Latest round of ODOT maintenance on 217 flyover ramp won't fix crash problems

Latest round of ODOT maintenance on 217 flyover ramp won't fix crash problems »Play Video
ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson says if drivers would just go the advisory speed limit of 35 mph on the Highway 217 flyover they would be safe.

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- The Oregon Department of Transportation made good on its word to upgrade the 217 flyover ramp, which has seen a recent string of car crashes, but the agency said it still won't prevent future wrecks.

For two nights this week, ODOT crews "sealed the deck," a routine maintenance process that basically protects the road from the elements and also adds more friction for cars. The agency decided to complete the work six to eight months earlier than it normally would.

"We decided to do that early in a overabundance of caution. Maybe that will help," ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson told the On Your Side Investigators. "It, at least temporarily, increases friction."

However, Thompson said he didn't want people to get the "false impression that (the deck seal) solves all the problems." In fact, he steered clear of guaranteeing that it would prevent future wrecks on the ramp.

"I don't want to make that promise. How can I make that promise?" he said. "The truth of the matter is, we've increased friction but if somebody has bald tires, if somebody is going 50 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the wrong moment, they could easily spin out."
    
Thompson stressed that the deck seal was the last known upgrade in a list of recent efforts to curb crashes at the 217 flyover ramp.

In June, ODOT announced a series of studies it conducted about the ramp as well as upgrades it planned to install, including a lighted variable message sign to remind drivers of the advisory 35 mph speed, a 35 mph speed sign, and electric warning signs. In that same release, ODOT promised to seal the deck by mid-August.
   
KATU has documented several wrecks on the ramp that connects 217 to I-5, especially when it's rainy.
 
ODOT is adamant the ramp is not the culprit. In that same June press release announcing the new signs, ODOT said it found no structural problems and blamed the series of traffic-jamming collisions in recent months on drivers going too fast.

"Every study we've done on the ramp says that the ramp is not causing the crashes," Thompson said. "We're admitting we don't know."

However, in May, ODOT told KATU that crews were looking into whether a joint on the ramp was the cause of the problem. A second ODOT spokesman, Don Hamilton, told another media outlet that the joint's "teeth are slightly out of plumb."
    
The On Your Side Investigators filed a public records request and found misalignment at the joint - measuring a half-inch to an inch - has been mentioned in every inspection report done on the ramp since it opened in 2001.

Last month, the On Your Side Investigators found a memo in which an engineer raised serious concerns about the ramp a year after it was built.

In it, Steve Starkey, who worked on the project, told state transportation authorities in part, "I believe work and finished product quality was partially compromised for short-term profit. I recognize that proving this statement is not easy."

Starkey went on to say he saw trucks driving over a slab two days before they were supposed to.

"Mr. Starkey would not have allowed it," Thompson told KATU at that time. "But the people who had the decision-making authority at the time did allow it, so they must have thought it was the safe thing to do."

Thompson said if drivers would just go the advisory speed limit of 35 mph on the ramp they would be "perfectly safe."