Crash, Gales Creek, Hwy 6

After year of deadly crashes, ODOT installs new safety signs on Highway 6

A series of 45 mph advisory signs near milepost 34 on Highway 6 on Thursday, January 27, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that new safety signs on the Wilson River Highway—signed as Highway 6—had been installed between Banks and Tillamook in an effort to cut down on traffic fatalities on the highway. 

The announcement came on the heels of a bill introduced Tuesday in the Oregon House of Representatives by State Rep. Suzanne Weber (R-Tillamook) that would direct ODOT to study Highway 6 and provide an assessment of the highway’s condition, deficiencies, and estimates to repair it.

Stretching from the Banks area through Gales Creek and the Tillamook State Forest to its terminus at Highway 101 in Tillamook, the highway is a deadly stretch of pavement that twists, turns, and in some places, cracks as it cuts through the rugged Coast Range. 

In some places, the mountain appears intent on erasing the smooth pavement, splitting the once-smooth surface with cracks and abrupt grades as the road threatens to slide off a number of steep ravines. 

A crack splits Highway 6 on Thursday, January 27, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

ODOT crews patch, re-patch, shore up, and patch again the highway. A large sign near Banks can be activated to blink yellow lights, warning motorists of possible landslides in the corridor.

“Rough Road” the highway signs state, and they mean it. 

Now, ODOT has added several new signs in an effort to remind motorists to slow down and use caution on the highway, which ODOT notes has seen an increase in crashes. 

“We all must recognize OR 6 is not a high speed facility and adjust our driving habits accordingly,” said ODOT regional manager Sonny Chickering in a press release. “This is a rural, mountainous road with narrow sections and low speed curves that traverse several major and active slide areas.  Because the route is key to the economy of Tillamook and nearby coastal communities, there are many large trucks and recreational vehicles using the highway. We’ve all got to be more careful.”

A truck hauling boulders heads west on Highway 6 on Thursday, January 27, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

Readers of this newspaper are all too familiar with the frequent crashes, some of which prove fatal, that have plagued the highway in 2021. 

Based on what ODOT described as preliminary data, seven people died in 2021. 

It’s the same amount of people who died in that stretch of highway in the five years from 2016 and 2020.

“All of the 2021 fatalities involved lane departures,” ODOT said

ODOT has faced pressure from community and business leaders and elected officials to address the traffic crashes, and after consultation with local residents, business owners, and people who use the road, a number of new signs were installed on the highway. They include 45 mph advisory speed signs near milepost 36 on the Washington County side of the highway, school bus stop warning signs on curves with poor visibility, and signs noting the CB channels used by school bus drivers. With this, truckers can more effectively communicate with school bus drivers on the highway. 

A runaway flatbed trailer struck a school bus, injuring at least eight people on November 21, 2021. 

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In a press release, ODOT regional traffic safety officer Nicole Charlson supplied these safety tips:

— Obey the speed limit. Excessive speed is a factor in many crashes and the most common factor in crashes that result in fatalities.

— Know before you go. Be aware of weather and traffic conditions before leaving, adjusting your speed and driving to the conditions – especially in rainy weather and in low-light areas.

— Drive, walk, bike, or roll sober. Alcohol and drugs impair your abilities and judgment. At all times make sure there’s a non-impaired driver behind the wheel.

— Pay attention. Your life depends on it. A split-second distraction could cost a life.

— Get rested before you are tested. Avoid being fatigued or drowsy so you can arrive at your destination safely. Allow plenty of time to get where you’re going.

— Drive for conditions. Rain, snow, or extra traffic – slow down and give extra space for stopping time. Be especially cautious accelerating in snowy, icy, or rainy conditions. Visit for current road conditions.

— Don’t pass in no-passing zones. A double solid painted yellow line in the center of the road means passing is not allowed in either direction. A broken yellow line on your side means you can pass when it’s safe.

Buckle up every time. Of course. Safety belts and child safety seats are the biggest contributors to saving lives in crashes.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Gales Creek Journal and sister news publications the Banks Post and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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