If you recently traveled McKay Road you likely saw lots of cars – and some improvements to make the two-lane road safer.
"The county receives citizen requests for road improvements all the time," county Public Works Director Brian Nicholas said. "Now, we're making new investments to enhance the McKay Road corridor. The enhancements we're making have been shown to reduce the types of accidents we see on McKay Road."
The corridor is actually three rural roads that over time merged into one, with each maintaining its original name – McKay, Yergen and Ehlen roads. That corridor has become one of the county's top concerns for traffic safety.
Most crashes on McKay Road occur along the roughly five-mile stretch between Highway 219 and Interstate 5. The maximum speed is 55 mph and drops lower near the freeway, but the Marion County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) has clocked drivers doing more than 90 mph.
"Those roads were designed as country roads and they're being treated as highways," Sheriff Joe Kast said. "That's the biggest problem, just getting people to slow down. Whenever there's a gap in the traffic, some of these cars are just flying."
Some crashes occur at intersections, apparently because motorists entering from side roads do not see the oncoming traffic or do not recognize how fast those vehicles are moving. Another major source of crashes has been vehicles veering out of their lanes.
"Any little mistake at high speed can become a big mistake," Kast said. The county public works department is collaborating with the MCSO to enhance safety on the corridor. The county has installed centerline rumble strips and other striping from Highway 219 to Aurora. Larger 55 mph speed signs are being added as well and the county will test providing vehicle speed feedback on some signs.
New signs have been installed on the side roads as they approach the road, including larger stop signs at intersections and large "Stop Ahead" signs. All are highly reflective, as are new pavement markings showing where vehicles should stop. Some intersections also have "Cross Traffic Does Not Stop" warnings.
The county has ordered flashing beacons to install where needed. In addition, more of the corridor will be designated as "No Passing" zones.
Longer-term improvements will include installing reflectors at curves and guardrails, widening the fog lines, adding turnouts for slow-moving vehicles, creating left-turn pockets at some intersections and reconstructing other intersections.
During the 2019 session, the Legislature tasked the Oregon Department of Transportation with launching a county level safety corridor pilot program through the passage of House Bill 3213. Once that becomes available, Nicholas said, Marion County will seek a safety corridor designation for McKay Road, which would allow additional signs and doubling of traffic fines.
"The number of serious accidents that have occurred on McKay Road over the last two years would qualify the road for safety corridor designation under ODOT's current guidelines," Nicholas said.
The MCSO has run saturation patrols along the corridor and found that many of the drivers were from outside the area, possibly cutting through Marion County as a shortcut between Interstate 5 and the relatively new Newberg-Dundee bypass in Yamhill County. The sheriff's office has been expanding its social media presence to warn those motorists against driving too fast.
"I don't think anything is worth traveling those speeds for," Kast said. "There's a lot of activity up there – farm activity, residents that live up there, there's kids up there. And driving those speeds is just too much risk. It's extremely dangerous."
For people who witness dangerous driving, Kast has this advice: "If someone's driving in a manner that's dangerous and looks like it's going to cause crashes, we would recommend they call 9-1-1. This will allow dispatch to notify the sheriff's office and any other nearby agencies as well."