Some long-awaited good news for drivers who use the busy and overrun Aurora-Donald Interchange on Interstate 5: A new traffic light is now operating at the intersection of Bents and Ehlen Road — signaling the completion of the first phase of major safety improvements at the junction.
The first phase, which began last year, included lengthening and widening of the northbound exit 278 off-ramp to prevent backups onto I-5, construction of a sound wall along the northbound off-ramp, and the new traffic signal, intended to provide breaks in traffic for drivers turning onto Ehlen Road.
The phase also realigned Bents Road Northeast to intersect Ehlen farther west, providing more visibility and traffic spacing for vehicles entering and exiting I-5.
ODOT says it worked with local residents and businesses and the trucking industry to design the changes, which officials say will make the area safer and easier for all users including travelers, truckers, local businesses and agriculture, and north Marion County residents.
“When we at the Oregon Department of Transportation deliver a project of this magnitude, it’s important for us to work with those members of the community that use that system,” said ODOT Delivery and Operations Administrator Mac Lynde.
“It’s a great example of partnership with Marion County especially as we build out the funding to make these needed improvements, but to also ensure they meet the businesses’ as well as the users’ needs in that area.”
The original interchange was built more than 60 years ago and designed to handle the traffic of the day, when its closest neighbors were a handful of quiet farms. But it soon became the home of one, and then two, and now, three busy truck stops, as well as an RV park, and sees approximately 32,000 vehicles per day.
“A lot has changed since the time this interchange was constructed, with new amenities for travelers, especially the trucking community, as well as the growth and needs of the Marion County communities that rely on this important connection to I-5,” Lynde said.
“The Aurora-Donald interchange is extremely important for the trucking industry,” added Oregon Trucking Association President Jana Jarvis. “There are two truck stops that are located there that provide food, and rest and fueling options for our industry.”
ODOT officials admit the interchange has been over capacity at peak times for many years. The transportation agency has acknowledged “it has significant safety issues and does not operate like a busy interchange should.”
“At certain points of the day, the far-right lane of I-5 northbound is backed up for a very long way with, potentially, hundreds of cars,” Marion County Commissioner Danielle Bethell said.
Working with the local community, businesses and trucking industry, ODOT launched a two-phase project. The first phase of construction, which began in 2022, delivered improvements to the ease of use and safety of the interchange, as well as prepared for future improvements.
The project was originally funded at $3.4 million. House Bill 2017 from the 2017 Oregon Legislature allocated nearly $25 million more for a total of $28.3 million to complete planning and design for the full interchange and for construction of the first phase.
Now that the first phase is complete, ODOT says it will continue designing the full “diverging diamond” interchange, similar to the one on I-5 in Medford. This type of interchange moves traffic efficiently in a very small footprint.
More information about the project is available on ODOT’s website here.
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