Local government

Work on new roundabout at Cairo Junction kicks off

ONTARIO – Construction crews recently kicked off work on what will become a new roundabout intersection at Cairo Junction.

The roundabout, which will replace the former T intersection, is part of a larger, $16.7 million state Transportation Department project on U.S. Highway 20 in Malheur and Harney counties.

Roundabouts are a circular intersection with curved entrances that reduce vehicle speeds with no traffic signals.

“There will also be some safety improvements along U.S. 20 along six intersections. They are also scheduled to pave over pullout areas between Riley Junction and Ontario,” said Vicki Moles, community affairs specialist for the Transportation Department.

The $16.7 million project, said Moles, is designed to “help out freight movement and in getting larger loads off of the highway.”

Marcum & Sons of Redmond, is the contractor on the roundabout project.

The roundabout project is scheduled to be complete by October 2024, said Moles. Transportation Department officials began to talk about the roundabout concept at Cairo Junction in 2019.

Now traffic between Ontario, Nyssa and Vale using the Cairo Junction intersection must negotiate through 24-hour flagging delays that will be in place for several months.

“Sometime in September and October there is supposed to be a three-way stop to keep traffic moving through the winter,” said Moles.

A spate of serious crashes between 2009 and 2018 prompted the Transportation Department to build the roundabout.

Moles said over that nine-year period, 31 crashes were recorded, including 15 injury wrecks and one death.

“The roundabout will reduce injury and fatal crashes by 90% by reducing speeds and the angle of impact,” said Moles.

The roundabout will enhance safety in others ways, too. The roundabout moves traffic in a specific direction and improves the flow of traffic by decreasing wait times to merge into heavy traffic.

Moles said Transportation Department officials sponsored meetings in the past and open houses on the project during the summer of 2021.

Concerns were raised by some local residents about potential of confusion when using a roundabout, said Moles.

She said the Transportation Department offered “educational opportunities” for the public regarding how to use an roundabout and said the Cairo Project website at https://www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=21230 provides information to help motorists.

Property owners near the roundabout also raised some concerns regarding the potential impact on their ability to move farm equipment through the new roundabout. Moles said the design doesn’t create a problem for that movement.

“We designed the roundabout at Cairo Junction to be larger than what people may find in Bend or other cities,” said Moles.

Some residents urged the Transportation Department install a traffic light and lower the speed limit at Cairo Junction instead of building a roundabout. The Transportation Department decided against a traffic signal and a lower speed limit because neither would lower the risk of serious crashes in the same way a roundabout can. Speed reductions in rural settings “has proven to have limited compliance without regular onsite enforcement,” the department wrote in a fact sheet on the Cairo Junction roundabout.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

State eyes roundabout as fix at Cairo Junction

New Cairo Junction roundabout project slated for 2023

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