Residents are beginning to ask that question after voters rejected a proposed U.S. Highway 101 widening project in May.
Most of the people who commented at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday supported improvements to the current highway in Seaside and a study of whether a bypass is feasible.
Kathleen Teeple said the referendum indicated to her that Seaside citizens want to be a small town, not an economic hub. "We want to preserve this beach community," she said.
Several people agreed with her.
After Seaside voters rejected the proposed highway expansion project, the money earmarked by the Oregon Department of Transportation was allocated to other projects, including ones in Astoria and Tillamook. ODOT officials have said the city of Seaside would have to create a Transportation Systems Plan before becoming eligible for another highway improvement project. The Planning Commission is gathering public input on what residents want from the highway before creating a plan.
City Planner Kevin Cupples said the city does not wish to repeat the mistake of not listening to the public. He said the city does not have a new plan for the highway.
"Those maps really lay out a perfect blueprint of what we can't do," he said, indicating the maps in the council chamber showing the rejected highway project.
The nine people who testified or asked questions included Bill Teeple, who said a bypass would not disrupt Seaside during construction as much as a highway expansion would. He suggested a bypass on logging roads.
John Dunzer said he supported the highway expansion. He questioned whether a bypass could be funded after the previous Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) noted it was not feasible.
Christopher Lloyd said when a person has decided which is their preferred option in an environmental impact statement, he or she has to find some reason that all the other alternatives will not work. He feels the options that were rejected in the FEIS were not given a fair chance.
Lloyd, a former ODOT employee, said upgrades could tide the city over while a bypass feasibility study was being conducted. He suggested designating right-turn lanes, realigning the Lewis and Clark road, installing stoplights that could be timed and replacing the Neawanna Bridge.
"I think Seaside wants a modern highway, but they don't want to be Lincoln City," he said.
Safety concerns and the need to please tourists were mentioned during testimony.
Commission chairman Pat Phillips said after the meeting that the commission will hold one or two more meetings, then present the information gathered to the City Council. "I think all of us here have always felt that a bypass is a natural approach," he said during the meeting.
According to Cupples, the Planning Commission will compile a list of alternatives after meeting with the council, then ask for public comment on those alternatives. The council will have the option to select an alternative. The council may pursue funding for a visioning process or begin a formal TSP update.
The next meeting is at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at Seaside City Hall at 989 Broadway Drive. Meetings will continue at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. Comments may be e-mailed to (firstname.lastname@example.org) or mailed to Highway 101 Alternatives, 989 Broadway, Seaside, OR 97138.