February 25, 2002 11:00 pm

The City of La Grandes street repair fund, like that of every small city, is beginning to feel the impact of the states recession and the ramifications of little or no growth. The city estimates its street repair revenues for 2002-03, which come from state gas tax revenue based on population, will be down about $100,000, or 18 percent, from last year. Such a decline will necessitate that the city spend its street improvement monies wisely.

The city has several projects lined up for this spring and summer. Among them are an overlay on Washington from Fourth Street to Hemlock Avenue; an overlay of Portland Street from Cove Avenue to Island Avenue; reconstruction of two blocks of 21st Street from R Avenue to Penn Avenue; and changes in the Cove Avenue-26th Street connection. All of the projects make sense and address some of the many needed street improvements in La Grande. But the glaring exception to the list of projects, and one that cant be ignored much longer, is 20th Street from Adams Avenue to Gekeler Lane.

Twentieth Street is an increasingly important collector street, providing access between two important arterials in south La Grande. The streets surface is poor, there are no curbs and the edge of the street is breaking away, yet the street serves not only an increasing number of cars but a growing number of walkers and runners. The street is too narrow with no sidewalk or bike lanes and virtually no shoulder, and the intersection with Adams is a nightmare. With Bi-Mart, the Oregon Department of Forestry offices and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offices, combined with an apartment complex and two residential subdivisions, the street is an accident waiting to happen. Safeways new location and the increased traffic it has brought to the east end of Adams has only made matters worse on 20th Street.

The part of town served by 20th is going through some changes, all of which demand a street in better condition than what exists. The street may not have been a top priority of the city a year ago, but it should be today.

Doling out limited funds isnt easy, especially for a city thats had to play catch-up with street repairs for some time and still has a long way to go to get most streets back to a passable grade. But setting priorities should be based on the greatest need and the importance of mitigating dangerous conditions. Twentieth Street should rank highly on both fronts.

The city has come a long way in recent years in trying to address the generally shoddy condition of its streets. But when you can only bite off one or two pieces a year, serious thought must be given to where those precious dollars are used.