ODOT planning to add emergency exit ramp on I-5 in Ashland to alleviate traffic during emergencies

ASHLAND, Ore — The Oregon Department of Transportation is close to adding an exit ramp to prevent backups on I-5 during emergencies.

The ramp, still under review, would be built off of the Mountain Avenue bridge and onto I-5. It’ll be gated off and only be open in the event of emergencies or evacuations.

“So what we learned from this fire is that we need help,” Gary Leaming, public information officer with ODOT said. “We think this is a go and we’re just wrapping up the design. It’ll be done by our state partners so it will be fairly minimal costs.”

The consideration stemmed from the I-5 closure and the long traffic delays during the Almeda fire evacuations on September 8th, 2020. One Ashland resident could see the flames from his home on Thornton Way, and recounts being stuck in traffic for more than 30 minutes.

“The tree right next to me bent over backwards in the wind and I was very afraid,” Marc Bayliss told NBC5. “When I reached north Main, it was gridlocked with semi trucks and traffic off I-5.”

The situation reminded Bayliss of his time in Paradise, California during the devastating 2018 Camp fire. The fire claimed the lives of 85 people with many of them stuck in their cars due to the traffic.

Bayliss says the new ramp in Ashland is critical for survival in the event of another fast moving wildfire.

“There’s two roads in, two roads out,” Bayliss said on the Camp fire. “The fire came right down from the northeast and the people could not evacuate to the southwest.”

Leaming says building a ramp on a freeway is typically a hurdle. He says the Almeda fire traffic highlighted the urgency for the construction.

If approved, the ramp is expected to be built in the fall.

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