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City unhappy with ODOT fees, costs in Rand/Cascade signal project

October 15, 2011

It's a complex solution to a simple problem.

Anyone who has sat at the intersection of Rand and Cascade and attempted to make a left hand turn while waiting for car upon car to pass by can tell the intersection needs a signal.

The City of Hood River and the Oregon Department of Transportation can see that too; they just differ widely on how it should be done. The end result is an intergovernmental agreement with ODOT that Hood River is less than thrilled with and an intersection revision that will cost nearly a million dollars, plus $15,000 just to get ODOT to review the plans.

As Cascade is actually part of US Highway 30, the Old Columbia River Highway, it falls under ODOT jurisdiction.

However much of the burden to get the signal done actually falls on the City of Hood River.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, city manager Bob Francis said that plans for a signal are 95-percent, meaning that they can go to ODOT for review.

The final five percent of the planning will involve feedback from ODOT and from the businesses directly affected by the plan - Taco Bell, Columbia River Bank, Walmart and Little Bit Ranch Supply.

Before it will even look at the city's proposal, ODOT has informed the city it will require a $15,000 payment to review the plan.

"I don't like paying for this thing and I don't like this agreement," Francis said.

Not all of them money will necessarily be used, and any unused portion will be returned to the city, but the state agency has the authority to use up to $15,000 in its review.

The city approved an intergovernmental agreement with ODOT to move forward on a plan which would require the intersection to be re-aligned to meet with ODOT's designation of a traditional intersection - meaning 90 degree angles on all sides.

The city argued that it could produce a signal solution for significantly less cost by keeping the intersection as is and installing a signal.

However, ODOT refused to turn the section of Highway 30 over to city control, necessitating the reconfiguration of the intersection to go along with the stop light.

"We could have spent $250,000 to put in a stoplight," Francis said by phone Thursday. "But now it's $800,000 just to reconfigure Rand Road."

Larry Olson, Region 2C District Manager for ODOT, which handles projects for Hood River County, said that making sure the intersection is up to standard is a liability and safety issue.

"Under its current configuration, trucks can't turn onto Cascade from Wasco without going into the oncoming lane," he said. "You don't want to design something that could cause accidents."

It will also have an impact on several of the businesses near the intersection, including parking on the east side of the Little Bit Ranch Supply building, restricting approaches to Walmart at the median of Rand Road and Wasco Avenue into right in right out, possible closure of the ATM exit ramp at Columbia River Bank, and widening of Rand at the Taco Bell entrance/exit.

Olson said that city was aware of the situation with the unaligned intersection on the Rand and Wasco sides and knew that changes would have to be made to get the signal in.

"They are offsetting," he said of the roads on either side of the intersection, which don't line up. "And we aren't going to designate a signal that could be a safety issue."

He added that decisions had been made at the state level to keep all of the Historic Highway under ODOT jurisdiction to ensure continuity of design and that it was not practical to turn over portions where separate entities could make changes.

Francis said he had scheduled meetings with the businesses in the coming weeks to gather their comments and concerns related to the project.

The council was mindful of impacts on the business, but hopes that a signal at the intersection will benefit everyone.

"I think a light down there would help all the property owners," said councilor Brian McNamara.

Hood River had looked into getting the review fee waived or reduced, but was rebuffed by ODOT.

"They are an extremely flexible agency and we will get no free plan review," said city attorney Dan Kearns.

The city will pay ODOT the $15,000 review fee out of its system development charges fund, and will wind up being on the hook for nearly approximately $960,000 to complete the project.

The city hopes that Walmart and state highway funds will help pick up some of the tab, but how much has not been determined.

With the plans nearly complete, Francis was hopeful that the project could potentially get started in the spring - and completed before the summer tourist season.

A quick completion would not be likely to make anyone within city government any happier about how the project has gone down.

"I don't like it," Francis said of the agreement between the city and ODOT when he addressed the council Tuesday. "But it's the only way we can get the signal in."

Also at Tuesday's meeting:

The city is still seeking applicants for its vacant council position. The person appointed to fill the seat would fill the remaining three years of Dawna Armstrong's term. Armstrong resigned last month, saying she did not have the enough time to commit to council obligations.

Four application packets have been picked up, but only one has been submitted. Applications are due to city hall by 5 p.m. Oct. 18. For more information on the position visit http://ci.hood-river.or.us.

The council approved a resolution to revise the city's water rates for sprinklers to be based on the minimum service size necessary for the provision of domestic service necessary.

Council and staff wrapped up discussion of the transportation Inter-Agency Master Plan with some minor grammatical corrections to proposed language.

Francis gave an update on renovations for city hall, saying that the project was on budget, and the work crews had found both a skylight (albeit covered by the building's HVAC systems) and an 18-by-18 inch crawlspace in the ceiling near what will be budget director Lynn Rasmussen's office.

"I don't think you want to give the finance director an escape route!" joked mayor Arthur Babitz.

Without a gavel again this week, Babitz used Francis' coffee mug to signal decisions and after a lengthy look at the mug, made a request of the city manager:

"Bob, you do realize that cups can actually be washed?"

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