Barrier-Less Highway 97 Claims Another Life

Highway 97 has claimed its first life of 2009 - 16-year-old Mountain View High School cheerleader Shalae Rae Mortenson.

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Highway 97 has claimed its first life of 2009 - 16-year-old Mountain View High School cheerleader Shalae Rae Mortenson.


According to a story on the front page of this morning's Bulletin, Mortenson was killed "when her northbound pickup truck spun across the center line of U.S. Highway 97 south of Redmond near Southwest Quarry Avenue and into the path of a truck traveling in the opposite direction." The driver of the other truck was seriously injured.

This tragedy almost certainly would not have happened if a Jersey Wall had been in place on that section of the highway, as The Eye advocated almost exactly a month ago. At that time, Daniel and Madge York of Prineville were killed when another vehicle swerved to avoid a pickup towing a trailer and veered across the highway into their lane, hitting their car head-on.

Jersey Walls or Jersey Barriers - so named because they were first used on the New Jersey Turnpike - are three-foot-high concrete structures designed to prevent vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic and nudge them back into their own travel lane.

The Oregon Department of Transportation already has installed a Jersey Wall on 97 south of Bend near Lava Butte, a formerly deadly stretch of highway. An ODOT spokesman told us in December that the agency wants to put walls on 97 between Bend and Redmond someday, but doesn't have the money to do it yet.

Also, the spokesman said, ODOT anticipates resistance from local property owners who'd find it more difficult to turn into their driveways. The Eye doesn't have a hell of a lot of sympathy for such whiners. Losing your life is a bit more inconvenient than having to drive down the highway a little way to make a U-turn.

If you agree that putting a Jersey Wall on 97 should be an urgent priority for ODOT, you can phone ODOT's Citizen Representative at 888-275-6368 or send a comment here.

In the meantime, The Eye is going to keep track of how many people get killed in head-ons on that stretch of 97 through next November. Right now we're at three and counting.

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