Fifteen motorists are suing the State of Oregon and a State contractor over a crash-prone highway ramp in Tigard blamed for a number of wrecks in 2014. The suit filed earlier this week alleges negligent design and construction of the ramp connecting Interstate 5 to Oregon 217 and seeks $2.03 million in damages from both the Oregon Department of Transportation and its contractor, Kiewit Corp., a construction services company based out of Nebraska.
Between the years of 2008 and 2012, there were 37 serious crashes that occurred on the highway ramp. With a series of crashes over of a number of weeks in early 2014, the dangerous conditions of the ramp were brought back into the public eye.
The suit alleges that a metal joint embedded in the ramp came out of alignment, causing uneven surfaces dangerous to passing vehicles. Metal joints are common in ramp construction, which allow bridges, ramps, and roads to expand and contract with changing temperatures.
“The Highway 217 on-ramp was putting people at risk every day. ODOT spends millions of dollars on safety advertising and yet does nothing when a dangerous condition they control stares them in the face. Accident after accident occurred in exactly the same place and ODOT did nothing” said Mark McDougal, a Portland attorney representing the motorists in the suit.
ODOT addressed potential concerns with the expansion joint in May of 2014, and performed work on the joint in 2004 when it attempted to even out the road surface by grinding down previously uneven areas of the joint. Even with these actions and noted concerns, department officials declared the joint within safe specifications, and noted that incidents were likely due to drivers traveling too fast to negotiate the curve.
“This tells us that people have become comfortable going faster than the posted speed limit on that bridge,” said Don Hamilton of the Transportation department, adding “as the road surface deteriorated…soon that road surface wasn’t able to handle those faster speeds.”
Kiewit Corporation, the contractor responsible for construction of the ramp, received a $560,000 bonus for finishing the ramp ahead of schedule in 2001, noting that they stood behind the project. They have not commented on the current allegations.