Residents express concerns about city's transportation plan

By Terri Harber May 31, 2013 09:09 am

By Terri Harber

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The Baker City Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday evening attracted residents concerned about entries contained in the proposed update of the city’s Transportation System Plan. 

About 20 residents came to the meeting specifically to express concerns about the plan. Many of them also attended the open house preceding the commission meeting.

Virtually all were included in the city’s mailing list of locations that could be directly affected by the plan because their property sits near a proposed path or could use a sidewalk.

These letters informed 4,000 property owners about the final events occurring before the plan is adopted.

“Why the big rush?” asked resident Judy Head before the meeting. “Fear, confusion and distrust come from bad planning.”

Head asserts that city officials should have worked harder to encourage citizen participation, especially early on. 

She told the commissioners that residents didn’t have “an adequate avenue to voice an opinion” and that she believes officials didn’t adhere to state law as stated in Senate Bill 100, which requires all cities and counties in Oregon to prepare a comprehensive plan and lists goals that must be achieved.

The technical advisory committee brought together at the beginning of the process was only “a good start,” Head said.

She highlighted the first goal stated in SB 100 as the one not followed: Citizen involvement.

“Involvement is a lot different from input,” she said.

Christopher Christie, who lives on 15th Street, said he’s upset because maps in the proposed plan call for sidewalks to be built on the block where his home is.

Christie contends that sidewalk construction would be a undue financial burden on many in his neighborhood.

It’s a financial “burden that should fall on all citizens,” he said.

Christie also said he didn’t know about the 15th Street sidewalk proposal until he received his letter from the city.

It would have been more appropriate to have sent out the letters — and maps — last year instead of so close to the end of the process, Christie said.

Commission Chair Alan Blair held up a bound copy of the plan. It contains 50 maps alone, he said.

Mailing out notices to everyone who might be affected and to do so repeatedly would have been too costly and “virtually impossible,” Blair said.

This is why the city depended on the local media, posted a lot of information electronically on the web, and even made presentations to community groups.

City officials involved emphasize that the process used to inform and involve the public with the plan was handled appropriately and as required by the state.

Commissioner Tim Collins asked why 15th Street was chosen for possible sidewalk construction.

Matt Hughart, an associate planner with Kittelson and Associates, the firm contracted by the city to help write the plan, said 15th Street is in an area without a lot of sidewalks, but the street is used as a connector between Auburn and Campbell.

Christie pointed out that two facilities that generate traffic are on adjacent streets — Head Start on 16th Street and Blue Mountain Community College on 14th Street.

Another resident, Tamera Pierce, also had a list of concerns about designating 15th Street as a pedestrian path. 

The goal of having work go one there in about five years “seem awfully fast,” she said.

“I’m concerned about tree loss,” Pierce also said. “Since this is a Tree City.”

Time, money play roles in whether projects advance

Blair said many of the projects mapped or otherwise suggested in the plan likely won’t occur because there’s no funding identified. And design changes likely would occur with those projects that become viable during the next five, 10 or even 20 years. 

That could include changing location. 

And the city can’t take property or money for a transportation project — or any project — without following a process detailed by law, he said. 

Christie disagreed with Blair’s opinion that many of the projects likely won’t come to fruition or begin for many years. 

People elected to the council or appointed to advisories could champion given projects in the future. And if there isn’t government funding or grants available to pay for a highly coveted project the focus will turn to individual property owners to attain money through the Local Improvement District (LID) process.

That’s why saying there’s “ ‘no risk here’ ... ‘don’t worry’ is distortion,” Christie said.

Commissioners pointed out that projects widely opposed most likely won’t materialize.

A proposal in the plan to construct a multiuse path along Smith Ditch from Cherry Street to State Route 7 (Dewey Avenue) also came up during the meeting. 

A resident told the commissioners the area is unsuitable for a lot of people traveling through because of its flooding history. 

There was spillover from the irrigation canal into a nearby yard in late April. It required repairing the rubber liner installed to stop major flood events, such as one in 2003. People traveling through the area could easily kick up debris that could tear the liner again.

Collins said concerns about    having a trail at Smith Ditch “are very valid.”

But at a projected cost exceeding $2 million it “probably would be the last project to be funded.”

The transportation plan is meant to address the needs of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

It suggests projects that could improve conditions, including where new travel routes could be placed to best serve the community.

Local demographic changes were predicted and considered while putting the document together.

Having this plan also makes it easier to obtain grants as well as state and federal allocations so some of the projects included are built at some point during its 20-year life cycle.

The plan would replace the version completed in 1996.

City staff and consultants have been working on the plan for about a year. The first meeting of the technical advisory committee was in June 2012.

They are scheduled to conclude the process this June. The Baker City Councilors would adopt the plan after the planning commissioners approve it.

Some of the changes made recently include de-emphasizing a proposal to change sections of Broadway and 10th streets from four lanes to three.

Communities make this sort of change to slow down traffic in an area to improve safety or even to allow passersby a better look at businesses lining the road. These plans also could be carried out to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. 

 Residents weren’t enthused about these proposals, however. 

There could be further study done later — especially if traffic or surrounding conditions change and reconfiguration warrants further consideration, Hughart said.

The city will host another open house for the transportation plan. It will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5 at City Hall, 1655 First St.

The Planning Commissioners will meet afterward to hear more public comment. They could recommend the plan as compiled to the city councilors or request that changes be made.

The day was chosen because it’s the only time available before the councilors meet on June 11. Staff members are trying finish up before June 30 — the last day of grant eligibility. The city won’t be able to pay for more consultant work after that point, said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director.

Visit the city’s website to look over the plan:

There will be hard copies for viewing at the Baker County Planning Department in the basement of the Baker County Courthouse and at the Baker City Public Works Department office located at City Hall.