I-84 isn’t a unique hazard

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 11, 2013 07:35 am

It comes as no surprise to local residents that the stretch of Interstate 84 between Meacham and Pendleton can be slippery during winter.

Of course this is equally true for the entire 165-mile section of the freeway between Pendleton and the Idaho border, as well as for every other street, county road and state highway in Baker County.

That being the case, the recent spate of publicity regarding the tragic bus crash on I-84 that killed nine passengers on Dec. 30, though understandable and potentially worthwhile as a warning to the public, also seems to us riddled with exaggerations about the lethality of certain parts of the freeway.

There is nothing uniquely hazardous about the place where the Canadian tour bus careened off the freeway.

Although many news reports have focused on the 6-percent grade and curves of Cabbage Hill, which is nearby, the bus driver, who according to an eyewitness was driving much too fast for the icy and foggy conditions, lost control on a section that’s essentially flat and straight.

But even when the pavement is dry a seemingly innocuous section of road can be dangerous if the driver is careless.

Media accounts have emphasized the treacherous conditions not only on Cabbage Hill, but also through the Ladd Canyon pass that separates the North Powder and Grande Ronde valleys, about 30 miles north of Baker City.

Indeed, both places can be tricky to negotiate in winter.

We wonder, though, whether these dramatic descriptions, connected to a terrible accident that in fact didn’t happen in either place, might mislead travelers into believing the freeway is to be avoided.

The truth, as any longtime local could tell you, is that similar conditions prevail at times every winter on secondary roads throughout the region.

The main difference between the interstate and, say, Highway 245 over Dooley Mountain, Highway 86 over the Halfway Grade, or Highway 203 through Medical Springs, is that those state routes are lightly traveled, which means help, should you need it, might be some time in arriving.

The best advice, of course, is to be prepared for trouble regardless of your route, and to drive with particular caution whenever wintry weather is possible. 

These preparations pertain not only to vehicles — properly inflated tires, traction devices and the like — but to the driver as well. Driver fatigue might have been a factor in the deadly Dec. 30 crash.