PENDLETON — Oregon’s $15 million Snow Zone Safety Improvement Project progresses along Interstate 84 between Pendleton and La Grande. The Oregon Department of Transportation reported contractors are working to cut through the westbound freeway shoulder to install electrical conduit from the power source near milepost 217 to the top of Cabbage Hill and beyond.

This is “one of the most challenging aspects of the project,” according to ODOT, and because the work zone is along the steep, curvy 6-percent grade, travel is down to one westbound lane at the top of the hill near mile point 223.5, almost four miles ahead of the work area. ODOT project manager Petr Lovasik explained safety is the reason for the long work zone.

“It is extremely dangerous to merge traffic along a downhill grade like Cabbage Hill with its sharp curves and steep drop-offs,” he explained. “We can’t have cars and commercial trucks passing each other down the hill, then expect them to merge safely into one lane. The laws of physics and human nature suggest that could lead to disaster.”

Drivers may have frustration with the work zone configuration, but ODOT urged patience and caution.

“Merging and slowing traffic near the top of the hill, and getting everyone to maintain those reduced speeds through the work zone is the best way to keep you and work crews safe,” according to ODOT.

As the trenching moves up the hill, the work zone will become shorter. Crews should finish placing the conduit and patching the shoulders in late August though mid-September. Other work — light installation, overhead sign foundations — and westbound lane restriction will continue through October between mile points 220 and 223 on Cabbage Hill, and additional sites between there and La Grande.

The work then resumes next spring until completion by the end of 2020.

“The final project will provide you with real time information about road and weather conditions, and a safer commute, especially during the wintertime,” according to Lovasik. “New digital freeway message boards, weather sensors, cameras, lighting, cable barriers and other enhancements installed at various locations between Cabbage Hill and La Grande are all part of the project. Getting power to these new features is the first step and that’s what we’re working on now.”

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