Willamette Valley hit with a double dose of travel challenges
OTE’s team at the Santiam rest area north of Albany got their winter workout when traffic quadrupled at the stop on Friday and Saturday.
Rest Area Supervisor Shawn White reports that commercial trucks lined both sides of the rest area. Motorists also took suggestions from the Oregon Department of Transportation and OTE to use the rest area as their travel “command” center.
“We were called back in to assist people on Friday night,” White explains. “It was dark and people were phoning family and friends to let them know they were going to wait until daybreak to try and make it home.
“Everyone pulled together to keep things going smoothly,” White adds. “We helped numerous travelers chain up and our cleaning contractors worked to make sure that restrooms were kept as clean as possible given the unexpected crowds.”
White says that there were a few minor parking lot fender benders when drivers backed up on the ice, but that no one was injured.
“We kept busy with our tractor and deicer, but the temperatures were so low that deice applications were not effective. So we kept moving ice with our tractor to an area where it will not be problematic when the temperatures finally reach above freezing.”
“By the drinking fountains, we installed heaters on the interior pipe chasing to make sure the fountain pipes stay at a consistent 45 to 50 degrees,” White said. “All in all, I think we got through this storm in tact, however, I am concerned about the possibility of freezing rain and snow coming up tonight and tomorrow. We want our travelers to be safe.”
Preparation makes for weather “wise-ation”
In anticipation of winter driving challenges, OTE rest area operations tackled upgrades and preparations earlier this season. From new heat pumps and forced air systems to double doors at snowy Government Camp, rest area staff performed numerous winter weatherizing projects over the summer.
Jason Nash, OTE’s Director of Rest Area Operation, said the weatherizing projects were necessary for both traveler comfort as well as an operational necessity.
“At Government Camp and Tillamook rest ares we installed new forced air systems,” said Nash. “This will help those rest rooms to not only provide a little bit of a better comfort level for our travelers, but also to be more environmentally friendly.
“We also adjusted the heaters and temperatures at French Prairie and Santiam rest areas,” Nash added. “And, we’ve added door sweeps and stripping to minimize heat loss on doors that are subjected to non-stop use.”
With travelers in mind, plenty of deicing applications, snow blowers, shovels, and ready-at-a-phone-call snow removal companies are helping to reduce slip hazards for rest area users.
“We started wrapping pipes and exposed plumbing about three months before the onset of this storm,” said White. “We use an infrared thermometer to check that all plumbing is kept above 35 degrees. That’s kind of a challenge, considering that many of our smaller buildings onsite are unheated.”
In addition to rest area winter challenges, the OTE Highway Sign Program staff are ready to respond to reports of highway signs downed by vehicles sliding on ice or by any other weather related damage.
“We’re still waiting for reports to come in from this most recent storm,” said OTE Sign Operations Director Diane Cheyne. “We’re ready to assess damage and send out our crew just in case.”
What you can do to stay safe on the road this season
If you are on the road during inclement weather, make sure to check with the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) traffic conditions website: TripCheck.com. Updates to traction requirements and road closures are posted round-the-clock, with road camera locations.
Should you need to pull over and contact roadside assistance or family members, try to do so at one of our 20 managed highway safety rest areas. During a severe storm, our staff will be called back in to help out. You can check all of our locations on our rest area web page.
Follow all ODOT tips for safe winter driving on ODOT’s website: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/Pages/winterdriving.aspx
Remember, if you do not feel confident about driving in snowy or icy conditions and are able to stay at home, be safe and wait for the roads to clear.