(Courtesy/Oregon Department of Transportation)

Oregonians who take Interstate 5 to and from northern Marion County may eventually spend less time in traffic as the state begins work this month on rebuilding the Aurora-Donald Interchange.

State Department of Transportation officials also say the project will lower the number of crashes on the interchange, which has seen hundreds in recent years.

Work on the area will begin mid-February, according to Vidal Francis, ODOT construction manager for the project. The rebuild is scheduled to be completed in 2025, with the first portion wrapping up in November.

The interchange was built around 60 years ago for much less traffic than exists now, and for years has been over capacity at peak times. Around 32,000 vehicles daily use the interchange or drive past its I-5 on- and off-ramps, according to ODOT's website.

Located on Exit 278, the interchange connects Northeast Bents and Ehlen roads, the latter being a "major east-west connector" for northern Marion County, said Anna Henson, interim area 3 manager for ODOT's northwest Oregon region.

ODOT has around $48 million set aside for the project and still needs another $34 million to finish the work, Henson said. That money could come out of Oregon’s allocation from the federal infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2021.

The state awarded $8.8 million to Salem-based contractor K&E Excavating for construction of the first part of the project, according to an ODOT briefing to the Mid-Willamette Valley Area Commission on Transportation.

Francis said ODOT has $10.9 million to complete that portion, the majority of it from federal funds.

The contractor will realign Northeast Bents Road to a 90-degree angle that aligns with Bents Court, allowing people driving off Bents Road better access to Ehlen Road without having to wait in traffic, he said. They will add a traffic signal at the new Bents-Ehlen intersection, and lengthen and widen the northbound offramp onto Ehlen Road.

Francis said traffic backups on the northbound and southbound off-ramps are among the biggest issues that prompted its reconstruction.

The contractor will also build a sound wall by an RV Park on the east side of the highway to mitigate noise, he said.

Completion of the first part of the project is slated for Nov. 30, and Francis said he doesn’t anticipate it will have much impact, if any, on I-5 traffic.

ODOT will release the next portion for bid in 2023 after determining whether it can secure the remaining funds. Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said in November that the Interchange is a location the county would prioritize federal infrastructure dollars for road work. 

The rest of the project - expected to be completed by 2025 - will consist of building a new I-5 bridge that will carry both northbound and southbound traffic over Ehlen Road, reconstructing the I-5 travel lanes to match the new bridge, lengthening and widening the southbound exit ramp and both entrance ramps, and realigning Dolores Way to a 90-degree angle to the east, Henson said.

They will construct a "diverging diamond interchange," a structure that will allow drivers to cross to the other side of the freeway and make free-flowing left turns onto I-5 with fewer stops.

There were 241 crashes from 2012 to 2016 in the area being reconstructed, with 93 being at ramp terminal intersections. An average of 48 crashes are reported every year on the interchange, more than twice the statewide average for rural, unsignalized intersections. No serious or fatal accidents have been reported at the state's other diverging diamond interchange, Fern Valley Interchange, on Exit 24 in southern Oregon since was reconstructed in 2016, according to a grant proposal.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!