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Risky turns a key cause of crashes on Highway 62

I read a Mail Tribune article about the new bypass and it said Highway 62 has a higher than average number of car crashes. I wondered what the main causes were? Some of my guesses are speed, tailgating, people turning in front of others, distracted/impaired driving.

— Thomas C.

One of your guesses is right on the money, Thomas, and that’s drivers making risky turns from center turn lanes in front of traffic.

Gary Leaming, our oracle at the Oregon Department of Transportation, said “unsafe turning movements” on the Highway 62 corridor were a key cause. The stretch between Delta Waters Road and Poplar Drive is especially bad.

The Rogue Valley Expressway — the bypass you referred to — was intended to ease traffic in the corridor, but engineers took it a step further on that section, too.

“They took away the turning movements out of the commercial businesses, those left-turning movements between Poplar and Delta Waters,” Leaming said. “We placed a median in its place.”

Whittle Avenue’s intersection with the highway was a particularly bad crash location on this stretch.

“We had so much traffic on the highway there, both eastbound and westbound, a lot of people would get tired of waiting and take unnecessary risks,” Leaming said. “So they’d dart out in front of traffic. Almost daily there was a fender bender.”

Whittle Avenue also has seen plenty of rear-end crashes.

The expressway itself was intended to clean up those crash locations further by alleviating congestion on the highway.

But all projects aren’t built in a vacuum. Prior to the Rogue Valley Expressway, transportation officials had undertaken additional crash-reducing projects.

Go back a few years to just before 2010, and you saw similar high-crash locations at Highway 62’s intersections with Owen Drive and Coker Butte Road.

“That’s where you see Crater Lake Avenue bulb out away from the highway,” Leaming said. “What we had before was Crater Lake Avenue was near parallel to the highway.”

Motorists on Crater Lake Avenue trying to access the highway via Owen Drive or Coker Butte Road had to make a quick turn from the avenue onto either of those thoroughfares and then the highway. The string of traffic at those intersections resulted in driver frustration, poor decisions and high crash rates.

The city of Medford added the bulbouts at Coker Butte Road and Owen Drive, and also took out the temporary Cardinal Avenue signal and replaced it with a new signal there at Owen Drive. Coker Butte was also realigned.

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@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.