A bright idea for luring visitors

October 31, 2002 11:00 pm
The Baker Tower, Oregon's tallest building east of the Cascades, greets motorists who enter Baker City from Interstate 84 via Exit 306 and Hwy. 30. Downtown merchants hope to work with state officials to steer more traffic off of the Interstate and on to Main, Broadway and 10th streets, Hwy. 30's route as it passes through Baker City. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
The Baker Tower, Oregon's tallest building east of the Cascades, greets motorists who enter Baker City from Interstate 84 via Exit 306 and Hwy. 30. Downtown merchants hope to work with state officials to steer more traffic off of the Interstate and on to Main, Broadway and 10th streets, Hwy. 30's route as it passes through Baker City. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Baker City has a back door, but it's a wonder any traveler ever finds the thing in the dark of night.

Hence Don Giles' bright idea.

Lights, to be specific.

Giles, who owns the Chevron station at Main Street and Auburn Avenue, told the City Council Tuesday that he and other downtown business owners have urged the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to install lights at that back door, better known as Exit 306 on Interstate 84.

Merchants also are pushing for the state to designate U.S. Highway 30 as a scenic byway. Highway 30, the most direct route from the freeway to the city's historic downtown district, leads from Exit 306 through the city and then north to Haines and North Powder.

The highway's route through Baker City follows sections of Main, Broadway and 10th streets.

"It would help bring people downtown," Giles said of the plan to illuminate Exit 306. "We need some kind of stimulus package, and I think this could be a start."

He asked councilors to lend their support to the project by calling Baker City's representatives in the Oregon Legislature, Sen. Ted Ferrioli and Rep. Tom Butler.

Councilor Charles Hofmann said he supports Giles' efforts.

Another source of momentum for the project is Councilor Beverly Calder, who also owns a downtown business and has been involved from the start in the push to light Exit 306 and to install more informative signs at the interchange.

"There's a critical need to make that exit illuminated and better signed," Calder said.

Giles said downtown merchants' interest in Exit 306 was sparked when they learned that ODOT plans to install a message sign on the freeway near Baker City.

ODOT officials have not decided exactly where to place the sign, said Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for the agency's Region 5 office in La Grande. It is tentatively scheduled to be erected in 2005, he said.

The sign will warn drivers of slick roads, fog or other hazards on the freeway. ODOT already has installed such signs on I-84 near North Powder, La Grande and Pendleton.

Giles said that compared to La Grande and Ontario, Baker City's freeway exits are not obvious. Both La Grande and Ontario have three freeway exits, all of which are illuminated.

Baker City also has three exits, but only one — the Campbell Street interchange — is lighted.

A lack of adequate signs also discourages westbound drivers from exiting the freeway at 306, Giles said.

As Councilor Chuck Phegley pointed out, the city itself isn't visible from the exit, so even when the sun shines and the offramp is easy to see there's no obvious reason for a traveler unfamiliar with the area to leave the freeway at 306.

Giles wants ODOT to install a sign similar to the one at Exit 259, the westernmost of La Grande's trio of exits.

The La Grande sign includes a simple map showing the route through the city and back to the freeway at the Island Avenue interchange.

Hofmann offered to discuss the project with a former ODOT official who still lives in La Grande and who Hofmann said was instrumental in pushing Baker City's Main Street reconstruction project to the top of the agency's priority list in the late 1980s.

Strandberg said agency officials in La Grande have discussed the Exit 306 proposal with Calder and other Baker City residents, and that ODOT remains open to suggestions.