ONTARIO — Roundabouts are safer than signal lights, particularly at intersections of rural high-speed highways.
That is the message that was shared on Thursday afternoon by the Oregon Department of Transportation to different focus groups as the department considers solutions to make Cairo Junction, the intersection of U.S. Highways 20-26 and Oregon 201, safer for motorists.
Kevin Haas. traffic standards engineer, was the presenter for the afternoon session and evening sessions held at ODOT’s District 14 office in Ontario.
Haas said the first roundabout in Oregon was constructed on Century Drive in Bend, and a few more were built before a moratorium was put in place in 2012 after complaints by the trucking industry. The moratorium was lifted after an accident at a rural signaled intersection in northwestern Oregon killed two teenagers. While a roundabout at the location may not have prevented the accident, it probably would have been less severe, Haas said.
There are currently about 100 roundabouts around the state, including 30 or more in Bend and five on the state highway system. The state of Washington has 200.
The closest ones to Malheur County are in the Nampa-Caldwell area.
About 50 percent of all crashes at traffic signal lights end up with severe injuries or fatalities, Haas said. Roundabouts have shown a 78 to 82 percent reduction with roundabouts, Haas said.
One of Haas’s concerns with signal lights is that most crashes are right angle crashes, such as T-boning and rear-end crashes, while crashes on roundabouts are usually glances from the side, he said.
Between 2009 and 2018 there were 31 crashes at Cairo Junction, according to ODOT data, and the junction is high on the list for improvements to be made, Haas said.
Other benefits given for roundabouts is they slow traffic down, reducing emissions as there is no waiting for signal to change, which also leads to fuel savings.
Rep. Lynn Findley said the main issue at Cairo Junction is speed of the traffic which needs to be slowed.
Another concern expressed Thursday, several times, is traffic coming from the west on Highway 20-26, turning toward Ontario, pulling into the right lane ahead of traffic coming from the south, instead of staying in the lane until past the solid light line that separates the two lanes.
These meetings were the start of the conversation about what to do at Cairo Junction, ODOT District 14 Manager s Paul Woodworth said, with 2023 being a target date for a possible project.
“Signal lights will not be an option,” he said.