More than 30 business owners and citizens packed Madras City Hall Nov. 1, to ask questions and give input on a plan for a realignment of U.S. Highway 97/26 where it enters south Madras.
The Madras Planning Commission was considering a proposal recommended by Madras Public Works Director Gus Burril and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The proposal would turn South Adams Drive into a northbound one-way street near Tracie Street, onto which the northbound highway traffic would be funneled. A new road would be carved across property from the Truck Stop to South Adams Drive to divert the northbound highway there.
As many as 12 properties could be affected, and some businesses would be lost in acquiring right of way, Burril noted.
To help answer questions, Jim Bryant, Oregon Department of Transportation senior land use/transportation planner for Region 4, and Sagar Onta, a traffic engineer with Kittelson and Associates, attended the meeting.
Onta, whose firm has done studies in Madras, said over the last five years, the city has considered a series of alternatives to the South-Y junction, and this was the preferred alternative.
As the city has grown, the J Street intersection has failed, with cars backing up on a small section of street (near Country Insurance) waiting to turn left onto the northbound highway (Fifth Street).
If the northbound highway was realigned to empty into South Adams Drive, traffic signals would be placed at both the Fourth and J street (by Taco Time) and the South Adams Drive and J street (by fire hall) intersections.
"What happens when there's an emergency call on South Adams Drive?" citizen Jim DeWhitt asked, observing that fire trucks would be hampered by traffic signals and a one-way street.
He was told the fire department could get an "Opticon" device which would allow them to control the intersection lights to get trucks out.
Fire Chief Earl Cordes said the suggested intersection wouldn't cause that much of a delay. "It would be a matter of seconds, rather than minutes," Cordes said.
Roger Tathwell pointed out that there is a huge embankment of dirt sitting in the way of the proposed new road and felt going through a flat area would be better.
Business access was another big concern. When new work is done, ODOT has a history of eliminating direct highway access to properties as a safety measure.
"Every property has an agreement with ODOT, and when there are improvements, accesses get affected," Onta said, adding, "ODOT would buy the property if it came to a no access (situation)."
Pastor Rick Russell of the Free Methodist Church on South Adams Drive, said making that street a one-way would make it hard for members from town to get to the church.
"They would have to use Bard Lane, so are there any improvements planned there?" he asked. He was told improvements of Bard Lane are planned.
Auto repair shop owner Dennis Prince presented a plan of his own, which he said would impact fewer businesses.
"(Your plan) is a recipe for disaster for the future," Prince said, referring to the short distance between the two proposed couplets.
Prince described his plan as taking Madras' new North-Y intersection, turning it 180-degrees, and applying it to the South-Y. It was also all on flat ground, he noted.
His plan, which many other business people seemed to favor, would have the two highways join at one intersection near J and Fourth streets. South Adams Drive would be left alone. The new northbound highway road, however, would carve out the businesses of Country Insurance, Madras Body and Glass and The Outpost. That triangle of land would be used for a park and parking, Prince suggested.
"I've counted 39 businesses, one church and one fire department that would be impacted with the ODOT plan. With mine, eight businesses and two residences would be impacted," Prince said.
Scott Teeny, who owns the Country Insurance building, noted change can be a good thing and asked the planning commission to "consider which option will last the longest and take input in terms of access."
After the public hearing was closed, Madras Planning Director Chuck McGraw said Madras is in a time crunch to be considered for this round of ODOT highway projects, and the next chance will be five years from now.
"We can't progress anywhere until we get a Transportation System Plan acknowledged and costs will skyrocket (from $9 million) probably to $25 million for the project. I don't think we can put it off another five years," McGraw said.
City Administrator Mike Morgan agreed. "It will be January before this gets to the City Council level, and 2012 is the earliest I can see construction if this were adopted now," Morgan said.
Transportation member Matt Hagedorn commented, "I think we owe it to the business people to examine this other option," and the rest of the commission members agreed.
"If Dennis Prince's idea works, it would save a lot of money," noted Commission Chair Tom Brown.
To keep the process moving, the commission passed a motion to pass the recommended plan on to the City Council, with the condition that an engineering study also be done on Prince's plan.
The City Council will consider the matter and hold another public hearing on the South-Y realignment at its Dec. 12 meeting.