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Truck climbing lanes to improve safety and efficiency of the Interstate
Getting stuck going 20 miles per hour behind a big truck climbing up one of Oregon’s steep grades on the Interstate can be frustrating.  And it can be dangerous too, as these locations have crash rates much higher than the statewide average because faster-moving vehicles frequently run into slow-moving trucks and other passenger vehicles slowed by trucks.
Because these uphill climbs create bottlenecks on the Interstate and cause significant safety issues, ODOT will build a series of truck climbing lanes on I-5 through southern Oregon and on I-84 through eastern Oregon. These truck climbing lanes allow large vehicles to move over to the right lane, letting other vehicles pass in the left two lanes without slowing. This reduces crashes and improves the operational efficiency of the Interstate.
I-5 Sexton Mountain Climbing Lane
I-5 is the West Coast's major trade corridor and one of the top freight routes in the nation. Some of the steepest grades anywhere in the nation are on I-5 in southern Oregon. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration ranks several locations along I-5 in southern Oregon as among the worst steep grade freight bottlenecks in the nation.These steep grades slow trucks significantly, often to under 30 miles per hour, slowing other vehicles that can’t get around as well.. The difference in speed between slow-moving trucks and faster vehicles causes safety problems. When one truck attempts to pass another slow-moving vehicle, both I-5 lanes are blocked, forcing traffic to brake hard or suddenly change lanes to avoid a collision. Trucks have long used the I-5 shoulders, designed to provide a safe refuge for disabled vehicles, to navigate southern Oregon’s mountain passes. Trucks using the shoulder cause significant damage that requires frequent repair.
The I-5 Sexton Mountain project will build a climbing lane for trucks and other slow vehicles that face challenges climbing Sexton Mountain on the northbound freeway. While most freeway climbs are built on grades of 5 percent or less, the northbound I-5 lanes on Sexton Mountain present a 6.1-percent grade. The climbing lane will be about 2.8 miles long, starting as an extension of the Hugo (exit 66) interchange’s northbound on-ramp and ending just beyond the crest of the mountain pass. The 12-foot climbing lane will be built where the shoulder currently exists. A new 10-foot shoulder will be built to the right of the climbing lane. The additional lane will allow the shoulder to be used as intended for disabled or emergency vehicles and will improve safety and mobility. The climbing lane is also expected to reduce the frequency of I-5 closures related to commercial trucks, especially during winter driving conditions.
Construction of the northbound Sexton climbing lane will get under way this summer, with completion expected in fall of 2014.
ODOT recently constructed three short climbing lanes, each roughly one-mile long, on I-5 in Douglas County. The truck climbing lanes are located southbound at Rice Hill and in both directions on the steep grade between Sutherlin and Oakland. ODOT has identified additional locations on I-5 in southern Oregon where truck climbing lanes would be beneficial and will build these projects as funding becomes available.
I-84 Spring Creek Climbing Lane
The I-84 Spring Creek Climbing Lane is being built just west of La Grande where the freeway passes through the Blue Mountains. Vehicles traveling westbound on I-84 face a six percent uphill grade, forcing trucks to travel slowly and slowing other vehicles in the process, which causes a high crash rate. What’s more, during the winter trucks regularly spin out on the steep grade and block the freeway, causing frequent and lengthy closures.
Thanks to funding from the JTA, ODOT is building a 1.5-mile third lane on westbound I-84. ODOT has combined construction of the truck climbing lane with a pavement preservation project for efficiency. Once complete, the project will improve safety and mobility on an important freight corridor and reduce the frequency of freeway closures, as vehicles will have additional room to maneuver around disabled vehicles.