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Transportation issues in northern Marion County hot topic for county commissioner

PMG FILE PHOTO - Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano discusses traffic issues with transportation officials in 2016 while the Newberg-Dundee bypass was under construction. Some river crossings spawn road-safety and freeway-access issues.Transportation proved to be a provocative topic during the Marion County State of the County address, and much of that topic was focused around Woodburn and its surrounding region.

There was good news, bad news and a lingering pang of frustration, especially when the discussion homed in on the French Prairie region, ranging roughly between Aurora and Newberg.

Held Wednesday, Feb. 5, at Salem's Broadway Commons, the Marion County Board of Commissioners co-hosted the assembly with SEDCOR. The commissioners touched on issues pertaining to economics, employment, housing shortages, law enforcement, rehabilitation, finances, solid waste disposal and infrastructure.

Among the latter, transportation hooked in with some good news.

"Our top priorities in the state are the Donald-Aurora (I-5) interchange," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said, referring to economic development infrastructure. "I don't know how many of you have driven that lately, currently at 5 (p.m.) or early in the morning it backs up onto the freeway.

"We are working with ODOT and I will be going back to Washington, D.C., with the commissioner (Sam Brentano)."

PMG FILE PHOTO - Marion County Commissioner Sam BrentanoMarion County will be seeking support for a federal grant under the U.S. Department of Transportation's Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, specifically for the Aurora-Donald Interchange project in order to complete the project all at once instead of several phases as currently planned.

While Cameron also touched on countywide broadband, Santiam Canyon sewage infrastructure and Detroit Lake dredging among the economic priorities, Commissioner Brentano later elaborated on the transportation issues.

Brentano hailed the relatively rapid process underway with the Donald-Aurora freeway interchange, but he lamented public safety issues mounting on northern county roads throughout the French Prairie region.

He also continued to express disenchantment with the city of Salem's decision in recent years to nix decades of collaborative work toward achieving another Willamette River crossing in the area.

"I've spent a lot of time on transportation, and I have to tell you, again, last year with the third river-bridge crossing — Salem not going through with it — I think that's the biggest loss in my political career. ... I still haven't gotten over that," Brentano said.

Brentano, who plans to retire after this year, has served on the commission since 2003, as well as on a variety of boards. He was the mayor of Sublimity from 1982-93.

The next north-of-Salem bridge crossing over the Willamette River is near Newberg, and increased traffic on roads in that vicinity has been a hot topic.

Last year Brentano vowed to look into possibly achieving a different bridge crossing, perhaps in the Wheatland area, but he indicated that possibility had some formidable obstacles; the best options continue to be the ones Salem City Council rejected.

"We've been fighting this for decades; of not letting other areas use Marion County to make easy access to the freeway and rip up and divide our farm ground," Brentano said.

"I'm going to go back and say that plan we had in Salem is still the best one," Brentano continued. "I am told that if all the entities agreed, it could be revised. So, I'm going to concentrate my effort (there). I'm sorry if it gets critical in Salem. It's either going to take a change of the parties there, or a change of their attitude. But that's what we have to work on."

On a more chipper note, progress on the Donald-Aurora interchange has been encouraging.

"I told you it was moving last year. Usually these projects take decades. Like Woodburn (I-5 interchange): It was 20 years before they started to see some real movement," Brentano said. "I felt that Donald was (and) it is — they've already approved and will start construction in 2022."

The commissioner said the project is scheduled for phases, with the first phase amounting to a $30 million project. He also cautioned that the phased approach can come with ultimately higher costs and peripheral issues, asserting that the Newberg-Dundee bypass has taken such an approach, and that's effectively creating safety problems as vehicles pour onto Marion County roads.

"I told you we did not want traffic being dumped across Marion County," Brentano said. "And by Newberg-Dundee bypass not being a complete project, that's just what happened; they are dumping across north county. What did we have, 10, 12 deaths in a 12-month period?

"We did everything we could think of: reflectors and rumble strips, bigger signs, cleared brush, lighting," he said. "I thought maybe we were on top of things, then three weeks ago there were three ... very serious accidents in four days. And I've frankly had enough."

The commissioner said he receives abundant feedback and queries from French Prairie-region residents. He noted that the county does have options to declare safety corridor status, which could come with lowering the speed limit to 45 mph from Newberg to I-5, raising fine amounts for violators and increasing enforcement.


"Well, people are dying, and I'm fed up with it," Brentano said. "What I want to happen is when people want to get to the freeway from (west of the Willamette), they will see (driving through French Prairie) as such a hassle that they will go on 99W or find another route."

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