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A traffic jam on I-5 lasted so long, some drivers fell asleep

A long line of 18-wheelers clogs traffic on an interstate highway.
In this photo provided by ODOT, a long line of 18-wheelers clogs the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Creswell, Oregon.

Some people who got caught up in a series of lengthy traffic jams along I-5 south of Eugene this week probably wish they’d have stayed home.

ODOT said ice was packed hard and some drivers ignored the requirement for chains or traction tires. And then they got stuck in deep ruts or simply stopped in the middle of the freeway to put on chains, said ODOT spokesperson David House.

“That caused delays so long that drivers would fall asleep at the wheel, and ODOT and State Police had to go and wake people up to get them moving again, because they were blocking the travel lane," he said.

House said there were four to six inches of ice built up on some parts of the roadway, "despite us putting on hundreds of thousands of pounds of deicer in advance of the storm and plowing and sanding since."

House said traffic was moving significantly better on the stretch on Tuesday, though he cautioned that delays can pop up at any time. And despite thawing temperatures in the forecast, it doesn't mean roads will instantly improve.

"There could be melting water on top of ice, which is even more slippery than what we already have," he said. "The best bet is to stay at home the next couple of days."

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Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”