People approaching the North Coast from the east on U.S. Highway 30 face a number of hazardous stretches of roadway.
There have been plenty of bad accidents in Clatsop County, though fortunately none in recent years as serious as the Aug. 10 crash that killed four teenagers near Clatskanie, 23 miles east of Astoria in Columbia County.
An especially dangerous area on Highway 30 that sees more than its share of accidents is the bridge near Gnat Creek, 18 miles east of Astoria. That's where in March 2008, a woman lost control of her small car one morning as she came down the hill onto the bridge. Her Honda spun out just as a log truck was coming onto the bridge from the opposite direction.
The car was demolished, but miraculously, all three occupants survived, Roger Warren, the manager of the Gnat Creek Fishery, said afterward. He said there have been 20 accidents at that spot during the 10 years he's lived there and urged people to remember that in cold weather, "When you leave Knappa, there's always ice on the hill."
The bridge is within a zone that runs from the Columbia County line to Svensen. The zone saw 82 crashes during the three-year period that ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to statistics provided by Oregon State Police. Unlike on Highway 101, excessive speed was the major factor in the majority of crashes in that zone on Highway 30. Speeding was the cause of 32 of the crashes. Just four crashes were attributed to following too close. Failure to yield the right-of-way was blamed for another nine.
Speed probably played a role in a spectacular crash on Highway 30 on Oct. 3, when a chip truck driver lost control of his rig on the series of serpentine curves six miles east of Astoria. The big tractor-trailer rig rolled onto its side and slid for 50 feet before hitting a power pole, injuring the driver, leaving many homes without electricity and closing the highway for hours.
A huge traffic jam ensued.
"Those corners in John Day have historically been a problem," said Chief Deputy Paul Williams, of the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office. "The bummer with that spot is it shuts the highway down and there's no alternate route."
Williams said pot holes and other bad pavement conditions on Highway 30 and other roads can cause drivers to lose control when they swerve to avoid them. And with winter approaching, Williams said people need to be aware that certain parts of Highway 30, such as the areas near Burnside Loop and the Wauna hill, ice over quickly in cold weather because they are always in the shade.
It doesn't help that the lines painted on the narrow two-lane highways are often too faded to give much guidance. Williams blames that problem more on motorists than on Mother Nature. "The lines would last a season, except people are driving over them," Williams said. "They start cutting corners, not staying in their lane, speeding," he said.
Other hazards on both Highway 30 and Highway 101 are elk and deer jumping out of the woods and into traffic. Williams said that's another good reason not to speed, especially at night.
As for straightening out the curves, don't expect it to happen anytime in the foreseeable future.
Douglas Tindall, deputy director of Oregon Department of Transportation, said the curves on Highway 30 near John Day are like the Terwilliger curves in Portland: "There's no easy solution."
No wonder an Astoria resident who was asked about his recent trip to Alaska via the ALCAN Highway, said getting out of Astoria on Highway 30 was the most challenging part of the journey.