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Possible road closure draws protests.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

WALTON - Dave Caltagiron says he and his neighbors will be up a creek if Lane County proceeds with plans to close Stagecoach Road for 60 days this summer to make repairs.

The project would cut off their access to nearby Highway 126, the route most use to commute to jobs in Eugene.

But county engineer Sonny Chickering says officials are caught between a river and a hard place.

So much of the roadbed has eroded into the Siuslaw River, the only option is to blast away a large section of sheer stone face on the other side. Continuously removing the resulting debris so traffic can pass would make the project too costly and too long, he said.

Caltagiron says the closure plan places an unreasonable burden on Stagecoach Road residents.

"Name me any other road in Lane County that they would try to close for 60 days with no traffic going through!" he said.

With a decision due on the project early next month from Lane County commissioners, local residents, their worried fire chief and county road officials will meet this week to discuss the dilemma.

Optional route poses dangers

Actually, residents of the 11 households at the west end of Stagecoach Road would have an alternative route if the county closes their road near its intersection with Highway 126 at Richardson Bridge.

They could take a 28-mile detour that includes traveling west to Swisshome on the one-lane gravel Stagecoach Road - a twisting stretch so dangerous that the U.S. Postal Service stopped using it to deliver mail after a falling rock killed rural carrier Vancel Knight on Nov. 24, 1971.

Once in Swisshome, residents normally have two routes back to the Willamette Valley: north through Triangle Lake on Highway 36 or south to Mapleton, where they can double back on Highway 126. But Highway 36 is also slated for closure this summer, as the state Department of Transportation repairs a rockfall area there.

That leaves the Mapleton route, which Caltagiron says poses a serious hardship for many residents.

Both he and his wife have jobs requiring them to commute to and from Eugene at odd hours. Twice daily, both will have to traverse the unpaved road in the dark. Caltagiron estimates that extra gasoline alone will cost the couple $800 - not to mention the wear and tear of traveling the rough road and the risk.

Eugene Lane County Fire District 1 Chief Marty Nelson is among those alarmed over the proposed closure, which would cut off the 11 households from their Walton Fire Station, 10 to 14 miles away.

"If there's an event, it would be an extraordinarily serious situation," said Nelson, noting that one resident of the road has a heart condition and another is allergic to bee stings.

The department has checked with the Mapleton and Swisshome fire departments to see if they could cover the residents from their end.

"Mapleton estimated their response time would be an hour," Nelson said. "Swisshome-Deadwood said the best they could do would be a 45-minute response time."

Since both departments are all-volunteer, he added, there could be periods where no medic is available, particularly during the day when many firefighters commute to jobs elsewhere.

Late notice

Like many of the residents, Nelson is also frustrated by last-minute notice of the impending closure.

"They've known for quite some time that they were going to be doing this," he said. "But the first time I discovered there was going to be a road closure, it was from one of the patrons, who was enormously alarmed. I find that problematic."

Chickering, the county engineer, acknowledged that some residents learned of the closure only when they encountered surveyors marking the construction site. And project planners failed to involve Fire District 1 in the process, he said.

"We did make contact with the Oregon Department of Forestry, which would be fighting any forest fires in the area," he said. "But we did not do our homework with regard to protection for individual dwellings and ambulance service."

The county first sent out letters informing property owners of the impending project and seeking their feedback a year ago.

"But most of the people living out here are renters, so they didn't receive the notices," resident Brad Foster said.

Even owner-occupants who received initial letters about the project said there was no mention of a 60-day road closure.

"Everyone said, `Hey great - they're going to fix the road!' ' resident Susan Thomas said.

The closure period wasn't mentioned until a letter arrived in late April, resident Alan Fetzer said.

Road condition dire

Stagecoach Road residents and county officials agree on one thing: the road needs repairing. "The road's trashed," Fetzer said.

The situation is particularly critical in one section, Chickering said.

"The road is basically hanging there on the side of the mountain, on a 100-foot vertical face," he said. "There are embankment failures below the road. We're losing it down the hillside."

If the road isn't repaired, it could fail during winter rains, stranding residents for a much longer period. "While we have the funds, we are recommending a permanent fix," Chickering said.

The $1.5 million project would blast away enough embankment to widen the road to two lanes, with a guardrail on the river side and a rockfall area on the mountain side.

Some residents, such as Foster, say the project is overkill for the meager traffic on the road. "The problem could be fixed for one-tenth what they're spending," he said.

But Fetzer disagreed, even though he isn't happy about the length of the closure. "From my point of view, I'd rather temporarily go through the inconvenience and compromised service to do it and do it right," he said.

Bid conditions added

After area residents raised concerns at a meeting earlier this month, the county made some changes to its bid specifications on the project, Chickering said.

"We added some incentives for contractors to consider, such as a $1,000 a day bonus for every day the project is completed before the 60 days, and we added some penalties for every day it runs over the 60 days," he said. "We also added a bid alternative that would have them remove debris to open the road twice a day, from 6 to 7 a.m. and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m."

That alternative would boost the project cost to about $1.75 million, he said.

Nelson, the fire chief, said county engineers have warned him that the option is unlikely.

"They have not been terribly cooperative," he said. "They're saying, `It's going to be cost-prohibitive, and if it is, we're going to close the road.' That feels like a gun to my head, and I don't like that."

He has been working with County Emergency Services Director Linda Cook about the possibility of adding a provision that would require the contractor to clear the road in an emergency.

The final decision will be in the hands of county commissioners, Chickering said. They are expected to select a bid alternative June 2. Work probably would begin in July.

Karen McCowan can be reached at 338-2422 or kmccowan@guardnet.com.

PUBLIC MEETING

County roads officials will meet with residents and fire officials to discuss the potential 60-day closure of Stagecoach Road.

Where: Walton Fire Station, 18796 Transformer Road.

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

CAPTION(S):

Dave Caltagiron and other residents of Stagecoach Road east of Mapleton are upset about county plans to close their road for two months this summer for needed repairs. They want the road to remain accessible during the workweek, but that would add delays and costs to the project. PUBLIC MEETING County roads officials will meet with residents and fire officials to discuss the potential 60-day closure of Stagecoach Road. Where: Walton Fire Station, 18796 Transformer Road. When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Transportation; Residents on Stagecoach Road agree repairs are needed, but they're concerned about access for work and emergencies
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 23, 2004
Words:1319
Previous Article:To our readers.
Next Article:FOLK FESTIVAL NOT SO FOLKSY.


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