U.S. Rep. David Wu was late to a meeting Monday afternoon in Astoria with local law enforcement officials to discuss impacts of the upcoming Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.
He was stuck in traffic.
Wu and his escort, Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen, were caught in the traffic jam that had cars backed up for miles on U.S. Highway 101 south of town after a garbage truck broke down on the Youngs Bay Bridge.
"The mayor went to a lot of trouble to demonstrate your infrastructure troubles," Wu joked. "It was an apt demonstration."
Gridlock is one of the major problems that Clatsop County is expecting will accompany the Bicentennial, and local officials were anxious to hear what support might be forthcoming from Congress to ease traffic congestion and address other potential problems.
Local agencies are drawing up lists of funding for extra personnel, equipment and other projected needs for the event, which begins next year and peaks locally in 2005.
In the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere in Washington, D.C., items like Lewis and Clark celebrations have taken a much lower priority, Wu said. But that doesn't mean local entities can't secure funding from other sources, including some new ones that have been established as part of the national campaign against terrorism.
"We have to be more creative now," he said. "Whether we dress it up as Lewis and Clark, or homeland security at the mouth of the Columbia, or a first-responders' shift in national priorities - we need to fit it whatever existing or new boxes are created for funding."
Clatsop County's location along a major shipping channel and near the Canadian border could help in securing extra funding to beef up law enforcement, Wu said.
"There will be some new funding for community safety, and it may or may not be related to Lewis and Clark," he said.
Oregon State Police Lt. Duane Stanton said OSP is seeking enough personnel to keep one trooper on each of the three main highways in Clatsop County - 26, 30 and 101 - around the clock. It already takes 45 minutes for the on-duty trooper to reach a call on Highway 30 from Highway 26 - the added congestion from Lewis and Clark visitors will only worsen response times, he said.
Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl said new full-time police personnel would be welcome, but the long lead-time needed to get them hired and on patrol might make it difficult to have them in place in time for the crowds. Temporary alternatives, such as the use of OSP cadets, volunteer groups and part-time personnel, are being considered, especially for such duties as patrolling the shuttle parking lots that will serve the Fort Clatsop National Memorial. Those areas could become magnets for thieves without some police presence, but regular law enforcement personnel can't be spared for those tasks, he said.
Raichl said he's also concerned about the proposed trail linking Fort Clatsop with Sunset Beach, and whether the project will leave pedestrians to cross Highway 101. If money for a permanent crossing isn't available, a temporary structure such as the pedestrian overpass used for the Hood to Coast run should be considered, he said.
Because the trial is proposed to pass through a portion of the Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, some defense money could possibly be available for such a project, Wu said.
But overall the funding picture is grim, he acknowledged.
"We will do our level best to help, but this is going to be a lean set of years for federal money," he said.