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.