Molalla traffic signal project delayed
The traffic signal project at Molalla Avenue and Highway 211 (Main Street) has caused a stir in the Molalla community and contention between the city manager and mayor.
The project, which was expected to begin this month, went through several iterations based on community feedback. Now, the project will likely be delayed until Sept. 7, Planning Director Mac Corthell wrote in a letter Wednesday, June 16. And with most agreeing on logistics, it will take approximately three months to complete and close all lanes of Molalla Avenue, allowing for local business access and temporary parking.
The project is being overseen by Oregon Department of Transportation and headed by I&E Construction.
ODOT initially approved the contractor's approximately nine-month-long plan, which would have kept one lane open on Molalla Avenue. But city staff suggested it would be better to reduce the timeline to about three months and close all lanes of Molalla Avenue, and ODOT approved the new plan, according to City Manager Dan Huff.
When the city of Molalla announced on social media that the work was about to begin, some in the community were caught off guard, namely downtown business owners concerned about customer accessibility, especially on the heels of COVID-19 shutdowns and limitations.
Some of the information floating around on social media prompted Public Works Director Gerald Fisher to produce a memo consisting of seven facts about the project.
When Molalla Mayor Scott Keyser posted an image of the memo on Facebook, he omitted fact number 6, which noted that the contractor agreed to work with local business in the affected area and to contact them to coordinate deliveries and address concerns.
The omission offended Huff, who brought it up publicly at the June 9 city council meeting.
"This incident has created huge ramifications throughout my staff," Huff said. "It not only undermines the effectiveness of staff, but it also limits our ability to connect with the community as an agency. I believe council and staff are on the same team. The community needs to see that process in action. … Democracy thrives off of an informed and active community. The information should be accurate. We need to be leaders in this accuracy provision, and the community should be seeking this accurate information. And that's all I had to say about that."
Keyser immediately apologized, saying the omission was an unintentional error that occurred in the process of taping the two pages of the memo together so it could fit into one image for social media. He said once he learned of the error, he replaced it with the full memo.
"Since being elected mayor, I said that I am human and will make mistakes," he later told the Pioneer. "This was a simple mistake and once it was found, the post was edited. This mistake happened two weeks ago. I feel our city manager could have called and talked about it like he has asked me to do with him. I do apologize for the error and will do better at relaying messages in the future."
Upon hearing that businesses were concerned about the Molalla Avenue closure, city staff alerted ODOT and I&E that the community seemed to favor the initial nine-month plan, and that plan was put back into effect.
But then Huff and Planning Director Mac Corthell attended a meeting of local business owners to discuss the options. The meeting took place at the Molalla Hive on June 7, with staff and business owners agreeing the shorter timeline and full closure would be best, as long as local business access remained open and temporary parking was provided during the project.
After much back and forth, the contractor submitted a final plan -– a three-month full closure with business access -– to ODOT for approval.
ODOT provided an approval timeline of two to six weeks, which would put the start of construction dangerously close to interfering with the July 4 parade, Corthell said in his June 16 letter. The city also wants to provide plenty of notice to the community. So, the city advocated for a delayed start date of Sept. 7 after school is back in session.
According to Corthell, the final plan approval and delayed start date are not yet final.
For traffic questions or comments, the city asks residents to contact ODOT District 2C Maintenance at 503-665-4193; and for all other project related questions, contact Randy Singer of I&E Construction at 971-533-6297.
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