ODOT chief looks into longer trucks on Hwy. 3

Oregon Department of Transportation Director Bruce Warner surveys Highway 3 north of Enterprise, where Wallowa County officials have requested the state increase length limits on trucks. (Photo by Rick Swart)

Longer trucks should be allowed on Highway 3 between Enterprise and Lewiston to facilitate more efficient transportation of timber and farm products.

Wallowa County officials tried to make a case for that proposition the chief of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) when he was in Enterprise last week.

Wallowa County commissioners urged ODOT director Bruce Warner to consider increasing the current 40-foot maximum trailer length on semi-trucks during a meeting with highway department officials on Friday.

The current limit precludes double trailers and is an impediment to the export of county goods, particularly weed free hay, sawdust chips, and small grains, said Commissioner Ben Boswell, who noted that Washington state has no truck length limit.

Warner, who was accompanied by several members of his staff, scheduled their flight back to Salem from Lewiston so they could see Highway 3 for themselves.

"Safety is our biggest concern," said Warner, who promised to meet with Washington highway officials to see how they handle longer trucks on the steep two-lane highway which snakes its way through the north end of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and along the breaks of the Grande Ronde canyon. He explained that the Oregon length limit is intended to keep big rigs from crossing into the oncoming lane on sharp curves, which are plentiful and give rise to the name "Rattlesnake Grade" on the Washington side of the border.

Warner toured the region after attending a meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission in La Grande. While he was in the area he met with local officials from Malheur, Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

"In general I'm hearing they have a great relationship with the department and are looking for more ways they can partner," he said.

The ODOT boss said he was especially interested in seeing the "streetscape" projects in Joseph and Enterprise. ODOT played a major role in the planning, funding, and construction of both projects.

"The improvements look like they fit the community," Warner said, noting that the goal of his crew was to "put in some urban amenities and make the downtown areas feel like downtowns."

"Both of these towns look vibrant compared to a lot of other communities this size," he said.

Warner added that he is "just amazed" by the beauty of Wallowa County and pleased that the role his department has played in partnering with local people.

"We seem to be a highly regarded partner," he said. "The level of trust here is just outstanding."

Warner was accompanied by Region 5 Manager Tom Schuft, a key player in the two streetscape projects.

Schuft said that next on ODOT's agenda for Wallowa County are construction of several new passing lands along Highway 82 and straightening the hairpin curve at the top of Minam grade just across the county line in Union County, which he said will be a $4-5 million project.

Warner commended Wallowa County officials for their recent efforts to keep the railroad open, saying that rail service is an important component of the transportation system.

"Obviously there is already a substantial investment there that is in fairly good shape," he said. "I think that rail line will be a very important piece of the transportation infrastructure. Keeping that rail line is clearly a positive thing."   

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