To no one's surprise, traffic was a focal point of the conversation on Wednesday, May 22, when the Marion County Board of Commissioners visited St. Paul.
The commissioners held their regularly scheduled meeting at St. Paul Community Hall and added a Town Hall to the schedule.
In addition to dozens of area residents, the meeting was attended by interim St. Paul Mayor Marty Waldo, councilors Velma Amaya-Medina and Peggy Sellers and city Treasurer Tracy Fleck. Many county officials were also on hand, including Sheriff Jason Myers, District Attorney Paige Clarkson, County Clerk Bill Burgess and County Assessor Tom Rohlfing.
The short meeting adjourned and presentations from a handful of groups ensued, including the Marion County Veterans Service Office, St. Paul Fire District, Stl Paul School District, Oregon Department of Transportation, which presented an informational update on the Donald/Aurora I-5 interchange upgrades, and a traffic-safety team focused on the north county issues.
The latter included Sheriff Jason Myers, Deputy Joe Kast, and Public Works Director Brian Nicholas.
Much of the traffic conversation was a continuation of previous town-hall sessions held in St. Paul that grappleed with the increased volume, speed and driving habits of the drivers, many of whom are not from the area but use the country roads as a commuting route.
The "three-E" theme – Engineering, Enforcement and Education – was the topical focus. Numerous crashes, including multiple fatalities this year alone, have occurred in the general area.
Nicholas spoke to the engineering elements that have been added since the previous town hall, which was held in December.
"We've installed a speed-zone transition coming into St. Paul on River Road," Nicholas said, adding that realizing the transition was a detailed, 14-month process.
Other changes include: sign improvements at state Highway 219 and McKay Road and other areas; a completed a safety audit through the McKay, Yergen and Ehlen-road corridor; addional speed signs on McKay Road; additional rumble strips, which alert drivers when they veer from a lane.
"We're making those improvements, and then we are going to watch and see if it's making a significant difference," Nicholas said. "We have our list of things that we will throw at it if we don't see a significant drop in crash activity."
More rumble strips are planned to be installed on River and McKay roads, as are sign improvements. Nicholas said there is also a heightened concentration on the removal of vegetation on the road.
Another traffic-safety element that has been more recently implemented is saturation patrols. The county received some grant money from the Oregon State Sheriff's Association for the patrols. On May 20-21 the county had 6 deputies working the area during the morning and evening commute hours, making 106 traffic stops and wrote 146 citations, the majority of which were for speeding.
Among the speeding tickets, 19 were for rates between 70 and 90 miles per hour.
The county has more saturation patrols planned.
"What we are finding out in our crash data and our citation data is that a lot of these folks are not from these communities; they're passing through at high rates of speed, obviously," Marion County Sheriff's Office Deputy Joe Kast said, noting that some motorists use the country roads as an alternative to using the freeway.
Some area residents expressed concerns that improvements to the I-5 interchange may yield even more traffic.Donald/Aurora interchange project leader Anna Henson of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said plans for the first phase of the interchange improvements call for doing whatever can be accomplished with $18 million.
"We will take care of some of the safety issues around there, then someday down the road, hopefully, we can find the remaining (resources) to get the entire interchange rebuilt."
Overall the project calls for realigning connecting local roads and adjusting access from Ehlen Road.
Commissioner Sam Brentano shared a story about a gathering at Popeyes Louisiana Chicken at the interchange with ODOT officials and various house and senate representatives who discussed the traffic issues at the interchange while they sat and witnessed them, such as the backed up off ramps.
"It was wild watching it, but they all get on the bus and are heading back to Woodburn, and they almost got hit in the intersection," Brentano recalled. "So that's really moved (the project) along."
ODOT has scheduled a public open house regarding the interchange from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, 6 to 8 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 15029 2nd St. NE, Aurora.SPSD Superintendent Joe Wehrli's presentation was buoyed by this year's run of successful St. Paul High School sports teams.
"A lot of pride in the Buckaroos here in St. Paul," Wehrli said.
The superintendent discussed the 2015 bond passage combined with seismic upgrade grants enabled the district enhance the learning environment of area schools considerably.
He also said that the OSAA awards an academic-acknowledgement cup for student athletes, which he said the Buckaroo athletes locked up with the girl athletes earning a cumulative 3.86 grade point average and the boys posting a 3.7 GPA.
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