PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Seven people died in five crashes on Highway 6 in 2021 and now Oregon lawmakers are pushing to make the roadway a safer place and ensure it remains a reliable connection between Washington County and the coast.
House Bill 4053 is currently being considered in the Oregon legislature. If passed, the bill would require the Oregon Department of Transportation to study Highway 6 for things like safety and reliability and report its findings to the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than Sept. 15, 2023.
Rep. Suzanne Weber serves Clatsop County and part of Tillamook and Washington Counties. She’s the chief sponsor of the bill and testified on its behalf in a Joint Committee on Transportation hearing Tuesday. She urgently stressed the need to begin studying the road and making improvements to it.
“We are under no illusion the results of this study will be anything but sobering in terms of scope and cost,” she said. “We simply can’t wait any longer.”
In her testimony, Weber said Highway 6 was constructed during the Great Depression. She said the highway has few pullouts, guard rails or passing lanes. She noted that almost the entire span between Banks and Tillamook is only two lanes with a handful of short passing lanes, despite more than a million people visiting Tillamook County every year, many via Highway 6.
Another concern of the highway is its lack of cell phone reception. Weber said there’s a span of about 40 miles when cell phone reception is unavailable and the last payphone in the area was removed a few years ago.
She said this leaves the responsibility of reporting accidents or problem drivers to the locals who live on a highway. And, if a crash occurs in the middle of the Tillamook State Forest, a person might need to walk for miles before reaching the nearest home.
On top of the concern for human life and safety, Weber said Highway 6 also poses a risk to the overall economic well being of Tillamook and its surrounding communities. She points to flooding that occurred on the highway in 1996 and said helicopters had to deliver supplies.
“This is the lifeblood of the community. This is the only access,” said Trevor Beltz, manager of government relations at the Tillamook County Creamery Association.
Beltz also provided testimony at the hearing Tuesday and said when Highway 6 is impassible, it’s a major inconvenience to Tillamook Creamery. He said trucks need to be rerouted up Highway 101 to Highway 28, a difference of 28 miles and 41 minutes. If all their trucks do this, it’s more than 11 additional hours of drive time in a day than they would have if they could take Highway 6.
It’s a strain on business operations, Beltz said, and it’s also a strain on the environment. He pointed out the additional carbon dioxide that’s emitted when Tillamook’s trucks are forced to travel longer distances.
Justin Aufdermauer, president of the Tillamook Chamber of Commerce, said Highway 6 is a deterrent to businesses moving to the area or expanding. He said sunken grades are already causing the road to crack, forcing repairs which delay drivers coming to and from Tillamook.
“In tourism, Highway 6, as we look at group travel, we look for travel buses, small and large, the one hindrance that we have is not our assets over here on this side of the mountain. It’s that Highway 6, it’s just not safe,” he said.
So far, all written testimony submitted to lawmakers has been supportive.
In the bill, lawmakers are asking ODOT to assess the condition of Oregon Route 6, provide recommendations on improving its condition, and give an estimate on the cost of the improvements. It does not mention providing ODOT with any additional funding to conduct the study.
This was the first hearing for the bill. Oregon State Legislators have not said when it will next be discussed.