety concerns, Hamilton says, "We're not doing nothing. We're going to try and make something happen on this that will result in some significant improvements we hope."

We're not sure that will be convincing enough for advocates like Sadowsky to cool their jets. He said they're considering mobilizing activists for some sort of action around Barbur in the days/weeks to come (contact Carl Larson at carl@btaoregon.org if you'd like to be a part of it).

"The reality is," Sadowsky said, "we need cycle tracks on Barbur and the only way to do that is a road diet, or carve out additional space for a side path. And we don't want to wait 15 years for a new light rail line before it happens."

— For more on Schmidt and the people who stopped to help him, read and watch this great coverage from KATU.

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Comments
  • Ben August 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    So sad, they won't change anything unless there is $$$ involved.

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    • 9watts August 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      "Nothing we can do will ever ban crashes."

      Lame, lame, lame, lame.
      I can't believe we have to hear this bulls#*t year after year.

      "We're not doing nothing."

      You're right. You aren't doing nothing. You are stonewalling sensible solutions.

      Recommended Thumb up 19

    • matt picio August 19, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      There's a real opportunity here for ODOT to put their money where their mouth is, quite literally, and fund a solution which allows safe travel by ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION. ODOT has previously committed this year to giving Active Transportation more than lip service - well, ladies and gentlemen of ODOT - here is your opportunity. Do you take the lead and do something bold, daring, and in line with your STATED values and priorities, or do we get more of the last 50 years of car-centric and exclusionary transportation planning? This is now a major safety issue, and ODOT has an opportunity to rise to the occasion and be recognized, or ignore the problem and be vilified. Let's see more than words.

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      • wsbob August 21, 2013 at 9:27 am

        ODOT's money is the public's money. I wonder how the public would think about the idea of spending...taking a wild guess at a number figure...a hundred million or more dollars or more, to build a cycle track along Barbur Blvd, especially if doing so would result in a reduction of or narrowing of the highway's main lanes of travel.

        ODOT is accountable to the demands of the public, which generally would be the majority of the public. Get a majority of the public, or at least something approaching a majority to recognize the need for bike infrastructure such as a cycle track along Barbur, even demand it, and then...they may be prepared to produce the money.n

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        • 9watts August 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

          "a hundred million or more dollars or more, to build a cycle track along Barbur"

          $100,000,000.00?? Bob, you're losing your touch.
          A few miles of rumble strip should come in a little less than that, I'd venture. Maybe throw in a few cameras.

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          • wsbob August 22, 2013 at 12:56 am

            Barbur Blvd is going to require more than rumble strips and cameras for it to be safe for bike use by at least a fairly wide range of the biking public. I have little idea how much a cycle track paralleling Barbur would cost, but that type infrastructure sounds like a good idea for this route, although likely expensive. If you've got an idea how much something like that would cost, let's hear it.

            Anyway, the point to Picio, was that ODOT probably couldn't just up and commence building what sounds as though it would be a very complicated and expensive, though well needed piece of active transportation infrastructure. It's the public's money, not ODOT's. ODOT is entrusted to spend the public's money it has in its budget wisely, but the question is whether the public would consider such an expense to be wise.

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            • 9watts August 22, 2013 at 7:13 am

              "ODOT is entrusted to spend the public's money it has in its budget wisely"

              hahaha

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              • wsbob August 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm

                Funny alright, but the public is obliged to extend a level of trust that the department will spend the money wisely. Essentially though, I think road challenge situations to biking presented by major route infrastructure such as Barbur Blvd, comes around to what the active transportation plan seeks to address.

                It's kind of obvious that the circumstances of Barbur relating to effective, practical use of the road by vehicles other than motor vehicles, call for a much more substantial remedy than a band-aid treatment. I'm not sure how the plan would effect the county's responsibility to make bike use improvements of a substantial nature, something like an adjoining but separate cycle track on Barbur.

                If the Metro active transportation plan were to be approved, and it said: 'You have to build this.', it could be that ODOT would have to build. The public would be asked to pony up the money required to build.

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              • 9watts August 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm

                "The public would be asked to pony up the money required to build."

                Um. ODOT spends money it doesn't have all the time on ridiculous, car-only, no-future projects--even on Barbur right now as we learned here. Why in your view would a lone piece of imagined bike infrastructure be so different, be contingent upon a vote of approval from... the bike bloc?

                Obviously we all pay for it all one day, and with interest, but to call out the putative cost of this seems skewed to me.

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  • Peter W August 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    How to pay for safety improvements in the short term?

    If the CRC stays dead, ODOT could use some of those "unexpected federal funds" they had previously set aside to cover the debt service.

    http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/02/tina_kotek_oregon_can_pay_for.html

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  • spare_wheel August 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Barbur is exactly the kind of low-intersection high speed roadway that would benefit from physical separation. Maybe some day we will stop replacing decent (but not perfect) bike lanes with meandering bike sidewalks and build cycle tracks where they are supposed to be built.

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    • A.K. August 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Exactly. I'm not usually in the pro separate infrastructure crowd, but an area like this on the side of a busy highway is certainly the right place for it.

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  • Dan Kaufman August 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Vulnerable users are continually being killed and wounded on these urban highway blights just so car drivers can shave a few minutes off their subsidized road trips. There is no good reason for it and should be completely unacceptable.

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    • 9watts August 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      No, Mr. Kaufman; perhaps you don't realize: "it's a complicated situation that has to be carefully examined, funding must be found, and ODOT must study how all the different components of the operation of a safe road fit together."

      Yes... very complicated. You can't just rush into things without waffling for years and invoking all sorts of bureaucratic crap and contingencies and who knows what else. All the while spending millions on this very stretch of road (but not for bikes--yeah, that would be too complicated).

      Recommended Thumb up 17

  • Spiffy August 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    since ODOT is being negligent maybe the city can eminent domain the road...

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Sunny August 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Occupy Barbur!

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Garlynn August 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    BTA has made some noises about ODOT not complying with the Bicycle Bill with regards to these two bridges; I wonder when the appropriate time would be for the BTA to file the lawsuit?

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    • matt picio August 19, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      I dunno, *now* seems like an appropriate time. I think the BTA should *also* put its money where its mouth is on this one, at least in as far as they are able with their federal financial constraints.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

      According to BTA, their lawyer says the case to sue under the Bike Bill isn't strong enough. It has to do with two major things: Is the bridge project significant enough of a rebuild to trigger the set-aside, and are the flashing lights planned by ODOT enough to fulfill the "accomodate" bikes language in the law.

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      • matt picio August 20, 2013 at 6:21 pm

        Ok, so they can't sue under the Bike Bill. Does that mean there isn't any other way to file a lawsuit? I'm just kind of wondering how many people have to die or be seriously injured before the issues on Barbur Blvd are addressed. I know there are plenty of people at ODOT who take safety seriously, and that in many respects the agency's hands are tied. Ditto for the BTA. I find it difficult to believe that there isn't anything practical which can be done, and difficult to accept that we haven't already seen a statement on bikeportland that these issues have been further prioritized.

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  • davemess August 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    The sad thing is that where the cyclist was hit is actually one of the SAFEST sections of Barbur as it currently is.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • VTRC August 20, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I'd really disagree. That turn off onto Capitol is really hairy with speeds way too high and people cutting over from the left lane. I will never argue that the bridges are acceptable, but merge to 10 is less safe.

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  • Paul August 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    It really sucks that structural engineers can be held accountable for building shotty buildings and bridges, but road engineers can design deadly facilities like this and get away with it.

    Recommended Thumb up 15

    • Caleb August 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      I agree for some situations (don't know enough about Barbur to say on this case), but in many cases road engineers don't design their facilities to be deadly, though the choices automobile users make render those facilities deadly.

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    • 9watts August 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Back when Barbur was converted from a commuter rail grade to a highway (completed 1934-36) the priorities, mode split, and general ideological bent did not favor bicycling. http://barburblvd.blogspot.com/ One would like to think that today things are different, but from what we hear from ODOT I'm not so sure.

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  • q`Tzal August 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    You know what might get Barbur out of ODOT's wheel house? If the road was suddenly found to not be able to support the weight of heavy trucks as has been supposed.
    Maybe the original seismic assessment is out of date, maybe it was done with equipment or to standards that are now known to be inaccurate.
    Maybe the surface can no longer support the weight it is designed to.
    Maybe construction on either side have changed the loading dynamics of the road

    There are so many disqualifying "maybes" that could be pointed at ODOT's main reason for keeping SW Barbur as a backup freight route that one has to wonder if it qualifies even now.
    If it doesn't then it would be much cheaper for the city and state to declassify Barbur from a state highway to a city arterial.

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    • Damian Miller August 19, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      q'Tzal-

      You know, they already thought of that, and are working it in the exact *opposite* direction. Maintaining freight (& transit) capacity is the whole reason behind the "bridge rehabilitation and no more, thank you very much" project. IIRC, they are arguing that b/c it's a "rehabilitation" project it doesn't trigger the bike bill. Why can't they consider lane restriping after the rehabilitation is done? Because then it would no longer be a rehabilitation project (and would trigger the bike bill). Catch, meet 22.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • q`Tzal August 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm

        DAGG-NABBIT!
        <throws hat on ground>
        <stomps off in a huff>

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  • Kevin Wagoner August 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    It would be great if someone at ODOT, PBOT, a Mayor or a Governor came out tomorrow and implemented an immediate change. They could do it. I think Mayor Adams did some immediate things in the past on Wheeler, Foster and Greeley. Someone could be proactive tomorrow and lower the speed limit, increase enforcement or even put the bridges on a road diet. Our city has the resources to do something now if they want to.

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    • Damian Miller August 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Kevin-

      ODOT runs the show here, and they are thinking this is going to blow over. It won't. It can't. Because WE WON'T LET IT.

      Rawr.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Ian C. August 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    I can't remember Portland cyclists ever mobilizing demonstrations to demand a specific road change. Barbur, which is unique in how necessary it is for cyclists and in how life-threatening it is, seems like the perfect catalyst.

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  • Pat Franz August 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    You know, if Barbur was ever really needed as a backup freight route, it would be easy enough to park some sign trucks at either end saying "Cars: Form 2 lines and watch for bikes on the right. Cyclists: Sorry, stay right and be extra careful".

    The other 99.9999% of the time, the road surface could be allocated sanely.

    Why is even a tiny bit of creativity ruled out? If Barbur is ever called into action as a freight route, it will be because all hell has broken loose on I5. Regulating traffic on Barbur will be the least of the problems.

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  • gutterbunnybikes August 19, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I'm not sure I understand the whole freight route thing. After all, if things happen so bad (like a big quake) that it shuts down the I-5, would there be much of Barber left either. Wouldn't in extreme emergencies i-205 and 217 be better bets since neither of them have the number of bridges or shifting hill sides that I-5 and Barber have.

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    • q`Tzal August 20, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Hazmat freight can not legally go through the Vista Ridge tunnels.

      This can be anything from paint to fuel to pesticides or fluorescent bulbs going for recycling, or may something really nasty. There's a lot more of that stuff on the roads every minute than most people are aware of.

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  • 9watts August 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    From linked KATU coverage:

    "We [two dudes from Trimet bus] went back out to the scene of the crash and found a pretty distinguishable car part. We took the new evidence to Portland police.

    A police spokesman explained that the investigation, including evidence collecting, hadn’t begun yet. The investigation – should Schmidt’s injuries been more severe and life-threatening – would have started immediately."

    More severe and life threatening?! Why the hell does it matter how maimed he is - whether/when the police bother looking for parts of the car?

    Our tax dollars at work.

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    • John Lascurettes August 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      I'd say 4 cracked vertebrae is pretty damned close to life-threatening.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Penny Farthing August 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      Oh yeah...that makes total sense...his injuries weren't severe enough to warrant a proper investigation!!?? Dude is in INTENSIVE CARE! So, I guess if the coroner doesn't take away a corpse there's no need to do a meaningful investigation? How many traffic cameras are there that could likely have an image of the suspect vehicle (perhaps 3-6 max)...we know when the accident happened...we know which direction the suspect vehicle was traveling...review all the cameras within a logical 2 mile radius of the accident scene for ten minutes following the accident time and look for the vehicle with a shattered windscreen...Seriously, one investigator could likely crack this case by noon tomorrow.

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      • 9watts August 20, 2013 at 8:36 am

        If Henry Schmidt were Mike Reese's son I'd wager the cops would have been instructed to look for evidence immediately, no matter how 'serious' his injuries were.

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  • Sunny August 20, 2013 at 1:49 am

    2012 Subaru Legacy...this city is filled with them! It was also a Subaru(Impreza STi) that hit and killed Angela Burke. There's got to be businesses with security cameras in the area that captured video of the car at about the time of the accident. Or maybe the part numbers on the recovered part can be matched to a specific Legacy.

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  • Alexandra August 20, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I ride Barbur every day from North Portland to SW PDX, and my entire 22 mile ride trip has bike lanes the whole way except for the two parts going over the bridges on Barbur. On my ride this morning, I wondered why it's such an impossible project to create a safer bikeway- after all, there are sidewalks going over these bridges that interrupt the bikelanes that are likely unused. Why not create these spaces into a bike lane/walking lane? Stories like these are scary and only dissuade people from biking.

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    • 9watts August 20, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Maybe Jonathan can do a ride-along photo essay with you of your commute?

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Alexandra August 20, 2013 at 9:46 am

        I'd be down with that.

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  • Lance P. August 20, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I guess it is time to sue the state. There are known issues. I believe that the death and injury of anyone one on this road is on the head of ODOT and their employees. I hope they can sleep at night.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • matt picio August 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      The employees thing is a little harsh. There are plenty of people at ODOT (I would hazard saying "most") who highly value safety and are appalled at situations like this. They are not willing participants, and many of them have spouses and children to feed. Not everyone in a public agency has the luxury to publicly criticize their agency's stance. Also, not many of them are in a position in ODOT to directly influence or impact the agency's decisions.

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  • Jamie August 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

    You know, I hate to say it, but the guy was riding his bike at 1:00 in the morning. So was the driver. It's very hard to see that early in the morning, when the world is very dark. The driver should not have hit the cyclist, because at 1:00 in the morning, there should not be that many cars out on Barbur. However, my point is that if it had been much more graphic, such as someone getting hit, with blood all over someone else's windshield, at 1:00 IN THE AFTERNOON, then people would really pay attention. There might even be media exposure on a television station. It's an unfortunate reality when someone has to be seriously harmed in broad daylight to garner the kind of attention we need on Barbur.

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  • GlowBoy August 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Riding down Barbur yesterday, I noticed that ODOT has now put up temporary orange "Bikes On Roadway" warning signs before each of the bridges.

    I don't know how PPB considers Schmidt's injuries not severe or life-threatening. He had EIGHT broken bones, for Chrissakes.

    While we're talking about dangerous SW Portland highways with few good alternatives for cyclists, I rode Beaverton-Hillsdale (from Raleigh Hills to Hillsdale) a couple times last week. It looks like they're getting ready to stripe buffered bike lanes there. There are hash marks that would line up with a second stripe about two feet inward from the existing bike lane stripe, and more hash marks about a foot inward from the existing dashed line separating the two car lanes. Looks like they're going to do this by narrowing each car lane by a foot. Anyone know about this?

    FWIW, it looks like the improvements to BHH are only happening within on the stretch the Portland city limits, which makes me wonder if PBOT rather than ODOT is handling it (so couldn't PBOT take over improvements to Barbur?). The horrible stretch of BHH from Raleigh Hills out towards Beaverton (which mostly lacks bike lanes) doesn't look like it's getting anything, and the new striping looks like it will not extend quite as far west as the Raleigh Hills Key Bank (so not fixing the NARROWEST bike lane in town!), which is about where the actual city boundary lies IIRC.

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  • Hillsons August 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I sure wish I had a job at ODOT so that I could do nothing all day.

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    • matt picio August 20, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      You wouldn't be there long if your were doing nothing all day. It's easy to snipe at ODOT - and yes, the agency should be doing more in my opinion (and others'), but they do work their respective butts off in that organization.

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  • Chris I August 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Maybe as an experiment, someone could start placing traffic cones in the far right northbound lane just south of the two bridges, prior to the commute every morning. We could see how it affects traffic flow. My guess is that the impact would be minimal.

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