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Veneta City Council endorses 126 West as state freight route.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

VENETA - The state is one step closer to winning local support for designating Highway 126 West as a freight route, after the City Council voted unanimously Monday night to endorse the proposed change.

Despite testimony against the step at a public hearing last month, council members here decided that truck traffic is likely to increase on the highway regardless of the designation, which could give the road higher-priority status for safety and other improvements.

But Oregon Department of Transportation officials may get a very different response in nearby Junction City tonight. Usually, Oregon's cash-strapped cities are eager to do anything they can to increase their odds of winning state funding for local road improvements. But Junction City is expected to join a growing chorus of Willamette Valley cities to say "no thanks" to a state proposal to add several local highways to Oregon's officially designated freight route system, even though it means extra points in the state's highway project funding formula.

In November, residents of the McKenzie River Valley mounted such vociferous opposition to such status for Highway 126 East between Springfield and Santiam Pass that ODOT dropped the scenic highway from its list of proposed new freight routes.

In Veneta, council member Thomas Cotter noted that state officials have projected that freight traffic will double in the next 20 years, with or without additional freight route designations.

"If more trucks are coming through and you can't get more funding to deal with it, that's pretty silly," he said.

Veneta Mayor Tim Brooker said the city's cooperation on the freight route plan could make ODOT more likely to cooperate with it on other road projects.

"And it may help us in finding the money to address safety issues on that whole stretch of highway between here and Florence," he said.

Florence also cited the opportunity to improve safety on Highway 126 West.

"The designation would increase our exposure to additional funding, which could improve the road and make it safer." said City Manager Rodger Bennett.

He pointed to state Highway 38,already a freight route, between Interstate 5 and Reedsport.

"That's become a straighter, safer road than 126," he said.

ODOT Senior Transportation Planner Robin Marshburn said Astoria, Lincoln City and Corvallis are among cities taking a stand against additional freight routes, while Lane County, Eugene and Springfield have expressed reservations and asked for more time to study the matter.

Most cite an "if you build it, they will come" concern that the designation would increase truck traffic, congestion and accidents.

Mike Leighton, city administrator of Junction City, has prepared a letter for the City Council to discuss that would state the city's objection to a freight designation for Highway 99 West, its "already extremely busy" main thoroughfare.

The change could make it more dangerous for smaller vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, he wrote, and increase congestion due to a freight traffic bottleneck where four-lane Highway 99 squeezes down to two-lane Highway 99W at the north end of town.

Meanwhile, the city could face increased "bureaucratic demands" on Highway 99, which as Ivy Street is its main business corridor, with no guarantee of state funding to meet those demands.

"The statement that there 'may' be more dollars for freight route maintenance and repair leaves us with at least a feeling of uncertainty, if not skepticism," he said. "Even if there were guarantees of some extra funding, it would appear that the negatives still outweigh the positives."
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Title Annotation:Government; Other cities have been less receptive, but some hope the label brings improvements
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 11, 2005
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