Current Issues

Traffic Safety in French Prairie

Traffic Safety in French Prairie: Introduction

On September 7th, nearly 200 residents of the North Marion County/French Prairie area gathered at the Donald Fire Station for a community meeting to raise concerns over the safety of our roads – and our local officials heard us. We need to use this opportunity to gain the momentum to get our local leaders to take action and help us protect lives!

The commuter traffic coming and going from the Newberg area has impacted east/west along McKay/Ehlen Roads and also south into St. Paul and beyond. Not only has traffic made it very difficult on local residents and farmers, but it has turned North Marion County into the most dangerous traffic area in the entire county.

We all know how much the new developments at the Donald/Aurora interchange have impacted our roads. Now we have recently learned more about two major impacts on our roads that will open in 2017:

First is the Newberg/Dundee By-Pass, which ends at Hwy 219 (rather than 99W). Depending on how commuters and truckers respond, it appears that McKay/Ehlen Road to the Donald/Aurora interchange could now become the new “regional by-pass” to connect Interstate 5 with the Newberg/Dundee By-pass. This project is scheduled to open in late 2017 and may likely create thousands of new car and truck trips per day!

Second is the new Willamette Valley regional fertilizer depot at the intersection of St. Paul Highway and Butteville Road. Although we support agricultural uses that support our local ag industry, the impact of trucks going to and from the facility will be significant. But most importantly, local citizens were not informed or encouraged to participate in how to deal with the traffic impacts of this new facility. The approval of this facility is behind us, but raises the issue that we need to make sure that any new applications go through a more complete review process.

In addition to these two developments that will increase traffic along the I-5 Exit 278/Ehlen Rd/Yergen Rd/McKay Rd corridor, Wilco/Hazelnut Growers of Oregon has begun site preparation for a 119,912 square foot building to replace the HGO plant in Cornelius and consolidate operations at Donald to include nut processing and shipping, as well as processing of finished consumer hazelnut products and a retail operation. This will drive additional significant traffic.

At the present time to comprehensive Traffic Impact Analysis has been completed the considers the growth of the last ten years plus these three new developments, and no traffic mitigation is being discussed.

We want to build a positive process and lay out a “safety agenda” before the next decision has to be made. Out of the community meeting, we created the SAFETY FIRST AGENDA to recognize the challenges and identify solutions. Now we are asking you to sign and return a petition of support. Let’s work together to build momentum for creating safer roads for all of us!

This petition is being mailed to every address in north Marion County. If you didn’t receive it, you can download it below. Remember, we are a small population but are disproportionately impacted, so we need every local resident to sign the petition and return it to us. You may use the enclosed return envelope to return your petition.

Thank you for your support.

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Traffic Safety Impacts of the Wilco/Hazelnut Growers or Oregon Facility in Donald

The first site to be developed in the Donald Industrial Park, on the city’s north boundary facing Butteville Road, is a massive (approx.. 240,000 sq. ft.) building divided into two parts. The north portion (119,925 sq. ft.) will be the new Hazelnut Growers of Oregon facility and the south portion (118,225 sq. ft.) will be the new distribution warehouse for Wilco, to supply their retail stores.

DIP Building A Front Elevation

Click for larger view.

Site preparation is under way and permits for construction have been submitted, and the impact on traffic safety promises to be massive, coming on top of ten years of development with limited traffic mitigation and improvements.

DIP Building A Overall Site Plan

Click for larger view.

Friends of French Prairie has done a detailed analysis of the public and internal communications of Wilco/HGO as well as of the documents submitted for this project, and it appears to us that the Traffic Impact Analysis is being substantially understated. This is a potentially huge problem because it means that as part of project approvals, Wilco and their developer will only have to pay for limited traffic mitigation (for instance, no traffic signal at Ehlen Road and Butteville Road), and this will further compound the ever-worsening traffic safety problem in French Prairie.

We have submitted a lengthy letter to Marion County and City of Donald detailing our concerns and pointing out the weaknesses and shortcomings of the documents submitted by the developer. We urge you to read the letter and related Exhibits.

The letter calls for a pause to development approvals until a comprehensive Traffic Impact Analysis is completed, and this formal request is supported by our petition efforts detailed below.

Download these documents in PDF below:

  1. Letter to Marion County and City of Donald
  2. Exhibit 1: HGO Traffic Impact Analysis (August 2016)
  3. Exhibit 2: Wilco Traffic Impact Analysis (Octo0ber 2016)
  4. Exhibit 3: Group Mackenzie Traffic Impact Analysis (2007)
  5. Exhibit 4: Friends of French Prairie Letter (August 2009)
  6. Exhibit 5: Pilot Flying J Travel Plaza Notiec
  7. Exhibit 6: Newberg Graphic article on Newberg-Dundee Bypass
  8. Exhibit 7: Capital Press article on new Marion Ag Service facility
  9. Exhibit 8: Marion Co. Sheriff Traffic Safety Presentation (Sept. 2016)
  10. Exhibit 9: Wilsonville Spokesman article on Traffic Safety meeting in Donald
  11. Exhibit 10: Westnut web page
  12. Exhibit 11: Albany Democrat-Herald article on increase in hazelnut production
  13. Exhibit 12: Capital Press article about rising hazelnut prices
  14. Exhibit 13: HGO presentation to members on strategic plans
  15. Exhibit 14: HGO-Wilco newsletter about new food processing plant
  16. Exhibit 15: Structural Permit Application to Marion County
  17. Exhibit 16: Florida DOT Trip Generation Study on Distribution Centers

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Traffic Safety Position – June, 2017

The September Traffic Safety Agenda meeting was followed by a second meeting in St. Paul on March 21, chaired by Mayor Kim Wallis with Marion County Commissioners Sam Brentano and Kevin Cameron, plus Alan Haley, Director of Public Works, Julia Uravich, Traffic Engineer, Sheriff Myers and officers from the Sheriff’s Office.

Marion County Sheriff's Department and Public Works both made detailed presentations on what they have been doing to address the Traffic Safety issuea since the first meeting last September in Donald. The good news is that they listened in September and have been working to address elements of traffic safety: the Sheriff's department with education and enforcement efforts, and Public Works with signage, speed limit and rumble strip work.  Specifically, rumble strips were cut into Butteville Road north and south or Ehlen Road in late March.

What was not addressed was Rep. Vial's bill proposal to create special districts for toll road construction that could lead to a "west side bypass."  Specifically, FOFP delivered to the Commissioners present (Brentano and Cameron) the 650 signatures on the Traffic Safety Petition, and then communicated directly to all commissioners early this week to follow up.  Perhaps the most important piece of information that came out of the meeting is that Marion County and Dept. of Transportation have been in dialogue for two years about the possibility of transfer of ownership of Ehlen/Yergen/McKay Roads to the state.  That action would make it a state highway, and remove local control.  Since it is the main road across French Prairie, we strongly oppose loss of local control.

Since the March meeting, we have watched with concern the Transportation Bill take shape at the State legislature, and specifically noted that the bill (HB 2017 -3) contains on p. 168, in Section 71a(5), the following:

Under the bill, gas taxes and vehicle registration and title fees will go up. ODOT Region Two will receive $107.95 million from this increase, more than any other ODOT region. (p. 167, line 7) This $107.95 million "shall be distributed or spent as follows." The bill then lists 7 projects in Region Two that are to receive this funding, including that money is to be spent by ODOT for the following:

  • I-5 at Aurora/Donald Interchange
  • Newberg/Dundee Bypass (Phase (II, design only)
  • Highway 993 at Halsey.

Residents of French Prairie understand the severe traffic safety problems at the Exit 278 interchange, but also understand what improvement or replacement of that interchange will do to the area and how the combination with other traffic and highway problems could spur growth and loss of farm land. To that end, Friends of French Prairie has formulated the following position statement specifying earmarks or sidebars we expect to see associated with Exit 278 funding.

Earmarks in the Transportation bill

Friends of French Prairie recognizes the long-standing need for improvement of the I-5 Donald/Aurora Exit 278 and appreciate improvement or replacement of this interchange listed among the projects earmarked for funding in ODOT Region Two. Local area residents and governments, including the City of Wilsonville, have expressed concerns over urban-level development in unincorporated county lands without municipal governance, realistic system development charges or adequate development standards pertaining to stormwater detention, bike/ped facilities, transit accommodation, etc. Given the dramatic increase in traffic congestion at this freeway exit over the past two decades, and the consequent capacity and traffic safety problems, our support is conditional and tied to specific sideboards, including:

1. Capacity.  Any improvement or replacement of this interchange will further increase traffic counts that in turn increase traffic on Ehlen/Yergen/McKay Road.  Improvement or replacement of this interchange must include specific traffic mitigation or improvements to Ehlen Road on the east and west sides of the interchange that extend beyond the immediate interchange area to safely accommodate vehicles and bike/pedestrian use. Related to this is the real problem, already being experienced on Ehlen/Yergen/McKay Road, of traffic diverting from the Newberg/Dundee Bypass across French Prairie to reach I-5. A new or improved Exit 278 interchange has the potential to exacerbate this problem if adequate traffic mitigation to minimize this redirection is not included in both projects.

2. Traffic Safety.  The continued growth in traffic has resulted in significant traffic safety problems at the current interchange and east along Ehlen Road to Hwy. 551, and west along Ehlen/Yergen/McKay Roads all the way to Hwy. 219.  Improvement or replacement of the Exit 278 interchange must carry with it traffic mitigation on the east and west sides of the interchange that extend beyond the immediate interchange area to improve rather than further abet the already severe traffic safety problems.

3. Local Control. Local control of Ehlen/Yergen/McKay Roads is an important consideration. Specifically, continued ownership by Marion County, which has a vested interest in French Prairie as the most productive component of Marion County's agricultural sector, is key to this road servicing the local French Prairie community and towns.

4. French Prairie Bypass. Improvement or replacement of the Exit 278 interchange can in no way lead to the later implementation of a "bypass across French Prairie" or a tollway from Hwy. 219 to I-5.  Various proposals to this end have been floated over the past fifteen years, and Marion County is on record with at least three unanimous decisions by the Board of Commissioners opposing such an undertaking, including against the proposed Coastal Parkway and Westside Bypass Special Road District legislative proposal.

5. Fuel tax consequences. The proposed increase in fuel tax by nine cents in the Metro Congestion Relief District will have the consequence of having significantly lower-priced fuel available just south of the Metro boundary, and the next freeway interchange.  This could drive additional development around the interchange, as well as significant consequential increases in traffic counts, especially by semi-trucks.  This must be factored into planning, and Marion County should work with Salem-Keizer Transportation Study (MPO) to give serious consideration to increasing the fuel tax to equalize costs and raise additional revenue to address local-area traffic safety and implement appropriate traffic mitigation.

You can download the Earmarks in the Transportation Bill document in PDF by clicking here.

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