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Oregon posts construction project fiscal data roadside – sometimes

Oregon posts construction project fiscal data roadside – sometimes

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
August 19, 2010

The state of Oregon, unlike Idaho, sometimes chooses to post fiscal data relating to road construction projects on the sides of that state’s highway when conditions permit.  An official with Oregon’s central transportation agency says that information is posted if it is deemed safe to do so and not distracting to motorists.

David Thomspon, communications specialist with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), told IdahoReporter.com that his state has different reasons for posting data.  “Oregon usually puts up highway construction project signs at each highway construction project; we want people to know why they're being slowed down because, many times, federal requirements insist we put up such signs,” said Thompson.

Even though ODOT attempts to inform drivers about projects, information in roadside signs can vary widely due to safety concerns.   “We do not list every element of the project or many details, because the sign is supposed to be quick information gathered while passing at speed, not something that distracts drivers from the road, especially if you're already in the work zone,” said Thomspon. He said ODOT tried to post fiscal data, but that it can sometimes obfuscate drivers about the real costs of projects  “Sometimes the dollar amounts are there, sometimes not,” explained Thompson. “Part of the problem in putting a number there: What does it represent? The actual construction contract amount? The expected bid amount? Or the actual construction cost plus planning, preliminary engineering, and right-of-way?”

Officials with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), charged with maintaining highways in Idaho, say that fiscal data is not posted roadside for safety reason.  "ITD considers signs to be a distraction. Other than directional information signs, and overhead signs with simply-stated safety information, we don’t do them," June Sparks, former ITD spokeswoman, told IdahoReporter.com.

One state legislator, Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, is challenging the safety argument pitched by ITD.  "I have no idea why they think that," said Wood.  "Why would it be unsafe?  Unless the signs are great big and obstruct a driver's view, which they don't have to be, then they are safe."  The Rigby Republican says that in meetings with department officials, they are going to have to offer evidence.  "They are going to have to prove it to me," Wood, who chairs the House Transportation and Defense Committee, concluded.

Thompson says ITD’s concerns for safety are shared by ODOT. “We do not always put up signs, for example if highway construction projects come at a driver one-right-after-the-other in a series,” said Thompson.  “And we don't want to distract a driver while he or she is driving in a work zone.”

Thompson says there isn’t a definite rule for what’s appropriate for roadside signs.  “It's a fine line, and different state departments of transportation come down around that line slightly differently,” said Thompson.  “I wouldn't characterize these different positions as right or wrong--just different.”

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