January 2, 2016 / Comments (0)

How Can We Fix the Traffic Mess on Mount Hood?

If you are a Mount Hood regular, you are probably painfully familiar with the nine-mile drive from Mt. Hood Meadows to Government Camp, and the fact that this short trip can take three hours or more when holiday traffic is at its worst.

Once you take that right off of 35 South and onto 26 West in heavy traffic, you begin a short and excruciating journey full of mergers and funnels and choke points. It is not unusual to sit with your engine idling for hours, inching ahead on icy roads as vehicles line up and drivers lose their tempers. First come the cross-country skiers from Trillium Lake on the left, then the sledding families on the right from Snow Bunny. Then two lanes inexplicably merge into one at the top of an icy hill, just prior to the big in-flow of cars from Timberline. You might as well turn off your engine to save some gas, because you aren’t going anywhere.

Sheer volume is a large part of the problem. When the snow is plentiful and the sun is out, Mount Hood is a magical place to be. You can hardly blame the thousands of people who venture out to enjoy the sledding, skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and family snow time on the mountain. Add in the crowds returning from Bend and Mount Bachelor, and you have a lot of vehicles on the road, and not all of those vehicles are operated by experienced winter drivers with proper tires and four-wheel drive. Accidents and spin-outs are common.

Poor design is also an issue. The westbound portion of Hwy. 26 shrinks from two lanes to one lane at the worst possible point, at the top of a hill just after two big attractions and just before an even larger attraction in Timberline. It stays one lane through Govy while picking up traffic from Skibowl, creating a massive file of trapped vehicles in an area easily wide enough to accommodate a second westbound lane. The two lanes eastbound hardly have any traffic at all in the evening, because practically everyone is heading back to Portland.

“3 1/2 hours from Sunrise to Govy. I’ve never been more confused & upset leaving an awesome day on Hood,” wrote Adam Ski in response to a recent traffic post on the Shred Hood Facebook page.

“Having driven this highway for the last 10+ years, this is by far the worst I have ever seen it,” added Miles Kobek.

Timberline employee Harold Cooley commented, “During the peak of holidays and weekends, it can take me 2.5 hours to drive the 18 miles to home. I stay calm and deal with it, it is my bread and butter. It can be VERY frustrating.”

“2 hours and 15mins from Meadows to Govy last night,” wrote Ben Test. “Sirius XM reggae channel is the only thing that kept me from going mental.”

Large, persistent traffic jams don’t just ruin your good mountain mood. They waste fossil fuels, generate pollution, hinder freight mobility, and cost time and money. They also threaten safety, because the longer people sit trapped in traffic, the more likely they become to attempt dangerous maneuvers.

Interestingly, of the 73 comments to our traffic post on the Shred Hood Facebook page, not one mentioned the major work already being done to Hwy. 26. The Oregon Department of Transportation is spending $25 million on widening lanes, installing a concrete median barrier, building a ditch to contain falling rocks and re-paving the highway from Silent Rock to OR 35. But while these improvements should improve safety on the downhill portion of the drive to Portland, they do nothing to fix the congestion problem up around the pass.

So what if anything can be done to improve traffic flow down from the mountain at peak times?

Here are a few possibilities from the Shred Hood community:

  1. Mass Transit: more buses, shuttles, carpools — anything to get cars off the road. Plus incentives to use existing buses and shuttles at peak times.
  2. Slopeside Lodging, to move drivers off the road and into hot tubs.
  3. Two Lanes Westbound the Whole Way: Sounds expensive, but this could be done without widening the road. Simply alternate the middle lane through Govy: Eastbound until noon, Westbound after noon. Use the space that is already cleared for driving by installing electronic signs at key points. And get rid of the merger at the top of the hill just before Timberline.
  4. A stronger police presence, to crack down on unprepared and unsafe drivers.
  5. Aerial Trams.
  6. Stop Lights at all major intersections.
  7. Learn to Drive.
  8. Ban Mini-Vans
  9. Invent Teleportation.

Okay, so not all of the suggestions from the community were meant to be taken seriously. But some are both serious and worth considering.

How about you? What do you think of the suggestions above, and what are your ideas for fixing the traffic mess on Mount Hood?

I have sent a list of specific questions to ODOT on the subject of Mount Hood traffic problems, and I will follow up with a new article once I hear back.

Last modified: January 2, 2016

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