New ODOT sign building almost finished

Jan. 13—LA GRANDE — A new Oregon Department of Transportation building is rising about 150 yards from where the ashes of its predecessor were.

ODOT's new sign building is nearing completion, it will replace the agency's old sign building, which was destroyed by fire in 2021.

The structure, about 50 yards north of the transportation department's La Grande office building at 3012 Island Ave., is almost complete. It is set to be finished in February then the finishing touches outside will be completed.

Paving will be done in May and fencing will be installed in June, according to Tom Strandberg, an ODOT public information officer.

"Later in the summer it will be fully operational," Strandberg said.

Hundreds of signs, many stored in the transportation department around the area since the 2021 fire, will be moved into the new building later this year. Many of the signs are from the old building.

"Most of the signs were salvaged from the fire," Strandberg said.

The fire was caused by a malfunction of a ceiling heater exhaust system in the building's attic. Emmitt Cornford, chief of the La Grande Fire Department and Deputy State Fire Marshal Casey Kump made the determination after conducting an investigation.

Nobody was in the old sign building when the fire started and the blaze caused no injuries.

The signs the new building will house are for ODOT's District 13, which is composed of all of Union County and most of Baker County. The district has a total of 12,086 lane miles of state highway and Interstate 84 roadway the transportation department is responsible for maintaining.

The previous sign shop was located next to the transportation department's salt shed in the agency's maintenance yard, about 100 yards south of the office building.

The new sign building, Strandberg said, is being built at a different location because of an increase in traffic in the maintenance yard because of the salt shed, added less than 10 years ago, and the new larger snow removal vehicles the transportation department now operates out of there.

The new building will have 2,200 square feet of indoor space and 840 square feet of covered outdoor space. It will be a little bigger than the old building.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or