State Department of Transportation officials are looking at building a roundabout at the Cairo Junction, Oregon Highway 201 junction south of Ontario. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ONTARIO – State Transportation Department officials believe a roundabout at Cairo Junction would save lives and cut down on serious car crashes.

Data collected by the Transportation Department appears to support the claim that the unique intersection design is effective. 

“This is one tool that is proven that it works,” said Tom Strandberg, agency spokesman.

A roundabout is a circular intersection or junction that channels traffic around a central island. 

Federal funding for the project isn’t available until 2021 or 2022 and state officials are still working on a roundabout blueprint for the area.

The planning will proceed with public input, said Paul Woodworth, manager of the agency’s Ontario district.

“We need to get some lines on paper and come up with two, three or four potential designs. Then meet with a larger range of people to get input on those designs and then narrow it down to a preferred design,” said Woodworth.

Roundabouts are a safer traffic management tool, said Woodworth, than a signal light.

“The data on those things is that, one, they do reduce crashes. But the biggest deal is it changes the type of crash. Anytime we get a stop traffic intersection where traffic is perpendicular, they are either T-bone crashes or high-speed rear end crashes. Both are very severe,” said Woodworth.

Transportation Department statistics from the intersection of Southwest 18th Avenue and Oregon Highway 201 show crashes actually climbed after a traffic light was placed there.

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Over a time period of 1993 to 2002 when the junction was not controlled by a traffic light there were 10 crashes total, including seven injury accidents and three property damage collisions. 

In 2003, the Transportation Department installed a signal light. Between 2009 and 2018 the intersection was the scene of 17 crashes, including one fatal collision and eight injury accidents and eight that damaged property.

There are five roundabout locations in Oregon with four more planned in Salem, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls.

Woodworth said serious crashes in the Cairo Junction area have climbed.

“It has much higher crash rate and severity of crashes than we could expect,” said Woodworth.

Between 2008 and 2018 there were 31 crashes – including one death – in the area around Cairo Junction. Of those 31 collisions, 16 were injury crashes and 14 damaged property.

There is no price tag yet on the proposed plan but similar roundabouts in the state in places like Prineville and Sisters cost from $2.9 million to $3.3 million.

“We’ve never had a fatal or serious crash in a roundabout,” said Strandberg.

News tip? Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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