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ODOT plans to shift countys road work services in face of budget losses

by: Stover E. Harger III MOVING — Oregon Department of Transportation operations for county highways, including Highway 30 will likely shift out of the region this fall.

Under a proposal anticipated to go into effect this fall, the Oregon Department of Transportation will place highway operations and maintenance responsibilities for Columbia, Clatsop, Tillamook and parts of Washington counties under the management of one district based in Astoria.

Oversight of the county's maintenance work will shift from ODOT's Region 1, headquartered in Portland, to Region 2 in Salem.

ODOT officials say they believe the changes will ultimately improve driving conditions through Columbia County and its coastal neighbors, particularly during the winter months. Road projects-such as snow and ice removal from highways-can vary drastically between the counties because they are served by different maintenance districts.

'Drivers will definitely see more continuity of service,' said David Kim, ODOT's Region 1 manager.

ODOT's plans have received a chilly reception at the county level, however.

County officials worry about the chain of command for maintenance projects shifting from nearby Portland to Salem under the proposal.

'We're concerned about how all of this will flow together right now,' said County Commissioner Earl Fisher.

Commissioners say they're concerned that it will take longer to provide maintenance and safety projects to the county's highways.

Continuity of service is not the only reason for the planned re-districting. Money, or a lack of it, is another factor for ODOT.

Over the next decade, ODOT stands to lose at least 2 percent of its total operating revenue. ODOT officials believe they can cut 2 percent from the department's budget by realigning and expanding Region 1 and Region 2, while cutting the maintenance district for Columbia and Washington counties outright.

In total, there are currently 16 maintenance districts throughout the state, which oversee road safety and repair projects. The districts have been stretched thin in recent years due to budget cuts and the fluctuating costs of raw materials, such as asphalt.

ODOT's re-districting plan would go into affect by October in anticipation of winter maintenance season, a busy time for ODOT crews working to keep the roads safe under potentially dangerous conditions

'We're going to make the best with the funding we have available,' Kim said, adding he doesn't expect the changes to impact the safety corridor designation for Highway 30.