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Many reasons for wide Hwy. 97 corridor

We were driving to and from Bend recently and noticed that almost all the trees (but not all) had been cut back some 40 to 50 yards from Highway 97 for many miles north of the Diamond Lake cutoff. I know they just raised the speed limit along much of that stretch to 65 mph, but does ODOT have plans to add lanes and maybe even turn more of Highway 97 into a divided highway, similar to the area south of Bend?

— Katherine, Medford

The short answer to your question, Katherine, is not immediately. But that's a possiblity, and in the meantime, there are a number of other "practical" reasons for the wider strips of open space along U.S. Highway 97, according to Gary Leaming, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Leaming responded to your questions with a list of reasons for the wide swath that has been carved out along much of the highway from the Crater Lake/Diamond Lake turnoff to near LaPine. Here they are:

  • At about 4,000 feet elevation, the highway is prone to snow and freezing weather. The wider corridor allows for it to be in the sunshine longer during the short winter days. When the sun is out, it helps keep the ice from forming sooner on the highway.
  • For drivers, the clear zone is wider, which means should they crash, they won’t hit a tree.
  • During deer migration time — mule deer cross Highway 97 to reach either the mountains or the basin — it allows drivers better visibility when deer are approaching the roadway.
  • It also acts as a fuel break during forest fire season.

 And of course, Leaming noted, should the highway be widened in the future, it would help with that, too.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.