Last month’s crossover crash along a dangerous stretch of I-5 near Salem claimed two more lives. Since the five foot earthen berm was built in 1994 separating northbound and southbound lanes, it has done little to stop wandering vehicles traveling at even moderate speeds from crossing and hitting oncoming traffic.
On September 24, 2014 at approximately 7:50 a.m., a 2005 Ford Ranger pickup was northbound along a stretch of I-5 near Salem in heavy rain conditions when it collided into the left side of a tanker trailer. The pickup then crossed the raised grass center median into the southbound lanes where it collided head-on with a 1993 Nissan Sentra two-door with two occupants. Two other southbound vehicles, a 2002 Dodge Dakota pickup and a 1997 Toyota pickup, were involved in the collision. The Nissan’s driver was pronounced deceased at the scene. A passenger in the Nissan was transported by ambulance to Salem Hospital in critical condition, where she later died.
Since 2005, there have been at least 22 crossover crashes on the 5-mile stretch, separated by only a grassy 5-foot mound of dirt that launches vehicles over to the other side.
September’s accident could have been avoided if the state had installed a median cable barrier separating northbound and southbound lanes, as was proposed in 2012 but postponed for political and budgetary reasons. Following the recent crash, installation of the barrier has been proposed but postponed again, this time until summer of 2015.
Cable barriers, relatively inexpensive to install ($10 per foot), work effectively like a net to catch wayward vehicles.
In contrast to Oregon, since 2001 Washington State has made installation of cable barriers a priority. Today, every mile of Washington highway with a median of 50 feet or less has a cable barrier. While Washington has nearly 240 miles of cable barrier, Oregon has only 94. Unlike Oregon’s reactive approach to highway safety, Washington tries to be proactive by looking not just at crash history but crash potential, including traffic volume and speed.