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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow MEDIAN ISSUES PUT BRAKES ON PROJECT



By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

After listening to the concerns of business people for more than two hours Monday night, the Oregon Department of Transportation agreed to delay projects on Island Avenue for two or three months.

That will give the department time to address specific issues discussed during Monday's meeting, a work session by the city council to air the projects.

Main concerns from the business people, who numbered about 40 in attendance, centered on plans to install a median strip along much of the five-lane road between Willow and 26th streets. That would limit turns off and onto the street and curtail access to their businesses, opponents said.

ODOT Region 5 Manager Tom Schuft said, "We can slow the process to look at alternatives. We are willing to discuss some of the design elements. There are some places where we can consider changing the median. We can't eliminate the median totally from the projects, but we can talk about some fine details."

Jay Strommer of La Grande's Eat & Run told the council and four ODOT officials, "I don't think the median is a good solution. Business owners feel their business will go down. A median would have a definite impact to businesses, although it's hard to say what percentage (they would decline). Business is down 9 percent to 18 percent on the strip since 1999."

Members of the audience questioned whether any studies had been made on the possible economic impact the projects would have on businesses.

Strommer and others questioned both the traffic flow count on the street as well as the accident reports. ODOT officials said the traffic counts were made in 1999 and agreed with critics that accident reports did not pinpoint whether the wrecks occurred on the street or in adjacent parking lots or on side streets.

"I doesn't hurt to do more research," Schuft said.

Don Waldrop, owner of By-Rite Exxon, said, "We feel there are changes that can be made. As far as business people are concerned, none of us were involved (in earlier planning).

Schuft said that the projects, which included installing a full traffic signal at Portland Street and changing the Boise Solutions access to Island Avenue to that light, were 10 years in the making.

A citizens committee did have participation early in the process, ODOT officials said.

Schuft agreed to have other meetings with business people to hear their concerns and make whatever changes possible to maintain the flow of traffic and improve safety.

Some changes have already been made. While the light in front of the La Grande Town Center mall will be eliminated, cars coming from either direction on the street can still turn into the mall at that location.

The project involving the Portland Street light was due to go to bid in August and the other part of the work was to seek bids in the spring. Now that will be delayed two or three months while a committee does its work, Schuft said.


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