PORTLAND -- Five drivers have filed tort claims against Oregon, alleging that negligence caused their car crashes on the Highway 217 on ramp from I-5 north, also known as the flyover.
A tort claim is a required notice to a state entity that a lawsuit is pending.
The drivers claim that a faulty steel joint which holds the ramp together caused them to crash last month. They each blame the state and the Oregon Department of Transportation for not giving enough warning to drivers about what they call a "defect" in the roadway, and for not fixing it.
They're seeking money to cover the thousands of dollars in medical and car repair bills they owe.
In a little over a month, there have been more than a dozen crashes on the freeway ramp. Many, like the latest one Friday, have been on rainy days and it's not known how many drivers were going faster than the posted 35 miles-per-hour speed limit.
ODOT knows the joint needs to be fixed. "We take this seriously," ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson said. "We are working on trying to determine if something is going on. If it is, we will fix it."
He added that ODOT is waiting on results from engineer tests before they do anything.
The steel teeth that should fit together have been separating and are now uneven by at least an inch. It's not a new problem. Since 2001 when the ramp was constructed, ODOT has grinded the steel joint down twice to make it even once again. Officials aren't sure if the sandy soil underneath the ramp and the freeway are sinking at differing rates, causing the uneven separation.
But ODOT isn't convinced that bump is causing the crashes. Thompson said many drivers are going too fast, especially when it's raining.
"What we've looked at is the joint, the slickness and anything else going on with the bridge including speed," Thompson said. "So what we've done immediately is re-enforce the 35MPH signs that have been up for years."
That wasn't enough for the drivers who have filed the tort claims. Personal injury attorney Jason Kafoury filed one of the tort claims on behalf of his client who has thousands of dollars in medical bills after his car spun and hit the concrete barrier after he drove over the ramp joint.
"It's the kind of thing that makes people have lack of faith in government," Kafoury said. "It's been over a month, with a lot of coverage, more than a dozen accidents, people hurt and still nothing's been done to fix the structural problem."
ODOT reports since the ramp opened in 2001, 100 million cars have driven over it. The agency said it has received 82 DMV accident reports in that time.