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Festivities kick off new traffic signal project

A mild breeze rippled over 12th Street and set the festive balloons bobbing at Monday’s kickoff ceremony for a new traffic light in Hood River.

The jubilant mood of about 60 people gathered at the Eliot/Brookside intersection was in direct contrast to the outcry of citizens over a deadly crosswalk more than two years ago.

Speakers from the successful public/private partnership shared their thoughts about reaching the goal to protect pedestrians’ safety over the four-lane roadway.

“Today’s groundbreaking demonstrates what a great community we live in, working together we can really make things happen,” said County Commissioner Carol York.

Remembrances of the late Lynn Rasmussen, 90, and Viola Briggs, 71, were woven through the remarks delivered by state, county and city officials. The two residents of Down Manor died within a one-week period in May of 2000 after being struck by vehicles in different accidents.

Several residents from Down Manor were present as honored guests, including Jessie Short, who held up handmade signs to slow traffic in the weeks following the tragic deaths. She was wearing yellow, red and green colors of a stoplight in honor of the long-awaited occasion.

After learning that the Oregon State Department of Transportation did not have funding for a signal in Hood River, Dollie Rasmussen, Lynn’s daughter-in-law, mounted a grassroots fundraising drive that netted $50,000 in private donations, $50,000 from the county budget and $127,000 from special ODOT funding derived from bonds financed by increased vehicle title fees.

“When I asked Dollie if I could help, I didn’t know she was going to throw me on a roller coaster ride,” said Sharon Wilson, vice-chair of the Highway 281 Safety Committee.

Wilson and Rasmussen worked tirelessly in 2000 with other volunteers to compile thousands of names on petitions and individual postcards that were sent in an appeal for help from Gov. John Kitzhaber and ODOT officials.

“When people get together and have their minds made up anything can be accomplished,” said Charlie Sciscione, ODOT district manager, who took on duties as the master of ceremonies for the late-morning ceremony.

“The traffic lights here will benefit all ages, from kids at Westside Elementary and Hood River Valley High School to the seniors at Down Manor and the Adult Center, visitors to Indian Creek Golf Course and disabled customers at Columbia Gorge Physical Therapy,” York said.

Sciscione also told the audience that an additional $225,000 traffic light at nearby Pacific Avenue and 12th Street would be installed next year, providing two safety zones for walkers over the busy highway.

“The one good thing that came out of this tragedy is a community commitment, everyone working together for a common purpose,” said Mayor Paul Cummings.

“These improvements will go a long way toward better ensuring that the tragedy that occurred in May of 2000 is not repeated, and that our motorists and pedestrians remain safe,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., in a written statement. Walden expressed his regrets over being unable to attend the ceremony because the House was in session at the same time in Washington, D.C.

Rasmussen spoke only briefly to give personal recognition to the many businesses and individuals who had helped make the project a reality.

She said with the signal now scheduled for completion by mid-December, it was time to get back to other projects that had been neglected during her safety campaign. Following the roadside ceremony those in attendance walked over to Down Manor to snack on “stoplight” cookies that were baked by Linda Mae Woosley at the request of Rasmussen.

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