Tribal Government & News

Grand Ronde Road improvements coming this summer

02.28.2023 Danielle Harrison State government, Grand Ronde infrastructure
Pot hole along Grand Ronde Road. (Photo by Kamiah Koch/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals assistant editor/staff writer

After an almost three-year delay, Grand Ronde Road improvement work is tentatively scheduled to begin in late June.

“We’re very pleased with how things are working out at this time,” Tribal Public Works Director John Mercier said. “We’re hoping that we can still get all the compliances and agreements in place. The public has been really understanding (about the delay) and that’s been nice. … The heavy trucks on the road cause a lot of damage there.”

The long-awaited work from Hebo Road to Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center was first delayed due to unsafe air quality caused by the catastrophic wildfires in September 2020 and then again in 2021 due to lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercier said.

A specific construction date hasn’t been set as the project still needs to be put out to bid, but Mercier and Polk County Public Works Director Todd Whitaker anticipate it will begin sometime in late June and wrap up by October. There will be special considerations made to allow vehicles from the Grand Ronde Fire Station and Tribal Police to quickly and safely use the road during construction.

“We’re going to make sure we have a well thought out traffic management plan,” Mercier said. “We want to ensure that fire and police have good access throughout the project.”

The $3 million project is a collaboration between the Tribe and Polk and Yamhill counties. The Tribe is paying for half of it, Mercier added. Polk County has most of the jurisdiction over the road and Yamhill County has a small part.

Road improvements will include removing all of the pavement and replacing it with a thicker version, and adding more rock underneath it to better absorb wear and tear over time.

The two main culprits causing the potholes and alligator cracking on the road are a combination of moisture issues with Grand Ronde-area soil and heavy trucks using the road as a shortcut to Highway 18.

“We have thought about creating a fee agreement (for heavy truck use) or even weight limit restrictions,” Mercier said. “But the big concern with that is it becomes a safety issue because right now, we’ve got two intersections that the trucks can use and both of them are high accident areas. We don't know if the trade-off would be worth it to send the trucks clear down to Valley Junction. It’s really curvy and with its proximity to the casino, you know, we don't want to create congestion with large trucks trying to turn left onto Highway 18.” 

Since the project takes place on the Grand Ronde Reservation, it will be subject to Tribal Employment Rights Office guidelines for Tribal member and other Native hiring preferences.

Since the work was delayed in 2020, the Tribe and Polk County maintained a “patch-as-we-go” process, but it doesn’t solve the problem of persistent potholes. Mercier is hoping that using a larger amount of rock and increasing the pavement thickness will help alleviate these issues in the future.

Grand Ronde Road was last significantly reconstructed in 2009 and completed in 2010 using a mix of Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service and Polk County funds.