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ODOT offers Molalla a 'deal' on maintenance of Hwy 211

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By Daniel Pearson

Molalla Pioneer

The state of Oregon offered the city of Molalla jurisdictional control over Highway 211 and $1 million to use toward making improvements to the roadway.

The Molalla City Council, however, during its April 13 meeting, discussed how the deal may not be a good one in the long run for the city.

“The state of Oregon has offered the city a jurisdictional transfer of Highway 211, from Highway 213 moving east to the city limits just north of Shirley,” said City Manager Dan Huff. “As part of that offer they will go through and perform … basically a grind inlay and some ADA improvements on sidewalks. Then they will write us a check for $1 million.”

Huff said the deal may sound good, but he has concerns about the city becoming responsible for Highway 211. He said those concerns are not related to the jurisdictional transfer from the state, but whether or not Molalla will have enough money to actually perform the maintenance that the highway needs from here on out.

“Especially when considering the maintenance improvements we need on our own streets and the funding struggle for those projects,” he said. “As we all know, $1 million doesn’t go far in the public works world.”

Mayor Debbie Rogge said an issue brought up during the council’s work session prior to the city council meeting involved the state transportation improvement plan, which already allocated money for a partial improvement of Highway 211 from Highway 213 up to Ona Way, including filling the ditches on the north side of the road, sidewalks and other improvements. The funding would also cover the cost of the bridge installed across Bear Creek on Industrial Way.

“Our goal is not to take on something we can’t afford to fix, but at the same time, I think we do want to control the highway because ultimately that’s in our best interest,” Rogge said. “Were going to have to be very careful with what we agree to do with ODOT. We need to protect Molalla, because this on the surface seems like a good idea, but if we buy ourselves a $5 million pig in a poke, then it’s going to be kind of scary.

“We need to upgrade our own streets,” she said. “Taking on a semi-failed highway like 211 is really asking for trouble if we’re not careful. Yes, we all want a better highway and it sounds great, but we have to be careful how we do it.”

Councilor Leota Childress said going back to the state and asking for more funding would be in the city’s best interest, because eventually Molalla needs control of the highway.

With the amount of development currently taking place in Molalla on or adjacent to Highway 211, having control over what takes place on 211 is going to become imperative if it already hasn’t, said Councilor Jimmy Thompson.

“A million dollars is not going to go far, even if we get it looking nice,” Thompson said. “That’s basically painting a sow’s ear.”

He suggested that the city ask the state for $1 million up front, then another $1.5 million two or three years after the transfer is finalized.

“Maybe we could actually put in a crosswalk without having to get ODOT’s blessing,” he said.

Councilor Jason Griswold said the city already is struggling with its transportation safety plan and infrastructure, and that if Molalla takes on the responsibility of Highway 211, the city’s overall debt would be increased.

Griswold said, in that case, ODOT should offer a significant funding increase. “Also, there should be some things taken care of beforehand,” he said.

Councilor Stephen Clark said that several years back, the city received an estimate of more than $800,000 to upgrade just the traffic signal at the Highway 211/213 intersection. He would like to see a crosswalk put in for students in front of the Stone Place Apartments, sidewalks paved up to Ona Way and other improvements made along Main Street to bring the road up to state standards, if a transfer were to be made.

“I think they are trying to throw away a section of the highway and throw away some of their responsibility,” Clark said. “If we can negotiate a good deal, I think it will be worth the tradeoff but I don’t think the current proposal is adequate.”

Molalla Public Works Director Jennifer Cline said several other issues with the highway exist, beyond maintenance that the city would take on with the transfer of the road’s control.

“We’ve identified failed storm drainage along 211,” Cline said. “So, not only is storm drainage an issue in the areas where the ditches are now that we’d like to enclose and build sidewalks, the existing storm drainage has obviously failed. Those are things to consider when you guys go down to Salem to talk about funding — things that already are failing infrastructure-wise on Highway 211.”

Cline added that there already is a high volume of semi-trucks traveling through town on Highway 211, and she is concerned that the state performing just a basic grind inlay as a stipulation of the transfer is not enough, looking 20 years ahead, to maintain the heavily-trafficked roadway and fix the already-existing issues. She said the state building a bypass around town is not a realistic option either.

Rogge asked if an engineer could determine how many miles or lineal feet of really bad roadway exist before agreeing to the transfer.

“I think for us to take jurisdiction it’s best for them in the long run because they don’t want that nightmare either,” Rogge said. “I would rather pay a consultant and burn $100,000 on a consultant to tell us this is a really bad deal — I’d rather know up front before we start to consider taking it. I think we are closer to the $3 million to $5 million range to really keep up the road once (the transfer) is done. We need to proceed carefully.”

In a 4-3 vote (Griswold, Clark and Rogge opposed), the council passed a motion to have the city go back and ask the state for an additional $1.5 million in funding for Highway 211 in the second or third year following the transfer, if the transfer ever is approved.