McKenzie Highway (OR 242)
|McKenzie Highway News|
Opening of OR 242 over McKenzie Pass
Each year, ODOT clears deep snow from the scenic McKenzie Highway (OR 242) to open it to high country visitors. For cost-efficiency, crews plow one complete lane and let natural melting open the other lane.
To allow all users to plan activities on the highway, ODOT has established the third Monday in June as the opening day for motor vehicles. Prior to then, cyclists and pedestrians may use the highway following normal rules of the road, and at their own risk.
When the Highway opens to motor vehicles, it will remain available for bicyclists and pedestrians. ODOT encourages all users to be aware of each other and Share The Road safely.
The McKenzie Pass Highway became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of OR 126. Even during its tenure as the main route between the southern Willamette Valley and Central Oregon, the narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation (5,325 feet) made the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.
OR 242 over McKenzie Pass is part of the McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway. This 82-mile loop provides striking alpine scenery. To learn more about the scenic byway click here.
For the most current road conditions for the McKenzie Highway visit TripCheck.com.
Opening and Closing Dates
A list of the opening and close dates for the McKenzie Highway back to 1925 can be found here.
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|McKenzie Highway Project 2007-2009|
This was a joint project between the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the US Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
- Completed in 2007: Stabilized the roadway at the steep switchbacks ("Dead Horse Grade") near Mile Post (MP) 69
- Summer 2008: Replace the two bridges at MP 66.70 and MP 68.36
- Summer 2009: Repave approximately 15 miles of the roadway
The project was located along approximately 15.4 miles of the McKenzie Highway, OR 242. It began at White Branch snow gate in Lane County, approximately six miles east of the junction of OR 126 and OR 242, MP 61.9. It ended just east of McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory in Deschutes County, at approximately MP 77.3.
Purpose and Need for the Project
The purposes of the project were to maintain access to National Forest lands and existing recreation opportunities in the project vicinity, and to provide a safe and durable roadway for current and projected traffic while maintaining the historic and scenic qualities of the highway.
OR 242 provides the only access to a number of popular recreation sites on National Forest lands, as well as access for fire protection and response to public emergencies, such as search and rescue. The project was needed because the pavement was failing throughout the project corridor, a section of steep slopes near MP 69 is failing, and two small bridges, at MP 66.70 and at MP 68.36, were in poor condition.
The McKenzie Highway is also known as Oregon Route 242 (OR 242) and Forest Highway (FH) 22. The highway travels through Lane, Linn, and Deschutes counties; beginning at the junction with OR 126 near the town of McKenzie Bridge and ending at the junction with US Highway 20 and OR 126 at the City of Sisters.
The McKenzie Highway is part of the McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass National Scenic Byway. Through part of the project area, OR 242 travels between two federal wilderness areas, and there are many historic, recreational, and scenic features and sites along the route. The boundaries of the Mt. Washington Wilderness and Three Sisters Wilderness are 66 feet from the highway centerline.
The highway route was originally built with private funds in the 1870's as a wagon toll road. The section between the towns of Blue River in Lane County and Sisters in Deschutes County (which includes the project area) became a Forest Road in 1919 (Oregon State Highway Commission, 1920). The road was relocated and widened in 1920, graded and surfaced between 1920 and 1924, and became a Oregon State Highway in 1925.
In 2005, average daily traffic (ADT) for the project area, recorded by ODOT, was 420. By 2025, at an estimated two percent annual growth, the projected ADT will be approximately 620.
An estimated 85 percent of the traffic on OR 242 uses the route to access recreation areas on the National Forest. The remaining 15 percent uses OR 242 as an alternate route between the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon.
Description of Work
The major construction activities for this project included:
- milling and overlaying highway pavement with asphalt concrete,
- repairing sub-grade where needed,
- paving some gravel parking areas and repaving some paved parking areas with asphalt concrete,
- replacing missing or deteriorated historic posts (delineators),
- replacing traffic control signs and striping,
- stabilizing slopes near MP 69, and
- replacing two bridges.
The project was designed to maintain and preserve the historical and physical characteristics of the route (i.e. a narrow, winding roadway along a historic route in a natural, mountainous setting).
The project is being funded under the Forest Highways section of the Public Lands Highway Program, which is financed through the Federal Highway Trust Fund. At this time, approximately $3.8 million of federal funding has been programmed for the project.
Roadway Conditions Prior to the Project
The McKenzie Highway has two travel lanes and narrow shoulders within a consistently narrow roadbed. The paved width is about 17 feet. Because of the narrow width and sharp curves throughout the route, vehicles longer than 35 feet are not permitted. The grade is generally moderate to steep (estimated between one and six percent), and the asphalt concrete surface is in fair to poor condition. Existing cut slopes are in volcanic rocks or in the thin layer of soil overlying the rocks and generally stable, except in the section of steep switchbacks near MP 69. The steepness of cut slopes and nearby tree cover result in a shaded roadway throughout most of the project length.
A road recycling project was completed in the early 1990s to extend the life of the pavement on OR 242. The project included level patching and cold recycling. Recent observations indicate that the existing pavement typically ranges from three to six inches thick. Throughout most of the project area, the top 2 inches of asphalt (placed in 1991 and 1992) lies on top of approximately two inches of cold recycled asphalt. The older asphalt underlying both layers shows significant deterioration, and subsurface borings show a lack of aggregate base under the pavement. Field observations and laboratory testing data indicate that the existing sub-grade was not well compacted. The pavement shows some cracking, and it has been patched in many locations. Because the pavement is narrow, motorists often travel near the outer edge of the road to provide a comfortable distance between them and oncoming traffic. Because the road shoulders are very narrow or non-existent, that practice has caused the edges of the road to ravel and break up.
The bridges at MP 66.70 and 68.36 were originally built in 1921 and rebuilt in 1938 and 1941. Both bridges are supported by rock masonry abutments that are deteriorating. Interim repairs have been made to the bridges, but they continue to deteriorate. The hydraulic capacity of both bridges is inadequate to pass a 50-year flood event.
Much of this information was excerpted from a report prepared for FHWA by David Evans and Associates.