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Watkins: Hwy 47: A regional issue demanding a regional solution

Submitted photo ##
Submitted photo ##

On Sept. 29, the Oregon Department of Transportation held a meeting to discuss the feasibility of converting Westside Road into an alternate Highway 47 route for heavy trucks traveling between McMinnville and Yamhill.

On Oct. 29, the department followed up with a second meeting with additional facts and opinions. The goal was to remove about 1,000 heavy trucks a day from the highway, which cuts through the hearts of Carlton and Yamhill.

However, comment ran heavily negative at both meetings. That served to kill the idea, but left the underlying problem unresolved.

The meetings followed pressure from our district’s state representative and senator, based on some intense conversations with a couple of Carlton’s more politically savvy winemakers.

Linda Watkins, a Carlton city councilor slated to assume the mayorship in January, has watched the traffic increases through her community for 16 years. She been awakened several times in the middle of the night by heavy truck traffic. She voted last spring for realignment of Highway 47, but that only represents a partial solution. The views expressed here are her own. They are not intended to represent any official position or policy of the city of Carlton.

Those conversations began after Carlton’s city council informed ODOT in April that given the choice between realignment of Highway 47 from its current route through Carlton and having our downtown torn apart for at least three years so the highway could remain on its current route, the majority of citizens preferred a downtown-saving realignment.

There was a faction, including winemaker Ken Wright, advocating from the beginning of the initial conversation in late January for the bigger-scale solution of moving truck traffic onto Westside Road instead. But at that time, ODOT said it wasn’t feasible, as it would require beefing up bridges, softening curves and rebuilding intersections at several times the expense.

After the council settled on the local realignment option as the best of the two available alternatives, Wright reached out to the next layer in our citizen government — our state legislators.

To the chagrin of the majority of our city councilors, he did so without first informing or involving city leaders. We learned of this action in an after-the-fact letter from Wright.

Nonetheless, Wright’s efforts had some interesting results. They led ODOT to open a useful discussion among the four  stakeholder jurisdictions — Yamhill County and the cities of McMinnville, Yamhill and Carlton.

I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the resistance raised and objections voiced by our sister jurisdictions during the two ODOT meetings. The majority sentiment was that it would not sufficiently address Yamhill issues and create new problems for McMinnville.

However, I was saddened to be be subjected to not only plenty of NIMBY sentiment, but also a shortsighted and dismissive attitude best summed up this way: “It’s Carlton’s problem. Leave us out of this.”

The fact is, it isn’t simply Carlton’s problem. And it isn’t simply a problem of a few large trucks inconveniencing a couple of business owners.

Heavy truck traffic on Highway 47 has increased over recent decades to dangerous levels. And it has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in commuter traffic.

For Carlton and Yamhill, both streams rip right through the hearts of our communities, disrupting life in residential neighborhoods as well as business districts. We live in terror of the day emergency sirens are triggered by the death of a child or a neighbor trying to cross the street while a distracted commuter is rushing to work or a preoccupied truck is pressing to make his next stop.

You may chuckle at the concept, but Carlton and Yamhill literally have rush hours.

While the traffic backups maybe aren’t quite as bad in Yamhill — where it’s a straight north-south shot through town, with no stops or 90-degree turns — the highway still carries many hundred heavy trucks past the middle school and high school ever day. That puts the Yamhill and Carlton children attending those schools at daily risk.

In Carlton, where north-south highway traffic jogs east-west through our downtown core on Main Street, with no four-way stops at either end, the situation is even scarier. It’s not uncommon to see traffic back-ups consisting of loaded logging trucks, a couple of double-trailer semis and a half dozen passenger cars at either of the 90-degree Highway 47/Main Street intersections.

With no four-way stops, meaning two directions share the right-of-way, confusion reigns for both residents and visitors alike. That we have not experienced a truck rollover or pedestrian fatality along either the Yamhill or Carlton sections is something of a miracle.

Yamhill is complaining about a growing volume of car and truck traffic rushing through. McMinnville is scrambling to deal with sharply increasing traffic on its fast-growing west side, where several large subdivisions are going in. And the county is struggling to meet burgeoning road and bridge maintenance needs, as more and more commuters use county roads to avoid the narrow, congested and truck-dominated Highway 47.

Meanwhile, in Carlton, we are experiencing rush-hours, with commuter traffic backups on all four of our main streets, pretty much all day long.

ODOT estimates about 140 residences are situated along the route Highway 47 takes from McMinnville to Yamhill. And they acknowledged that figurewas more than they expected.

I can tell you the majority of those homes are located in Carlton and Yamhill. And the residents of those homes can barely use the front parts of their houses, let alone their front yards, due to the traffic noise generated by all types of vehicles.

It’s true that Carlton’s issue — aided and abetted by Wright’s activism — is the proximate causes of the recent multi-jurisdictional discussion. But it’s a discussion long overdue and desperately needed.

Our county is experiencing unprecedented growth. In addition to the large subdivisions going up in McMinnville, Carlton is facing two new subdivisions that will be adding more than 100 homes, and Yamhill has a new subdivision promising to add about 80 homes.

Cumulatively, we’re looking at well over 500 new homes within the next few years.

The folks who will be living in those homes will not, in many cases, be working in this area. They will be commuting, primarily to Washington and Multnomah counties.

Many of the roads they’ll be traversing are the responsibility of Yamhill County, which will result in demands for increased county maintenance.

At this point, maybe it’s time these jurisdictions quit trying just to protect their own turf and, following Wright’s example, join forces to start lobbying for a better solution — a regional solution that would help protect our countryside and cities from becoming freeways for the trucks and commuters passing through on their way south and north.

There is, no doubt, some solution available that would provide allow commuters coming into McMinnville on Highway 99W to swing north without destroying the quiet, country environment that makes our county such a desirable place to live.

I realize some folks will balk, pointing to all the agony, time and expense it took to get the much-needed Newberg-Dundee bypass underway.

But we can no longer afford to relegate the issue of an overburdened Highway 47 cutting through traffic-flooded communities to the back burner. The sooner we start looking for a solution, the sooner we will find one.

It’s time for us to start working toward a solution that will not only benefit all of Yamhill County, and the small cities located here, but also allow Wright and other citizen and business stakeholders to feel their needs were being considered as well. Our common goal should be retaining the rural atmosphere of our county and its communities while still accommodating the growth that seems to be descending on us all.

Comments

Vinousman33

Linda that is well said. I am equally concerned, and nervous about the resolution of a very major problem for our communities. I look forward to everyone focusing on resolving this problem. It may be that some of us may have to sacrifice for the larger welfare of all. Let all three of the communities come to a viable solution. Jim Bandy

Don Dix

As previously stated, the Old McMinnville Hwy (off Gun Club Rd.) could be a viable option. The hwy is relatively straight (two 90 degree turns that could be straightened) and it intersects Hendricks Rd. near Modaffari Rd. All things considered, exploring this option might produce more than expected.