A recent story in the Salem Statesman-Journal highlighted some critical changes the ODOT is now beginning to implement in the name of traffic safety, but did an equally good job of drawing attention to how those changes get approved.
The article focused on the September 24 death of a well-known Salem-area psychiatrist in a fatal Oregon car crash on I-5. According to the newspaper the accident took place when a vehicle traveling the interstate highway in the other direction crossed the median. The psychiatrist died at the scene. A colleague who was travelling with him died at an area hospital a few days later from injuries suffered in the crash.
The circumstances of the accident raise longer-term questions about Oregon wrongful death, and whether the fatal crash may prompt a legal action. More immediately, what made the reaction to this accident different was the outpouring of emotion from the Salem community, an outpouring which only increased when the Statesman-Journal revealed “that in the previous 10 years there had been 20 crashes along I-5 in Salem that involved vehicles crossing the center median into oncoming traffic.” The paper noted that the ODOT has plans to install simple cable-like barriers along that stretch of the highway. Cable barriers have been shown to be a relatively inexpensive way to prevent crossover crashes. The paper also discovered, however, that bureaucracy and political infighting had led to progress implementing the plan to install the barriers moving slowly at best. Indeed, a low-bidder to carry out the work was not scheduled to be selected until next February, even though, the paper reported, a decision in principle to move forward had been reached some time ago.
But a single high-profile death, followed a month later by what the paper called “an eerily similar crossover crash” on I-5 in Albany, this one involving a semi-truck, spurred quicker action. A day after the second crash and its subsequent media coverage ODOT announced that at the Governor’s urging “the department would expedite the process of installing cable median barriers along I-5 in Salem and Albany. It was a tactic taken previously by the state only when highways had been damaged by natural disasters. But due to the two crashes, ODOT officials said that change needed to come sooner,” according to the newspaper.
It is always good to see government do the right thing, but as an Oregon car crash victims’ attorney I am sorry to see action come only once a pair of tragedies draw so much media coverage that there is a sudden imperative for change.
Salem Statesman-Journal: Change follows story of crashes, highway conditions