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.
So is ODOT doing the substandard paving in question or is the actural work being done by some contractor without proper oversight?
Hunch is that it’s contractors… But not exactly sure at this point. We’ll cover that in a future post.
If a contractor is not following ODOT’s paving guidelines, who pays to correct their mistake? It should be the contractor’s responsibility, not the taxpayers.
Its gets a little complicated with design guidelines and contractors. ODOT’s paving guidelines are for the engineers. The contractor is bound by the design plans and specifications produced by the engineer. If the plans and specs do not meet the guidelines that’s the engineer’s (thus ODOT’s) problem.
Without seeing the plans and specs, it is difficult to determine whether the engineer did not design to ODOT’s guidelines or whether the contractor did not construct to the plans and specs.
If ODOT has an inspector on site and accepts the work the responsibility falls on ODOT. A compromise is frequently made in sharing responsibility.
I can’t recall ever seeing an ODOT project without an actual ODOT employee at the job site. You’d think that they would be ensuring the contractor’s do the paving job properly, but evidently that’s not the case.
The transformation of ODOT is going to be slow and painful. All of the good thinking going on in Salem isn’t trickling down to the Regions yet.
If it’s ODOT’s mistake, who pays? Does it come out of the salary and benefits of ODOT employees?
my comments often don’t nest in the way I intend. Not sure why. My comment below was meant to go here…
Wow, I’m incredibly glad Oregon has those official guidelines! How would one look for the same for other states?
In response to the reader photo and comment stating, “Honestly, a good portion of the paving on this section just makes you feel like you’re in South America.” – Actually, much of the Cycle Infrastructure on rural highways in South America is WAY better than Oregon’s HWY 101.
In the south of Chile, for example – the government is building a network of 600 miles of rural cycle track and bike lanes in the Lakes region to increase mobility and encourage rural economic development from cycling tourism.
It is unfortunate that Oregon is not investing in safe routes for the existing and future cyclists pedaling our state highways. The irony is that Oregon already is a cycling destination, despite the lack of cycling investment, infrastructure, and safety conditions.
Here is a photo of one of the rural bike lanes in this region:
and more photos of cycle infrastructure throughout the Americas here:
That’s it, moving to Chile. It’s been real.
Very narrow suicide bike lanes with only paint separation, but at least they’re paved without death ridges.
Accountability is a wonderful thing. Thanks!
Accountability? 😉 Last time I checked, Matt Garrett still had his job and not a single ODOT head has rolled over the massive waste of taxpayer dollars known as the CRC.
Another place I noticed this a year ago (August 2012) was on Century drive leading up to Mt. Bachelor. They had just repaved and most of the area outside of the fog line was un-rideable due to an abrupt shoulder and bumpy, old scraped up asphalt.
I haven’t been back up since then, so I don’t know if it has been fixed or not.
Sorry I was mistaken, “Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway” according to Google, NOT Century drive. Got the names mixed up..
It’s not as bad as it is on 101, but the new paving on the historic highway out to multnomah falls (I haven’t been past the Portland Women’s Forum since the repaving) is very similar: you’re frequently closer to car traffic than both you and the traffic would prefer, or you’re dangerous far over, close to the edge of the road (which frequently has a steep slope or a ditch).
The historic highway is a special case. This road is a CULTURAL resource and the historic character trumps the guidelines. On this road take the lane and they will pass when safe.
…but I’m saying that they’re not repaving to the edge of the highway as it already existed, not that they should make any drastic changes to the character of the highway: just repair it fully.
Riders need to sue the state to hold them to their guidelines. It is obvious talking to them doesn’t work. Drag them into court and then perhaps they will hold the contractors feet to the fire. Also find out who the inspectors were for the job. Include them in the court case for incompetence.
it doesn’t cost much to file in small claims court and I’m sure the local media would eat it up… the negative publicity would surely get a lot of talking started…
Had we a functional state-wide BTA, the lawsuit would have been filed already.
Looks like the tyranny of “Do more with less” to me. Can’t totally blame ODOT.
Oh come on…if Oklahoma can pave OK 66/US Historic Route 66, complete with a hard shoulder wide enough to park an 18-wheeler on for most of it’s length, Oregon, which has a far larger budget for significantly fewer lane miles can pave an extra foot.
“…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. …” maus/bikeportland
For some, though not all of the people riding, biking is recreational, and they do often, even generally, need to travel along the part of the road, the right most edge of the road, where below grade paving issues can pose a serious problem; people driving motor generally travel down the bigger part of the main lane, away from the far right side of the lane.
ODOT’s not entirely remiss in recognizing biking as recreational, but the department, related to guidelines for its’ paving procedure standards and work done, definitely ought to be acknowledging as well, that biking is also being used for transportation.
Oregon law 814. 430 ‘Improper use of lanes’… http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/814.430 … to some extent, obliges people to ride their bikes “…as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway…”. (2)(c) of this law cites hazardous conditions as an exception to that obligation.
When ODOT’s paving work to the right curb or edge of the roadway somehow fails to be free of hazards, the department in effect, obliges people recreating and traveling by bike, to draw on (2)(c) of this law, choosing a relatively hazard free portion of the road instead of far to the right of the road away from faster traffic traveling the main lane of the road.
I’ve seen and ridden along some of this lousy edge of the road paving. Running off the edge and then trying to correct and rise up onto the top pavement layer again, is tricky, and can throw a rider. For people driving, when their car wheel slips off these poor paving edges, it can make handling difficult for them also.
words matter… it says “should” and not “must” therefore it’s not a requirement…
again, it says they “would like to” adjust it, not that they “must” adjust it…
so it looks like they’re following the guidelines… the problem is that the guidelines are optional…
You nailed it.
Excellent catch, Spiffy.
Looks like this pattern continues. Maren Souders’ inquiry yielded this from ODOT today:
“If in the future this section is selected for modernization it would be built to new standards which should include wide shoulders. Unfortunately this section is competing for limited funding for modernization along with preservation and I don’t see it competing for many years at best.”
From this thread:
We’ll do a shitty job and then use lots of words to try to convince you why this is the best that can be done. Silos – ha!
“We’re moving out of the siloed approach to one that is more focused on function.” (ODOT cheese Matt Garrett 5/15/12)
The paving company is saving a TON of moolah by not having to lay that extra material! Also think of the labor savings… at road user’s expense!!
You nailed it: back of the napkin calculations suggest that if they neglect to cover 3ft on each shoulder of a ~32ft wide 2-lane highway, that’s a 15.8% savings. That means every 6 or 7 miles they basically get a mile free. They could be saving $1 million or more per job on a 6-7 mile project. That is not chump change.
When paving projects are awarded by low-bid, this allows non-compliant contractors to be the winners.
Earlier, I wrote “graft?” I guess I should explain that.
In junior high school, and high school, I lived in the Chicago suburbs. I remember seeing news reports about shady Chicago building inspectors looking the other way when a building owner didn’t want to fix, say, bad wiring. In exchange, the building owner would pass envelopes of cash to said building inspectors.
I find myself wondering if something similar is going on with these shoddy paving jobs.
99W through Dundee is similarly awful.
One reason that the rural counties have started to come around to supporting bike infrastructure, etc, is that they like the tourist dollars. I have to wonder if County and City governments around the state are aware of how ODOT is cheating their jurisdictions and harming their tourist business.
Once a project is done and all the checks are cleared, its nearly impossible to get a contractor to “fix” it. Last payment is nearly always reserved for after the project or that contractors part of the project has passed it’s final inspection. Once that payment is made, contract is finished.
Anything like this left hanging is ODOT’s mess to clean up. Sure they can sue, but even they win the law suit (which they wont, since the contract has expired with the final payment) doesn’t mean anything. Contractor simply goes bankrupt (paying pennies on the dollar the award amount), and comes backs a few weeks later as a new Corp. or LCC. I’ve seen it happen so many times it construction that ain’t even funny.
Well what about good old highway 30? Anyone ridden the section from West Linn to Lake Oswego? Of course you have. Completely new blacktop that stops about 2 inches after the white line. The bike lane on the northbound section is a joke.
I’m the one mentioned in the article above who posted about Hwy 551 in Aurora the other day. At the suggestion of Ted Buehler (I think) I contacted ODOT about it, and here is the reply I got from Don Jordan, District 3 Manager:
Hwy 551 received a maintenance paving/patching project that repaved the existing AC which was in extremely poor condition to hopefully add a few years to its life. This maintenance paving type work doesn’t add any additional features to the roadway just maintains the existing and is a thin lift of asphalt over a base that is not in good shape but we hope this should provide a reasonable surface for a few years till the cracks and broken material repair.
The black rock you saw is Asphaltic grindings that should set up better than the aggregate shoulders that existed. We had placed aggregate but in just a couple of weeks it was compressed/moved about 2″ so we replaced it with the grinding. The grindings should stay better than the rock, but is not going to be a place for bikes to ride.
The maintenance paving/patching we performed is just a temporary repair to help hold Hwy 551 together till hopefully it can compete for modernization/Preservation funding and a total rebuild of the roadway section that could add to the roadway. If in the future this section is selected for modernization it would be built to new standards which should include wide shoulders. Unfortunately this section is competing for limited funding for modernization along with preservation and I don’t see it competing for many years at best. All Modernization and Preservation funding has been assigned to projects through 2018 and Hwy 551 unfortunately didn’t compete with all the needed projects.
I’m not sure of the best route from Portland to Salem but Hwy 99E has better shoulders and may be a better route?
If you would like to discuss further feel free to give me a call Don Jordan District 3 Manager 503-986-2877
Have you ridden that same road in the past? Was the shoulder more rideable before the recent work? If so, consider contacting Don Jordan and asking him if the shoulder can be improved so it is no worse than it was before.
Well, I indicated in my original email to him that I had ridden it a few weeks prior and it was dangerous but much less so with the shoulder the way it had been. So I took his response to mean they would not be going back to that kind of paving, for the reasons he listed. Not good news for cyclists… But honestly, it was dangerous enough before simply because of the roadway width that I don’t think it was safe for biking anyway. I do wonder if/hope that either Airport Rd or Boones Ferry is a safer alternative. Maybe I’ll contact the Googlemaps folks to notify them of the safety hazard in their directions…
Bummer. This sucks. Hard to believe that they’d mess up so many roads so badly, but that appears to be the case.
Be sure to send in your maintenance requests to email@example.com and ask that they restore poorly paved shoulders to the same condition as they were originally built.
Also, if you drive around the state, pay attention and report instances of improperly paved shoulders.
They, ODOT, or their contractors skirt the rules put forth in terms of paving to save money. Its as simple as that. If they don’t need 4 additional trucks of asphalt, they save a lot of cash that goes right into their pocket. ODOT’s budget is probably like the State’s budget, it has a black hole in it somewhere and money that ‘isn’t’ needed. Contractor skirt the rules almost as a religious obligation. They all need to be held responsible for what they did not do that was clearly outlined by ODOT.
This has been going on for years. I remember when Oregon repaved State Route 210 from State Route 217 to State Route 10 in the mid 1990s… my commute along that route to Whitford Middle School from 77th Avenue (Raleigh Hills Fred Meyer’s parking lot) went from relatively smooth to a series of rough, longitudinal pavement joints and dangerously sunken drain grates. It still wasn’t fixed by summer of 2001 when I rode 210 from North Dakota Avenue in Tigard to 77th Avenue to go camping as an assistant Scoutmaster with my old troop.
And then there’s long sections of SR 210 that still have the westbound bike lane separated from the eastbound bike lane by nothing at all, and eastbound motorists by a thin, broken curb, and if you’ve ever ridden it westbound, a pretty shining example of why a cycletrack next is a dangerously flawed concept.
Of course not.
Do you think the 70+ Rampart cops paid out $125 million to those Los Angeles citizens it framed, shot, beat, raped, murdered, and robbed? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rampart_scandal
Of course not. The tax payers of Los Angeles paid that to themselves and we will pay for this far less egregious but still inexcusable screwup too.
Are we really comparing blue collar oversight with corruption with malice a forethought? I think we can have a rational discussion on this issue without hyperbole ad absurdum.
This is not blue collar oversight. It is a pattern.
White collars are replying to citizen questions about this widespread problem with boilerplate over many months stretching into years and doing nothing whatsoever to fix the problem or discourage its continuation on other stretches of road.
So just say that. Comparing ODOT’s longstanding tradition of being perilously lax on quality assurance to, really, any major police scandal anywhere in the last 20 years is seriously making K2 out of an ant farm. Now, if you were to compare the events chronicled in Portland Confidential, that very likely are still going on today in city government, to the Rampart Scandal, that metaphor would be substantially more apt.
you misunderstood my comparison.
My point was that if in a much more egregious situation (Rampart) those responsible do not (even) pay, how much less likely ODOT or its subcontractors would (be asked to) pick up the tab for screwing up the paving.
This is complete BS. At least a few incompetent engineers at ODOT should be fired for this, but I doubt that will ever happen.
On a recent TransAmerica ride I noticed this issue in way more states than Oregon. If the funds used to finance the jobs, then It may be a federal safety issue.
Thirty years of conservative policy in action.
Obviously the complaints on this need to go higher than ODOT’s email customer service line, anyone know where to send them? The top? Governors office? It’s a pretty big deal to trash the bike lanes on hundreds of miles of highway.
It’s too bad ODOT doesn’t think it’ a big deal. I’m curious, though, to hear how they respond to bikeportland’s request for comment.
Would definitely like a link to the followup.
Another to add to the list: They just did some new paving on E Historic Columbia River Hwy by Troutdale. On one patch, by Tad’s Chicken ‘n Dumplins there is a sharp lip at the fog line, right as you round the corner. No position on the road feels safe on a bike. If you ride to the right of the line, it’s not clear whether you’ll be forced to ride back up over the lip further if there’s gravel or if the shoulder disappears, as it does occasionally. And it’s somewhat of a blind turn so if you take the lane it’s not unlikely you’ll get buzzed by fast-moving traffic that doesn’t see you until the last moment.
Here’s an old Google Streetview shot, before the new paving:
“I can’t recall ever seeing an ODOT project without an actual ODOT employee at the job site. You’d think that they would be ensuring the contractor’s do the paving job properly, but evidently that’s not the case.”
In this age of technology, how hard is it for a contractor with a cellphone to snap images of the work in question and fire them off to ODOT for immediate review?
All the state roads have been repaved/overlain in this fashion. Upper Boones from end to end is one long length of terribleness. Hall Blvd is also terrible. The paving goes to the edge of the bike lane paint, or part way into the bike lane, and straggles off. As if there was a problem with going to the edge of the road.
It isn’t just Oregon. Vancouver is resurfacing streets in the heights neighborhood, including MacArthur Blvd, which is used as a main east/west bike arterial across Vancouver. The new surface is worse than the old.
I haven’t seen that yet but could it have to do with Vancouver’s plans for bike lanes there?
Driving by Beverly beach on 101, paving crews in force laying down fresh bike lane. Looks like velvet with a view!
I’m sorry but when did the American taxpayers have to start bending over backwards and have to pay for what is essentially a sport and a hobby???? I get it that some people actually use their bikes to commute to work but I would love to know at what percentage. I love horseback riding but it doesn’t mean I expect the American taxpayer to provide me with a trail to ride to work everyday and/or supply trails for my hobby.
(1) you know how many people in cars now drive (or bike for that matter) up and down Hwy 101 for diversion vs. for some important purpose?
(2) Strictly speaking I agree with your sense that biking as diversion is not on the same public priorities page as getting somewhere like work, the store, etc. but perhaps you forgot that people live along Hwy 101 and use it for the same tasks we use our streets and roads wherever we live. Although they may now drive, making it easier, safer, more welcoming to bike could sway some/many of them to use their bikes instead.
(3) One of these days more of us may be trying to get places on bikes or on foot even though today we still habitually hop in the car. Anticipating this by making our taxpayer-funded infrastructure accommodating to everyone seems like a worthy direction to move in.
(4) American taxpayers bend far farther over to pay for recreational and convenience use of cars than for bikes, and that’s above and beyond car user fees like gas tax and licensing.
You are aware that the first widespread push for American paved roads was spearheaded by the League of American Bicyclists, right? Basic mobility is a right, not a privilege. You know what is a privilege, and one reserved for people who have a surprisingly large budget to put towards mobility? Driving. Get over yourself.
Note that the directive to pave the entire shoulder has been around since 1995. Using the 2011 document to excuse all paving jobs done before 2012 is not a particularly impressive argument to excuse a bunch of engineers of putting 1000s of bicyclists in harms way.
1995 Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan strongly discourages half-shoulder paving. There’s even a nifty diagram in there showing “poor practice” and “recommended practice”
“B.3. PAVEMENT OVERLAYS
“Pavement overlays are good opportunities to
improve conditions for cyclists if done
carefully: a ridge should not be left in the
area where cyclists ride (this occurs where
an overlay extends part-way into a shoulder
bikeway or bike lane). Overlay projects offer
opportunities to widen the roadway, or to
restripe the roadway with bike lanes”
“• Extend the overlay over the entire roadway
surface to avoid leaving an abrupt edge;”
and about 6 more bullets with a lot of detail.
http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/or_bicycle_ped_plan.pdf p. 173