UPDATE: A day after notifying holiday drivers that southbound 97 would remain one lane through the long weekend, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced a change to the plan for the highway south of Bend.
Officials say both north and southbound will be reduced to a single travel lane, with the center lane reserved to serve whichever direction needs extra room. This change effects those driving between Romaine Village and lava Butte, where crews are installing a new center median.
ODOT says the revision to the holiday plan was made "in the interest of safety and consideration of potential congestion."
BEND, OR -- Crews will continue to work on a major highway construction project south of Bend, over Fourth of July weekend. The Oregon Department of Transportation shutdown one southbound lane from Romaine Village to Lava Butte, in order to install a new concrete median.
ODOT’s Peter Murphy tells KBND News they typically try not to do construction over a long holiday weekend. "We know that it causes problems with traffic. It’s just that, in a case like this, if we were to go ahead and stop it, it would mean reopening the lane that we’ve closed. Then, we’d have to re-close it again and then the contractor would be off the job. So, one thing leads to another, it kind of snowballs then it costs more."
Drivers could experience delays in the area up to 30 minutes, with the longest waits expected Friday afternoon. But, Murphy says the highway will be safer, in the long run. "Those are the kinds of trades you have to make when you decide whether to close a highway or a lane, or lift the construction. It’s really more complicated than just making it happen – there’s money involved, there’s schedules involved. We’re trying to make sure things work so we can get the median project put in."
This is peak travel season for Lava Butte. Nearly 33,000 vehicles drove on that stretch of Highway 97, last July. "In 2015, we noticed that traffic over Lava butte was up 10% from the year before, and this year, it’s up 5% over that. And, if you throw in the Fourth of July weekend, it’s a highway that gets real crowded real quick. And, then when we take away a lane for a construction project, it gets even more crowded on top of that." The $6 million median project is expected to be finished by the end of October.