According to the National Weather Service in Medford, southern Oregon is in line for a normal winter.
For ODOT District Manager Jerry Marmon, a normal winter is a busy winter. He cautions Interstate 5 travelers to come prepared for winter snow and ice on Oregon’s five highest mountain passes — Siskiyou (4,310 feet above sea level), Sexton (1,956 feet), Smith Hill (1,730 feet), Stage Road (1,830 feet) and Canyon Creek (2,020 feet).
“The last two winters were the second- and third-warmest on record,” said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ryan Sandler. “This year looks to be more like a normal winter, with heavy snow in the mountains and rain in the valley.”
ODOT’s de-icer trucks and snowplows are at the ready. Maintenance crews in Ashland, Central Point, Grants Pass and Prospect adjusted schedules to provide 24-hour winter coverage. However, Marmon said the key to keeping the state highways open is a driver’s preparation and patience.
“Our success is tied to the public’s ability to slow down and drive safely in winter conditions,” said Marmon. “You can’t expect to travel over these mountains in winter without encountering adverse conditions.
“Even experienced drivers need patience. It’s a challenge to keep traffic flowing when a snowstorm hits. Cars slide around and tractor-trailer rigs jackknife. However, if you’re prepared, you’ll stay warm and safe in your vehicle. Don’t take chances. Prepare for the worst.”
Keeping I-5 open is a priority due to its importance as a regional freight route and its high traffic volumes. The Siskiyou Pass presents a unique challenge as it is Oregon’s only mountain pass where all-weather or studded tires cannot be substituted for chains.
“We go to a higher standard of traction devices because of the grades, the traffic and drivers’ experience,” said Marmon. “When we light our signs, every vehicle on the Siskiyous Pass has to chain up except vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive.”
ODOT launched a five-year pilot project in 2012 to use rock salt in limited weather and roadway conditions. The Siskiyou Pass was chosen because it is the highest elevation (4,310 feet) on the Interstate 5 corridor. During winter, chain restrictions, traffic delays and temporary road closures regularly occur.
Due to the elevation and length of the Siskiyou Pass, road and weather conditions can be poles apart — and change rapidly — across the first
11 miles of I-5 from the California border north to Ashland.
ODOT is determining how salt, used collaboratively with the agency’s other tools and equipment, can improve safety and reduce delays. The other highway in the five-year pilot project is U.S. 95, which stretches about
120 miles between Nevada and Idaho, neighboring states already using rock salt on their highways. California uses salt to reduce snowpack buildup.
Test results on the Siskiyou Pass have been positive.
“Over the past four winters, rock salt has helped us decrease chain restrictions by 50 percent and temporary holds by 75 percent,” said Marmon.
Highway Advisory Radio
I-5 travelers approaching the Siskiyou Pass can learn the latest road conditions information by tuning their radios to the ODOT Highway Advisory Radio at 1610 AM.
“The HAR is a great communication tool,” said Marmon. “Drivers get real time updates on the summit conditions, so they can adjust their plans whether to either stop and rest or proceed over the pass.”
The HAR signal broadcasts as far north as Central Point.