Highway 6, Salem, TRANSPORTATION

Will change come to deadly Highway 6?

The Tillamook and Washington County lines at the Coast Range summit on Highway 6 on January 27, 2022. Photo: Chas Hundley

Is change on the way for Oregon’s deadly Highway 6? One community leader trying to raise awareness of the traffic fatalities on the rural highway stretching from Banks through Gales Creek to Tillamook says that a local elected official is finally pushing for change.

Jesse Borough, founder of public awareness group Safety on Highway 6, said that people tell him trying to get ODOT to implement safety measures and road improvements to the highway that stretches from Banks through Gales Creek to Tillamook is a waste of time because none of the politicians in Salem actually listen anyway.

“Last summer on (Oregon Route 6) there were fatal accidents after accident after accident, and no one was doing anything about it,” Borough said. “I want actual change here, not to finger point and say (Salem politicians) never do anything. I get a lot of public hate mail saying nothing’s ever going to change. But (House District 32 Representative) Suzanne Weber was elected and she did something about it by introducing that bill that would require ODOT to conduct a survey of exactly how dangerous Highway 6 is, what safety improvements are needed, and how it’s going to be funded. She’s very easy-going. Very small town, like a lot of us. She has this thing. She’s for the people. She’s one of us. She’s listening to us.”

HB 4053, introduced by Weber, received a hearing in the Joint Committee on Transportation – Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) happens to be co-chair of the committee – on February 8, and Weber testified along with Borough not only to how dangerous it is to driveway Oregon Route 6 but how economically vital of an artery it is for north coastal communities.

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“We had seven deaths in the last year on (Route 6) and that’s quite a few deaths for a 39-mile stretch of highway,” Weber said. “People coming to the coast and enjoying the coast need to pay attention to this but it’s hardly just about tourism. The railroad out here was washed out so it’s no longer in use. Everything Tillamook County needs or produces has to travel over that road, to or from Portland and the (Willamette) Valley. It’s an economic thoroughfare for the coast and its safety and its deterioration need to be addressed.”

Oregon Route 6, of course, isn’t Weber’s raison d’etre. She also is chief sponsor of HB 4039, which would modify financial requirements for coordinated care organizations (CCOs) and among other initiatives would provide funding for health care public awareness campaigns specific to their operating region for programs like diabetes awareness, weight loss, and diet management. And Weber introduced HB 4124 to require the Department of Education to conduct a survey of assessment exams by school district and find how to offer STEM education in public schools throughout the state.

But HB 4053 and Route 6 is the issue where Weber is most vociferous. 

Weber was elected to represent House District 32 in November 2020 and sworn in prior to the 2021 legislative session. Recalling her first year as an elected state official – she was a well-known Tillamook mayor from 2010-2020 – Weber said she enjoyed the experience.

When asked whether Republican candidates for Oregon governor should publicly address their stance on former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that a vast Democratic Party conspiracy rigged the election against him, Weber expressed chagrin for the question but did not directly answer. Weber filed paperwork Jan. 11 to run in the primary election to the Senate seat long held by former Sen. Betsy Johnson, who resigned to make an unaffiliated run for governor.

“It disappoints me being asked this because I have worked so hard to focus just on local issues because I know the people (in my voting district) are sick and tired of hearing about national politicians who scream at each other and accomplish nothing,” she said. “What I’m focused on is what’s best for Oregonians and I’m working on what’s best for my (constituents). That’s what’s most important to me.”

Weber’s tenacity and her edict of bringing common sense back to Salem have been noticed by those in power at the state Capitol. Sen. Dick Anderson (R-Lincoln City), whose District 5 overlaps much of Weber’s, said she’s long been committed to the people who live on Oregon’s north coast. “She’s a tough and dogged advocate,” he said. House Minority Leader Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville) said Weber is “fiercely loyal to her district and not afraid to speak her mind. When Weber speaks, people listen.” Speaker of the House Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) did not respond to a request for comments.

And Borough echoes their sentiment. “She’s why we’re slowly getting somewhere (on Oregon Route 6). She’s doing what she said she was going to do (during the 2020 campaign). A lot of times, we as voters get burned and people get discouraged. But she’s listening.”

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