Safe Highways Save Lives
The Latest Victim of the McKenzie Highway
by Scott Michael Rohter
Dateline: Oregon June 9th 2018
Safety improvements to Oregon’s McKenzie Highway are not optional. They are necessary… critically necessary! They are necessary to prevent people who travel this road from dying… people like Kenneth Wayne Brawn who was 54 when he drove his truck over the edge of the highway and down into the river last week. His maroon pickup was spotted under the water by an Oregon State Police officer near mile post 21 two days after he was reported missing. His truck was pulled out of the water, Lane County Search and Rescue recovered his remains, and now all that is left of him is a small memorial and a cross to mark the place where his vehicle went off the road. He is the latest victim of the McKenzie Highway, but he is not the only victim and he certainly won’t be the last !
There are other memorials to other victims of the McKenzie Highway scattered along its route to mark the place where others died. If you look you will see them, yet some people still think that this highway is safe when that is really the farthest thing from the truth. Some people call this highway the “Gateway to the Cascades”. It would be more appropriate to call it the McKenzie Highway the Gateway to Heaven. That’s just how bad it is. In a little over a decade there have been 103 deaths on the McKenzie Highway, 5014 people injured and 7,241 accidents. That is just for the section of the highway that runs between Springfield and Redmond. During the same period of time Floyd Prozanski has been a member of the Oregon Legislature. He has been the Senator from this Senate District 4 since 2004.
Safety improvements to the McKenzie Highway are not optional. They are urgently needed to save lives. Safe highways save lives… They don’t just save Republican lives.. They save Democrat lives. They save non affiliated voters lives. They save peoples lives no matter how they vote or even if they vote. By supporting safe highways the life you save may be your own.
The McKenzie Highway was not built to today’s modern standards. It started in the 1800 ‘s as a simple wagon trail winding through the McKenzie River Valley and following the river. As the City of Eugene started to grow that bumpy old wagon trail became a gravel road, and then a paved road and finally in 1982 under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act it became a federally designated trucking route and a member of the National Network of highways (NN). Over the years it has been relied upon to handle greater volumes of traffic at ever increasing speeds by larger and larger commercial vehicles. Along with this increased traffic came the development of homes along the river. Today 18 wheelers are barreling through residential neighborhoods that line the river at over 70 mph regardless of the weather conditions or the time of day.
I drive this highway almost every night. The speed limits are posted but they are almost never enforced because there are almost never any Oregon State Police officers around to enforce them. That just enables motorists to drive faster than they should.
There isn’t a single reflector along the fog lines to mark the edge of the road between Springfield and McKenzie Bridge. There are no rumble strips anywhere along the entire length of the highway, and there are no guard rails where they are desperately needed like the place where Ken Brawn just drove his truck into the river, or the place where Brandon Stansell rolled his pickup truck into a telephone pole and died. The lack of these basic safety features poses a real threat to anyone who uses the McKenzie Highway.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Drivers who speed, or drive tired or drunk are not without blame, but the State of Oregon is not completely innocent either. It has failed to install even the most basic safety features that are found on other highways. ODOT doesn’t think it is its responsibility to do anything more than post the speed limits which almost nobody obeys, and the lack of law enforcement along the highway simply encourages people not to obey them.
The lack of modern safety features like reflectors along the edges of the road, rumble strips along the fog lines as well as the center line and guard rails where they are desperately needed poses a life and death threat not only to everyone who drives the highway, but it also poses a serious threat to the water supply for 120,000 people living in Eugene who are the customers of EWEB.
The greatest threat to the Eugene municipal water supply isn’t from an impending earthquake. It isn’t the aerial spraying of commercial herbicides used in the routine management of private forest land. The greatest threat to Eugene’s water supply comes from a tanker truck loaded with toxic chemicals, radioactive waste, or hazardous materials winding up in the McKenzie River. If that ever happens the McKenzie River would never be the same again and neither would Eugene’s water supply. You could kiss the reputation of the McKenzie River good bye forever… and with that would go the tourist industry…. all the river rafting and drift boating and fishing… gone forever !
I knew I had to do something when a gasoline tanker drove off the highway and crashed last June leaking two thousand gallons of gasoline near a small tributary of the McKenzie River. That cleanup took weeks and cost millions of dollars. The company that owned the tanker also owned another tanker that crashed less than a year earlier on Highway 58. That crash resulted in an fiery explosion that burned for hours and led to the driver’s death. He was burned to death inside the cab. The same company also owned a propane storage facility in La Grande Oregon which suffered a propane leak resulting in the destruction of the entire facility. These three major accidents all occurred within a one year period and yet the company responsible for them, Ed Staub Trucking LLC was still being allowed to operate in Oregon.
I called Senator Lee Beyer’s office. He is the head of the Transportation Committee in the Oregon Legislature. He didn’t return my phone call… I called ODOT and told them that this gasoline tanker crash and leak along the McKenzie Highway should be a wake up call for them. They said, “What do you mean?” That’s when I knew that that something was terribly wrong so I decided to run for State Senator from District 4 which includes the McKenzie Highway.
It is time to fix what is wrong with the McKenzie Highway. It is a critical link between Bend and Interstate 5, between central Oregon and the Willamette Valley. It is time to install the basic safety features that are found along other heavily used highways before someone else dies or another tanker truck loaded with gasoline winds up in the river. After I got off the phone with the Oregon Department of Transportation I called EWEB and they told me not to worry about a gasoline leak in the river. They said “oil floats”, and “they would collect it downstream.”…
Well here is a newsflash. Oil might float, but toxic chemicals don’t necessarily float. Hazardous waste and radioactive materials don’t float and they are all being hauled up and down the McKenzie River. Anyone who lives along the McKenzie highway or who drives it at night. or on a daily basis knows how dangerous the road is, and anyone living in Eugene who doesn’t know it is just plain clueless. It just takes one deer to jump out in front of your car at a place in the road where there is no guard rail and only one foot of asphalt on the other side of the fog line separating you from a watery grave. You would experience your own little highway to Heaven.
Only an occasional weekend motorist and my opponent Floyd Prozanski could be so oblivious to the very real danger that this highway poses to public safety whether it is the average motorist or the customers of EWEB who drink the water out of the McKenzie River. The McKenzie Highway’s designation as part of the National Network and a federally designated trucking route is not compatible with its function as a residential road for the people who live along the river, nor is the McKenzie Highway’s use as a commercial trucking route compatible with the McKenzie River’s function as the primary water source for the City of Eugene. It is not compatible with the McKenzie Rivers function as a valuable fishery or it’s attraction as a tourist destination either. The time has come to petition the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to have the McKenzie Highway removed from the National Network and unlisted as a federally designated trucking route.
Floyd Prozanski has been a member of the Oregon Legislature since 1993. He has been the State Senator from District 4 which includes the majority of people living along the McKenzie River since 2004. He is or has been the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Vice Chairman of the Task Force on Public Safety, and the Co-Chair of the Marijuana Committee… (and yes the Oregon Legislature unfortunately does have a Marijuana Committee). There have been at least 103 deaths, 5,014 people injured, and 7,241 traffic accidents on the McKenzie Highway between Springfield and Redmond during the time that Floyd Prozanski has been in the Oregon Legislature, and he has done absolutely nothing about it. He has done nothing to improve the safety of one of Oregon’s most dangerous roads. Floyd Prozanski is more concerned about whether people get fired for smoking dope on the job than whether they get killed driving back and forth to work on the highway.
Kenneth Wayne Brawn drove his truck off the road and into the river early on the morning of May 23rd. He was heading westbound when his truck crossed the center line and the oncoming lane of traffic and tumbled over a steep slope into the River. If there would have been a rumble strip on the center line it would have woke him up if he was driving tired, but whether he was asleep or he had a stroke or even if he was driving drunk a guard rail along the fog line would have probably saved his life.
Today there is a small memorial about fifty feet from the spot where his vehicle went off the road. There were no reflectors, no rumble strips, and no guard rail there to protect him. I placed a small road sign at the exact place where his wheels left the pavement. ODOT said my sign was in the right of way and it represented a danger so they removed it. My sign is not dangerous. Their road is dangerous. My sign just calls attention to this danger. It reads SAFE HIGHWAYS SAVE LIVES, Scott Rohter for Oregon Senate.com
I am running for State Senator to replace a man who has been in the Legislature for over two decades… a man who spends more time worrying about how the State can make money from the sale of marijuana than he does about how many people die on the highways in his district. Twenty three years is a long time. It is long enough to do something about the McKenzie Highway. Now it is time for a change… A man who cares more about making money from marijuana than he does about your life should not be re-elected.
Furthermore Floyd Prozanski’s list of special interest groups and political contributors which support him reads like a Who’s Who of corporate America. Phillip Morris, Kraft Foods. The list goes on and on. Among some of the lessor know businesses that support him are all of those cannabis growers which stand to benefit from his position as the Vice Chair of the Marijuana Committee. These political insiders aren’t donating money just because they like the way that he talks. They expect something in return for their campaign contributions and they obviously get it or they would not be re-appearing as donors to his political action committee every year… From the AFL – CIO to the Union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, to the powerful Phillip Morris Company to small time local cannabis growers Floyd Prozanski is bought and paid for by unions and big and small businesses alike and others who expect something in return for their continued financial support… I am not raising a single dime to finance my campaign. I will stick to raising awareness of important issues like the safety of the McKenzie Highway.