Willamette Falls Drive and 10th Street/Salamo interchange areas near I-205 targeted by City and voters for improvements

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - The City will use GO bond funds to address traffic and accessibility issues around 10th Street and Willamette Falls Drive. When West Linn asked voters to approve the renewal of a general obligation (GO) bond that would provide $19 million for an array of capital projects, it was with the promise that a significant portion of the funds would be used for transportation improvements.

Specifically, the busy Willamette Falls Drive and 10th Street/Salamo interchange areas near I-205 were targeted by the City and voters for improvements related to traffic flow, accessibility and safety.

At a meeting Monday, Dec. 10, the City Council voted 4-1 to authorize the city manager to sign a contract with Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc. (HHPR) for the design of those improvements.

"This is all design level work — none of this is relative to construction or bidding," Public Works Director Lance Calvert said.

The scope of the work will be dictated in large part by the City's Transportation Systems Plan (TSP) — which was updated in 2016 — as well as a Willamette Falls Drive streetscape concept plan developed by the Historic Willamette Main Street group. According to Calvert, HHPR will organize the design into three categories: the Willamette Falls Drive streetscape (consisting of the road and sidewalks that run through the Willamette area up to the 10th Street intersection), the 10th Street/Salamo Road/Blankenship Road intersection near the I-205 intersection (which will also include a multi-use path on Salamo Road) and bicycle facility improvements on Blankenship Road.

Regarding the latter category, Calvert said HHPR would only do preliminary design work to make sure it fits with the surrounding transportation improvements, and further designs would be done at a later date.

The contract is based on time and materials, so an exact amount won't be known until the designs are complete. However, Calvert estimated the cost to be around $1.2 million.

The City allotted $7 million in GO bond funds for transportation projects. A portion of that will go towards this contract, but monies from the City's Street Fund, the Street SDC Fund, the Bike/Ped SDC Fund and the Environmental Services Fund will also be used to pay for the design work.

The council was largely supportive of the contract, though debate was sparked over public involvement after resident Roberta Schwarz angrily criticized the City for not listening to citizens. Specifically, Schwarz felt that the proposed street improvements would encourage a developer to add high density housing on a large open space along Tannler Drive (which feeds onto Blankenship near the 10th Street interchange).

"We (the Savanna Oaks neighborhood) were never involved," Schwarz said. "We gave you a resolution in opposition to this being part of the GO bond back in April. I guess none of you ever looked at it."

City Councilor Richard Sakelik asked if it was possible to make changes to the TSP.

"They can be amended, but to amend it requires going through the same process as developing them," City Attorney Tim Ramis said, adding that the City would also have to evaluate how a change would affect the rest of the plan. "It depends on how deeply the change affects the rest of the system."

Addressing Schwarz's development concerns, City Council President Brenda Perry noted that redesigning the streets would not change the zoning of the property in question — and that would ultimately be more of a determining factor in what goes there. City Councilor Teri Cummings said surveys had clearly shown the 10th Street area to be a high priority for improvements.

"But it's also very controversial, because of concerns over how it might take shape and what that might cause," Cummings said.

She then asked if the transportation improvements would effectively pay for improvements that a developer should be responsible for.

"It's not our intent to pay for anything the developer would have to pay for," Calvert said.

Development concerns aside, the council agreed that the area had to be addressed.

"We're hearing that value pricing (on I-205) might go ahead," Cummings said. "We might have even more problems with that intersection, with people exiting (the freeway) at the intersection to avoid value pricing."

Sakelik, who was the only councilor to vote against the contract, said the City hadn't done enough to lay the groundwork for the design process.

"It's one of the most important things we can do in our city to improve traffic," he said. "But in the six or seven months since the GO bond was approved, we never spent one minute on what people want there."

Mayor Russ Axelrod said the design process was intended to do just that.

"You need baseline information to advise you on whether you can move into the next phase," Axelrod said. "It's an iterative process."

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