By editorial board • 

Carlton at crucial fork in the road

Carlton is facing one of the toughest decision a town has to make, and on a tight timeline. The Oregon Department of Transportation needs to know in the next few weeks whether the community wants Highway 47 rebuilt on its current alignment — running down Main Street, past some of the highest drawing tourist amenities in Oregon Wine Country — or favors a new Pine and Monroe configuration to the north.

ODOT will need two construction seasons, and construction season coincides with tourist season. If the current alignment is retained, that will wreak havoc on local traffic, tourist traffic, through traffic and, most important of all for downtown merchants, traffic in and out of shops, restaurants and winetasting venues.

Imagine, for a moment, that Highway 99W ran down the main drag in McMinnville, as it does in Newberg. And imagine ODOT was proposing to spend two seasons conducting a ground-up rebuild.

What’s more, ODOT says it’s duty-bound to add bike lanes, even though they wouldn’t connect to anything at either end. And that could eliminate about 50 spaces of precious downtown parking, though it sounds like shared car and bike use might provide an out.

Carlton’s big issue with the current alignment isn’t auto traffic, though it can get heavy at times. It’s truck traffic.

Highway rigs pound the pavement, shortening its lifespan. They also create serious safety and noise hazards.

If it were possible, Carlton would route trucks out around town altogether, perhaps on the Old McMinnville Highway or Westside Road. But it doesn’t have a choice, at least not at this juncture. Options are limited to an extremely disruptive downtown rebuild or a new alignment to the north that is already raising issues and opposition, notably from winemaker, philanthropist and civic booster Ken Wright.

The biggest barrier for a true bypass is cost.

The three-block rebuild figures to run $7 million. In contrast, the first four-mile phase of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass cost $245 million.

Then there’s Yamhill.

Newberg couldn’t have gotten a bypass without Dundee and vice versa. It was a package deal.

Yamhill lies only three miles past Carlton, and would surely demand like consideration, eliminating the Old McMinnville Highway option. Westside Road would remain viable, but the cost would surely rival that of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass.

The immediate routing decision is strictly up to Carlton. We would offer two pieces of related advice though:

First, secure a binding commitment on bike lane sharing, making retention of the current alignment more acceptable. Second, work with officials from Yamhill and the county to ward off development precluding a more ambitious bypass someday.



Hwy 47 was built in about 1929. There have been few improvements in the Yamhill county section since then. The proposed realignment to deal with truck traffic through Carlton is the first major improvement in over 90 years. It makes a lot of sense.

Thinking back 40 or 50 years, Newberg opposed a 99W bypass fearing harm to the business section. But as traffic volume through town increased the current bypass was built at considerably more cost and disruption. Let's not wait until the same situation happens with Hwy 47 in Carlton.

While a full blown bypass of both Yamhill and Carlton is undoubtly many years in the future as are apparently any improvements to Hwy 47 at least the Pine/Monroe reroute seems like a reasonable compromise for the near term.

According to Starla Pointer's News Register article March 5, 2020 Carlton may be able to keep downtown parking by “rerouting the state highway so traffic flows around the downtown area on Pine and Monroe streets. Carlton has had a proposal for this route in its Transportation Master Plan for years.” So this should be no shock to Mr Wright.

Once the reroute project is completed perhaps ODOT will address the safety issues that exist on HWY 47 between Gaston and HWY 99W.

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