ODOT's ownership of both I-205 and Highway 43 keeps West Linn from having total control over transportation planning

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Traffic is a top concern as the City works to facilitate redevelopment near the Arch Bridge. As West Linn's planning for waterfront redevelopment continues to inch along, the City and its consultants are focusing on what's in their control.

Lately, that's been very little, as riverfront property owners like Portland General Electric (PGE) and the now shuttered West Linn Paper Company continue internal discussions about the future of their land while the Oregon Department of Transportation does its own planning for the potential widening of nearby Interstate 205.

"It took a very long time for (West Linn Paper) to sort out the ownership interest in all of the assets in all of the mill property," said John Morgan, the consultant who is leading West Linn's Waterfront Project, during a City Council work session July 2.

"We know that was resolved in late March with a court-ordered liquidation plan, which left the major investors still owning the interests but without the debt structure and all that. Those owners, since then, have been working out their interests and what they want to do."

West Linn Paper and PGE — the latter of which owns 62 percent of the riverfront land in the project area and is currently developing its own master plan for its holdings — have said they can't discuss future development with the City until September at the earliest, according to Morgan.

So while ODOT's ownership of both I-205 and Highway 43 keeps West Linn from having total control over transportation planning, the City still chose to focus on traffic configurations while waiting for PGE and West Linn Paper to come to the table.

"We had an open house a couple months ago," Morgan said. "There were eight proposals for the whole Arch Bridge conglomerate of streets on the table a year ago, and we've narrowed it down to four." What locals call Arch Bridge is officially the Oregon City-West Linn Bridge.

Those four options, which were presented during an April 3 open house meeting, included everything from creating a new roundabout on Willamette Drive near the northbound Interstate 205 exit ramp — ODOT's preferred option — to installing a new traffic signal and realigning segments of streets near the intersection of Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive.

Morgan said the public seemed to favor a blend of options three and four — one of those being the realignment of part of Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive to create a "traffic oval" (essentially an extended roundabout) and the other a more significant realignment which would extend Sunset Avenue across Willamette Falls Drive and through the paper mill property, connecting with new traffic signals at the Arch Bridge.SUBMITTED PHOTO: CITY OF WEST LINN - Staff said members of the public generally favored this option for traffic realignment, though perhaps with roundabouts instead of traffic signals near the bridge.

"(Option four) is the one that probably does by far the most for our traffic issues, including helping to dissuade through traffic on Willamette Falls Drive," Morgan said. "There's a lot of interest in merging options three and four. Instead of doing signals on option four, we'd do roundabouts at those locations, which ODOT already plans on doing at the most easterly location.

"But also, we're looking at doing that at the base of the Arch Bridge and how it connects together."

Morgan said West Linn Public Works Director Lance Calvert is developing initial design specs for that merged option, but more in-depth research would be needed before the City makes a final call.

"What we are looking to do is move forward with some serious traffic engineering on these options, including modeling, and I want to remind the council that we are not on a quest to completely eliminate traffic congestion in this area," Morgan said.

"It's just not going to happen ... you've got to realize there are four major traffic routes right here between Highway 99, Highway 43, I-205 and Willamette Falls Drive," he said.

"Our goal is to create capacity so that our local businesses and users on the waterfront can reasonably fit into this area — so we don't overburden the system."

City Councilor Bob Martin said he recently attended an ODOT open house regarding the potential widening of I-205 near the Abernethy Bridge, and he wondered if the City and ODOT were coordinating with their traffic proposals.

Morgan said there was room for improvement in this area.

"We're on the record here, so I'll be very polite. We are working hard to get ODOT to coordinate with us and respond to these proposals, and so far they basically have not done that," Morgan said.

"Our level of cooperation hasn't been as good as we'd like. We don't want to get too far down the road and then have ODOT come back later and be like, 'Nope, we don't approve of that idea.'"

Morgan said if the City could present more specific data about its preferred traffic option, ODOT might be more receptive.

"We're thinking it might work best if we can do modeling to show them that one of these options actually helps move the flow," Morgan said. "They might be willing to say, 'That looks great, go forth.'"

But such specific traffic engineering is beyond City staff's level of expertise, according to Calvert, and finding funds for an outside consultant could be tricky.

"We don't have any allocation in the budget for modeling this project, and certainly not for modeling multiple scenarios," Calvert said.

Calvert added that the City could partner with ODOT to complete that modeling, and Morgan said the goal is to find a way to do the research — cost concerns notwithstanding.

City Councilor Teri Cummings said the West Linn Transportation Advisory Board recently voted unanimously in favor of the hybrid model — option four with possible roundabouts.

Moving forward, the City will continue to research and refine that configuration while working to open up more dialogue with ODOT.

"Right now, we're basically getting stonewalled," Morgan said.

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