At the Astoria Safeway's grand opening last April, company officials announced it was the biggest Safeway store built in Oregon.

But the store came with a big gas station and a big parking lot, which all added up to what many perceive as a big traffic problem in the vicinity of 33rd Street and Lief Erickson Drive, which is also U.S. Highway 30.

The solution, according to a traffic study commissioned by the city of Astoria, is to install a traffic light there. But that probably won't happen before 2008, said Mike Spaeth, district manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation's District 1, which includes Astoria.

Before the store was built, Safeway officials submitted a traffic study to the Oregon Department of Transportation that concluded there would be no need for a traffic light there. ODOT went along with those findings. But city officials were skeptical. The city commissioned another study, which determined the increased traffic that would be generated by the new store would warrant a traffic light.

In October 2003, ODOT's engineering department, which has nothing to do with funding, responded to the updated traffic study and acknowledged a light was needed, said Mitch Mitchum, Astoria's public works director.

At that point, Safeway agreed to pitch in $60,000 and Astoria put aside $50,000 for its share of the signal's cost, estimated at about $205,000. But now, almost a year later, Spaeth still hasn't been able to find money in ODOT's budget to pay the agency's $90,000 share.

Spaeth said ODOT never had the funding in hand. "We shared with the city it would be awhile if they were depending on ODOT," Spaeth said. "If they were anxious to have it done this year, I told them Safeway and the city would have to fund it themselves," he said.

Spaeth put the traffic light project in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, but he said even if the Transportation Commission approves it this fall, it would be 2008 before it could be built.

So Spaeth has been working hard to find other funding sources, including special funding from ODOT's traffic section in Salem. "I'm trying to compete for that. If I'm successful it could be built in 2006," Spaeth said. "I'm looking for anything I can compete for," he added.

In the meantime, the city of Astoria has designed the project and had it approved by ODOT technicians. "We've done everything we can possibly do in anticipation," Mitchum said. "But we don't have money (to pay ODOT's share) and since it's a state highway, ODOT has to be involved."

- Sandra Swain


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