Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

The new variable speed limit signs on Interstate 84 had their first chance to shine on Monday as dense fog cloaked sections of the freeway near Baker City.

The signs fizzled.

Sensors within at least one sign failed to recognize that fog had reduced the visibility below one-tenth of a mile, at which point the sign is supposed to reduce the posted speed limit from the usual 70 mph for passenger cars.

“There are some things that are not working properly right now,” Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), said Tuesday morning.

The signs are equipped with sensors that measure visibility, temperature and the road surface condition. They also have cameras.

Strandberg said it appears that crews neglected to install a camera in a sign near the Baker Valley Rest Area, about eight miles north of Baker City.

That might explain why the signs didn’t display a lower speed limit even though fog was thick in that area at times Monday morning, Strandberg said.

ODOT installed about 15 signs this summer and fall in a 30-mile stretch of the freeway between Ladd Canyon and Baker City.

Officials chose that section, rather than mountain passes or the curvy Burnt River Canyon between Baker City and Huntington, in part because accident statistics suggest that drivers tend to be more cautious in those areas because of the steep grades and corners.

See more in the Nov. 23, 2016, issue of the Baker City Herald.

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