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Traffic activist awaits holiday lights

After dedicating thousands of hours to public safety, Mid-Valley farmer Dollie Rasmussen is ready to get back to “everyday” life.

The 12th Street traffic light in the Heights is slated to be turned on by Christmas — and the tired but pleased activist plans to begin remodeling her kitchen.

“Now we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train,” said Rasmussen, who has acquired four bushel apple boxes full of files from her campaign.

In May of 2000, Dollie lost her father-in-law, Lynn Rasmussen, 90, after he was struck by a car while using a marked crosswalk on 12th Street, also known as Highway 281. That same week Viola Briggs, 71, was also killed at the same crossing near the Hood River Shopping Center. Both victims resided at nearby Down Manor and Dollie feared the same tragedy would claim another senior citizen without immediate action.

So she became the driving force behind a grassroots effort to raise the $227,000 in funding and overcome bureaucratic hurdles so that a stop light could be installed at the Eliot/Brookside intersection. In the months following the two deaths, the Highway 281 Safety Committee inundated the offices of Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Oregon Department of Transportation with 5,000 post cards requesting action.

Although ODOT lowered the speed limit in the area by 10 miles per hour and posted larger pedestrian warning signs, Rasmussen did not feel the safety problem would be resolved until there was a traffic signal in place.

“I honestly never thought we would not get the light, it just couldn’t be fast enough,” she said.

Although the start of her campaign typically resulted in 12-hour days of “Grandpa hours” (named for the elder Lynn), Rasmussen said she and her husband, also named Lynn, finally established a routine that narrowed that time commitment down to about six hours per day.

Although he remained in the background of her fight, Dollie said Lynn did a “remarkable job” of keeping her spirits up and giving her feedback during planning.

“This was really an effort by a lot of people,” she said.

When the Safety Committee was told by the state that no funding was available in the foreseeable future for the light, the group refused to give up the fight. They immediately began a fundraising effort that netted $50,000 in private donations and public grants. They also appealed to the Hood River County Commission for financial aid and were granted another $50,000 toward the project.

Rasmussen said on the days when things seemed bleakest, help would arrive from unexpected sources, such as a customer in Florida who heard her story and mailed a $100 check even though he had never even visited the Gorge. Or when Kaye White, executive director of the Hood River Valley Fruit Loop, stepped forward to help with complex grant writing.

There were allies on the government side also, Rasmussen recalls. She credits the tireless efforts of Charlie Sciscione, ODOT district manager, Bruce Warner, ODOT director, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, for scoring the remaining $127,000 in public funding to made the signal a reality.

“I have learned that government is as bad as you thought it was and better than you thought it could be — all at once,” said Rasmussen.

“This is something we all cared a great deal about and it’s nice to have a successful conclusion,” said Smith.

The challenge of co-ordinating the unusual meld of private/public resources — including the City of Hood River’s offer to provide electricity and some ground work — fell to Roger Kauble, county public works director.

“This has really been an enlightening experience, we all came together and decided we were going to make this happen,” said Kauble.

Kauble anticipates that the groundbreaking ceremony for the new stop light will take place within the next month. If all goes as planned, he anticipates the red, green and amber lights will add a glow to the community’s holiday season — the best gift that Dollie Rasmussen could receive.

His office performed the necessary survey work and initiated planning with consultants David Evans and Associates of Portland for the design work. On Monday, the county board awarded the construction contract to Cherry City Electric from Salem.

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