Efforts by Bend's Dick Tobiason to rename U.S. Highway 30 for Oregon military veterans hit a pretty big speed bump in the just-completed 2021 legislative session.
Members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Management tabled Senate Bill 790, a bill proposed on Tobiason's behalf to rename the road from Astoria to the Idaho border the Oregon Veterans Memorial Highway. The committee asked Oregon's Department of Transportation to clarify that the proposed name would not conflict with other highways honoring veterans.
Tobiason's legislation could be re-introduced in the short 2022 legislative session, which begins Feb. 1.
This was the first time in a dozen years of legislative efforts to rename Oregon highways for veterans that Tobiason had been turned away by lawmakers. He was, to put it politely, "obviously disappointed."
"The Legislature bungled it," Tobiason said. "Now I have the job of telling veterans that they won't get it this session, but it will probably come up next session."
Never lost a vote
Tobiason is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who runs the one-man nonprofit Bend Heroes Foundation. He asked state Sen. Tim Knopp, a Bend Republican, to introduce SB 790 to rename one of the national highways that extends from Oregon to the East Coast. Oregon's 477-mile section of the highway has so far not been named to honor any veterans.
From early March to late April, SB 790 made its way through the process, passing the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, but stalling in the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Management. That committee tabled SB 790 in favor of House Bill 2700, which expanded the state's 2011 roadside memorial sign rules for veterans killed in action to include those who were formerly designated as prisoners of war or unaccounted for.
At the same time, the committee asked ODOT officials to make sure Tobiason's proposed name for Highway 30 would not conflict with any of the dozen names on other Oregon highways honoring veterans from several wars and conflicts.
Possible conflicts could include the long stretch from Portland to the Idaho border in which Highway 30 overlaps with I-84. The interstate is already designated the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. It also is part of six major roads designed Blue Star Memorial Highways. Two decades ago, Portland's Interstate 205 was designated the Veterans Memorial Highway.
Until the House committee action in April, Tobiason's efforts to rename eight major highways to honor veterans were 100% successful. He had never lost a legislative vote.
"There was a lot of disappointment expressed on my part," Tobiason said.
Long stretch of highway
U.S. Highway 30 extends 3,073 miles to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is the only major highway in Oregon not designated to honor veterans. It crosses 11 states and is the nation's third longest coast-to-coast highway.
Oregon's section of the highway that winds along the Columbia River from the Astoria-Megler Bridge through Scappoose and Portland before heading east as part of Interstate 84, is the beginning of Tobiason's plans for the road. He's working with veterans groups and lawmakers in other states to get the same designation.
Tobiason's Bend Heroes Foundation has also asked Congress to designate the 3,365-mile U.S. Highway 20, which begins at Newport on the Oregon Coast and heads east to Boston, the National Medal of Honor Highway. Oregon's section of Highway 20 is already known as the Medal of Honor Highway.
Oregon highways Tobiason and the foundation have designated include:
• U.S. Highway 395, from California to Washington, is the World War I Veterans Memorial Highway.
• Interstate 5, from California to Washington, is known as the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway and the Purple Heart Trail.
• U.S. Highway 101, from Washington to California, is the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Memorial Highway.
• A section of U.S. Highway 26, from the Highway 101 intersection to Idaho, is the POW/MIA Memorial Highway.
The Bend Heroes Foundation uses donations to purchase signs placed along each of the highways it worked to rename.
Other legislation proposed by a separate veterans group to rename a section of Interstate 5 between Salem and Albany to honor veterans who cleaned up Pacific islands after nuclear bomb tests, sailed through the process and was signed into law in mid-June. House Bill 2644 changed the I-5 section to the Atomic Veterans and Atomic Cleanup Veterans Memorial Highway.
Honoring peacetime veterans
Tobiason said Highway 30 was supposed to honor all Oregon veterans who served during times of conflict and in peacetime. "All eight highways I did are war highways," he said. "Highway 30 would be a peacetime highway."
According to Tobiason, 480,000 Oregonians have served during the nation's wars, and 110,000 served during peacetime. "About 24% of all living Oregon veterans today are peacetime veterans," he said.
Tobiason said he wanted Highway 30 to honor not just current peacetime veterans, but also those who could serve in the future.
"The name was chosen to honor peacetime veterans now and in the future," he said. "The question is why didn't I name it something different? It's kind of a plain vanilla name, but that's OK. No group represents 110,000 peacetime Oregon veterans. No one speaks for them."
SB 790 was supposed to be an ending for Tobiason. He has proposed similar bills since 2008 and testified more than a dozen times in favor of legislation. When he's finished with the U.S. Highway 30 project, just about every major highway in the state will honor veterans or service men and women missing in action.
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