SEASIDE - "I believe that we've gone backwards," said Seaside Mayor Don Larson as voters rejected the U.S. Highway 101 improvement plan, 1,286 to 981.
"The voice of the people spoke, but I don't know how we're going to get any improvements."
The defeated plan by the Oregon Department of Transportation and city of Seaside involved a five-lane highway with a center median in places and a left turn in others, and a one-way couplet from Avenue N to the south end of town. Sources on both sides of the issue estimated the project would eliminate 30 or more buildings. Many businesses and residences would also have lost some driveways, landscaping and parking. The project was projected to cost $45.5 million, of which $38 million in state and federal funding has been secured.
The project has been among the most contentious issues in Seaside for years, dividing the community.
Fifty-six percent of the voters rejected the highway plan, with 42 percent voting for it.
"It looks like it's down a couple hundred, so we're not going to build the highway," Larson said. "After all the money that has been spent on this, and all the time that has been spent, and after five councilors agreed ... This is a real loss for the city."
Friends of Seaside spokeswoman Tita Montero, who led opponents, wished for a higher turnout, but is happy with the result. "I'm already starting to work on our future alternatives," she said.
Montero said she has spoken to lawmakers in Salem who have ideas on what Seaside can do next. She said Friends of Seaside will be working toward alternatives. "Our work has just begun, and all of us are very committed to work on the highway and improvement," she said.
ODOT's official statement, provided by Project Manager Jamie Barclay, was, "The funds that were dedicated to this project will be re-allocated to other ODOT projects. Before any future project moves forward in Seaside, the city will need to develop a Transportation Systems Plan (TSP) to examine their needs and long-term goals for transportation in their community. ODOT is available to assist Seaside in the development of a TSP."
Barclay sent a separate statement saying a TSP "establishes land use controls and a network of planned facilities and services to meet overall transportation needs." According to the statement, Seaside must adopt a TSP and get it acknowledged by the state before competing for funding. The Northwest Area Commission on Transportation prioritizes projects for funding every two years before submitting recommendations to the Oregon Transportation Commission, according to the statement.
"Large projects typically compete for funding over several funding cycles before funding may be secured," the statement reads. "Once a project is selected for funding, an environmental clearance must be obtained."
Montero said the Final Environmental Impact Statement completed for the ODOT project has a shelf life of 10 years, and said she was confident Seaside can put together a project permitted by the FEIS in that time.
"Rest assured that Salem knows what's going on and has some ideas," Montero said. "I think that we will have various alternatives that we will be looking at." She said Friends of Seaside will seek to get other Seaside residents and business people involved. Possibilities include a three-lane highway with a continuous center turn lane or a truck bypass.
"A truck bypass would not only help 101 but it would alleviate the problems they have on Wahanna," Montero said. The Wahanna Action Group of residents of Wahanna Road has been agitating for improvements to the road and the banning of trucks.
"This is the first time I've ever heard of a transportation systems plan," Montero said. "I would like to know what it is, this transportation systems plan, and how it relates to our already-in-place comprehensive plan."
Herb Thompson, head of the "Yes on Highway 101" group, plans to stay involved
"I hope they get back together and put something together that's feasible for the whole community," Thompson said. "I just feel sorry for the community. It's something everybody's put a lot of energy into."
He has lived through a highway widening in St. Helens that took property from his business and the construction of the Astoria roundabout, and said they were definitely worth the trouble. "I thought that this would be a very positive thing for the community," he said." "It is hard on the business people to go through that, but I think the benefits far outweigh the losses."
Thompson said re-evaluating goals and seeing what the people really want will be important. He stressed that tourism is Seaside's main industry. "Hopefully we can get together and get something done," he said.
Larson is concerned about safety problems and disgruntled tourists. He said this project was the solution to take care of Seaside's traffic problems, now and for the future. He said the Seaside City Council will continue to work with ODOT if that's what the people want, and invited public comment at council meetings. "It's up to the people," he said. "I represent the people."
"This isn't a personal thing," Montero said. "We all care about the city and we all live here."
There is still uncertainty about whether ODOT will have to replace the Neawanna and Dooley bridges. Replacement of the bridges was part of the current plan.
Larson said the state Legislature does not see Seaside's bridges as a high priority, since Seaside has demonstrated an ability to rebuild its own bridges.
Barclay said the bridges have to be inspected every two years. The bridges are due to be inspected in September.