Imagine the relief you would feel upon surviving a car crash on an interstate bridge.
And then the horror of shortly afterward, stepping over the road barrier and plunging into nothing.
Two women died that way in January on an Interstate 5 bridge that spans the South Umpqua River near milepost 112, 4 miles north of Myrtle Creek.
They told emergency dispatchers about the car accident they’d just survived, then mentioned a truck driving toward them. They said they needed to get off the freeway.
And then Amanda Fuller, 32, of Roseburg and Stephanie Thomas, 29, of San Bernadino, California, climbed over a 4-foot bridge railing, and found there was nothing to step onto on the other side. They plummeted 80 feet down to the riverbank, and were both pronounced dead at the scene. A Coos Bay woman did the same thing in 1997.
After a lobbying effort by Fuller’s mother and a first responder who was at the 1997 crash, ODOT agreed to erect 2-foot-tall chain-link fences above the concrete barriers in both the north and southbound lanes. They plan to have the fences up by the middle of next month.
That makes the whole obstruction about 6 feet high, and should act as a warning and deterrent to someone thinking of climbing over in the future.
In the end, it’s important for us all to keep in mind that deaths like these are relatively rare, especially when compared to fatalities from traffic crashes, which killed 496 Oregonians last year.
This accident could have happened on any freeway bridge or overpass, since there’s always a gap between the northbound interstate lanes and the southbound lanes. Still, it’s probably not necessary for ODOT to shell out the cash right away to place fences on every pair of freeway bridges. The cost for this one fencing project alone was $63,000.
But when renovations are already underway on a bridge, it’s a natural safety precaution that would make up just a small portion of the overall budget.
It seems to us like that’s the time when it would make good sense to add additional fences.