The Dalles City Councilor Bill Dick told his peers Monday that it was time to focus on infrastructure improvements for the more rural eastern side of town.
“We keep allowing properties to be divided and homes to be built. And we allow roadways to be kept in abysmal condition,” he said.
Dick was advocating for a $13,000 traffic safety study of the intersection at Old Dufur Road, East 10th Street and Thompson Street. He said it was important to get that work done in preparation for improving Thompson in a couple of years.
He said the narrow street filled with potholes did not have sidewalks for pedestrian safety and was not accessible to fire trucks.
“Thompson Street is an important goal for the city and that neighborhood,” he said.
The discussion arose after resident Russ Brown challenged the council earlier this year about spending money on a study that he deemed unnecessary instead of on other street improvements. He said in the past 16 years there had been only three accidents at the intersection and none had involved injuries.
“I really don’t see the issue,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence at the March 24 meeting. “I’m sort of flabbergasted by people thinking it’s a dangerous intersection.”
Dick replied, “It’s not a good intersection, but I guess that’s a matter of some subjectivity.”
Dave Anderson, public works director, said residents of Thompson had identified concerns about safety at the intersection during testimony about formation of a Local Improvement District. They complained of long wait lines and confusing traffic patterns where 10th street joins with Old Dufur Road.
Councilor Carolyn Wood concurred that it was difficult to understand the layout at the intersection due to its configuration.
The city backed away from forming the district in late 2011 due to strong opposition from landowners who would have been assessed $150 per linear foot of street frontage for improvements. On the $1.1 million project list was a pavement overlay, installation of curbs, a storm water collection system and a sidewalk and parking spaces along one side of Thompson.
The issue was tabled after 33 property owners who would have contributed about $385,000 for the project were surveyed. These landowners were asked whether they wanted to proceed while the city had $176,000 in transportation funds and $71,000 of gas tax revenue to offset some of the expenses.
If not, they were informed that a delay of two to five years might mean that city funding was no longer available when the overall expenses could be greater.
Residents objected to moving forward with the project because the majority would have been charged $7,000-$8,000 for improvements and about one third would have been charged more than $10,000.
Anderson said the proposed safety study of the three-way intersection could be delayed, but needed to be completed about nine months before work on Thompson began.
Lawrence said the issue of how street improvements should be paid for and what share residents should bear is currently being reviewed by two work groups tied to the planning commission.
He said the discussion had been generated by citizen complaints over the high costs associated with land-use and development applications.
Last year, a group of east side landowners went to the Oregon Legislature for help in eliminating the fees for a minor lot partition. They said the city was making development unaffordable on the east side of town by asking them to pay $50,000 to more than $150,000 to create a new lot, which sometimes exceeded its market value.
Councilor Tim McGlothlin, who sits on the city’s Traffic Safety Committee, said that group had not made a recommendation about the safety study, but had discussed tabling it until it was time to form the district.
Dick said the east edge of town used to be a “glorious country setting,” but rural roadways were not a good fit for an urban setting.
“Let’s do something to fix these streets,” he said.
He said two local improvement districts supported by citizens in his eastside neighborhood years ago had allowed much needed sewer and street improvements to take place.
Lawrence said the intersection study should be tabled until the work groups dealing with standards and finances had completed their research and the planning commission had brought forward a recommendation.
“We don’t know when we will be doing Thompson Street, we don’t know if an LID will be favorable in the future,” he said.
Councilor Linda Miller said it was important to look at the overall picture of what was happening with 88 miles of city streets when projects were being prioritized.
“It’s not just one area, it’s the whole community,” she said.
In 2013, the planning department issued permits for construction of 17 single-family residences throughout the city.
Nolan Young, city manager, said a ballot measure for an increase in the local gas tax or formation of a road district, which would be done in conjunction with the county, needed to be brought before voters in November.
He said the additional funding was necessary to pay for all of the work that needed to be done.
City staffers have estimated that about 60 percent of city streets are dilapidated enough to need a more extensive level of work. The current 3 cents per gallon local tax generates about $450,000 per year and Young has suggested at past meetings that another 3 cents be added to double that funding.
The council agreed to delay the study until it had received input from the planning commission and roll the funds over to next year. The money will then either be available to go ahead with the project or use for other transportation-related work.
Dick disagreed with that decision, saying the study should proceed as planned.