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Officials focus on Main St. safety.

Byline: IN CASE YOU MISSED IT The Register-Guard

Editor's note: In Case You Missed It is a digest of recent Register-Guard articles of interest to Springfield readers.

Nearly four months after a 17-year-old was struck by two cars and killed on Main Street, Oregon Department of Transportation officials told Springfield elected officials Monday that there is not enough state money to pay for a formal pedestrian safety study on how to improve safety along the stretch of road.

The state, which maintains and controls the arterial, has been studying the area between 21st Street and the eastern city limits - a series of blocks that has routinely landed in the top 10 percent of Oregon roads for number of car crash fatalities.

The rate of fatal and serious-injury crashes there is 97 percent higher than the statewide average for similar roadways.

But the problem, Police Chief Jerry Smith said, isn't just speeding drivers - it's also pedestrians who dart back and forth across the five-lane road that divides two residential neighborhoods.

While the $70,000 to $100,000 needed for a full-fledged study is not available, state project manager Sonny Chickering outlined some shorter-term fixes to make crossing the busy street easier.

Those included installing more street lighting and creating midblock pedestrian crossings - starting with the intersection of 51st and Main streets, where 17-year-old Sherry Varo was killed in March.

The state has identified seven potential mid-block crossing areas, Chickering said, but traffic engineers believe that 51st Street, which already has an established median, is the best place to start. Several city councilors at Monday's work session expressed a strong desire for flashing lights at the designated crossings.

Smith said he would like to focus on improved lighting in the area, as well as increased education for neighbors and pedestrians.

That could happen soon. City staff members have identified federal stimulus money that may be available for street lights for the project.

Lowering the posted speed limit also was discussed, although a previous speed zone study conducted in 2007 supported the existing speed limits of 40 mph and 45 mph.

"Lighting is a no-brainer and pedestrian education is a must," Councilor Dave Ralston said. "But I don't think speed is really the problem.a...

"The main thing we need is money to do the proper study."

EmX bus service gets federal funding

The use of $2.9 million in federal stimulus money completes funding for a new rapid bus route and helps create 400 jobs for two years, officials said last week during a ceremony on Pioneer Parkway for Lane Transit District's new EmX service.

Joined by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, Gov. Ted Kulongoski called the project a model for teamwork by local, state and federal partners.

"The federal dollars, combined with state and local contributions, will deliver cleaner air, jobs on the ground and improve the quality of life for the citizens in the Eugene-Springfield metro area," Kulongoski said.

The federal government previously had agreed to help fund the $41 million project, for which construction work already has begun and which is set to open by the end of 2010. It will connect downtown to the Gateway area.

The federal and state governments are picking up 93 percent of the cost, while LTD contributes $2.9 million, officials said. The federal government decided to use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - also known as the stimulus act - to complete its contribution to the job.

This year, LTD and Eugene-based general contractor Wildish Companies will build dedicated bus lanes along Pioneer Parkway and International Way.

Echoing the other statements about the creation of local jobs, Steve Wildish, vice president of the Wildish companies, said several subcontractors would be used, but wasn't specific.

The new project "is particularly important to our company at this time, when our economy is struggling and the pace of construction has slowed considerably," Wildish said.

Volunteers sought to patrol Pisgah lot

Over the years, criminals have spoiled many a good walk at the bucolic Mount Pisgah county park south of Springfield.

"Every (parking area) you go to out here, you see broken glass on the ground," Eugene resident Darcy Hannibal said Saturday after a trek along Pisgah's trails.

"All sorts of people are coming and going here all the time," Hannibal said. "I'm sure some of them sit and wait until no one's around, and that's when they break in."

After brainstorming strategies to reduce the number of car break-ins at the three trailhead parking areas surrounding Mount Pisgah, county officials are teaming with a pair of private organizations to recruit and train volunteers to keep an eye out for troublemakers.

"This will be similar to a Neighborhood Watch program," county parks spokeswoman Loralyn Spiro said. "The volunteers won't be there for enforcement. They'll just be the eyes and ears for people who use the park.

"Mount Pisgah is a special place for a lot of people, and we'd like people to have a great experience and not have to worry so much about having their car broken into," Spiro said.

Anyone age 18 and older who wants to join the park watch program should attend a volunteer training session set for 6:30 p.m. today at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum's White Oak Pavilion, located near the park's west trailhead parking area.

Additional training sessions will be held in July and August, Spiro said.

Two fires damage apartment buildings

Residents of seven apartment units - four in Springfield and three in Eugene - were forced from their homes Friday night following two fires that damaged separate apartment buildings within an hour of each other.

The Springfield Fire Department responded to a blaze at 6:53 p.m. at a complex at 523 39th St. Battalion Chief Paul Esselstyn said the fire started in the middle of a small yard shared by four units of the eight-unit complex.

The fire spread and damaged at least three of the four apartments, Esselstyn said.

Firefighters evacuated the four units and shut off the electricity. Esselstyn said the fire department arranged with the Red Cross to temporarily house the displaced residents.

Esselstyn said the cause of the fire is unknown, and there aren't many clues to suggest why the fire started on the lawn.

The fire was first reported by a family living across from the complex. One resident was asleep in one of the units, but the person was able to escape before the fire escalated, Esselstyn said.

Roundabout crash brings prison time

A Eugene man was sentenced to nearly three years in prison last week for injuring three people in a high-speed, hit-and-run collision at a Springfield roundabout in March 2008.

Witnesses reported seeing Raymond Lewis Hopkins, 45, driving in excess of 100 mph just before he struck another vehicle at Hayden Bridge Road and Pioneer Parkway, prosecutor David Vill told Judge Doug Mitchell before the sentencing.

Hopkins pleaded guilty to one felony count of failing to perform the duties of a driver and three felony counts of third-degree assault "with extreme indifference to human life" in causing physical injury to his passenger and two people in the car they struck. He also pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of reckless driving.

Hopkins was not charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants because he fled the scene of the March 4, 2008, crash, making a sobriety test impossible, Vill said.

The deputy Lane County district attorney noted, however, that a bottle of Yukon Jack whiskey was found in the center console of the borrowed Camaro that Hopkins drove into the other vehicle.
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Title Annotation:Springfield Extra; ODOT doesn't have the money for a full pedestrian safety study
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 4, 2009
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