by: CHASE ALLGOOD - Howard Long says a project in the city of Gaston that will add sidewalks along Highway 47 has hurt his tire business. Now he's planning on leaving town.On Wednesday, Aug. 22, tire store owner Howard Long got up before the Gaston City Council and called for the resignation of council members Grace Haines-Klook, Rick Klook, Richard Sager and Edward Schult.

He also called for the resignation of Margaret Bell, Gaston’s city recorder, and Richard Williams, the city’s public works director.

The cause of Long’s discontent? A $387,000 road project, under way now, that will upgrade the rural Washington County city’s sidewalks and redesign the highway’s look through town.

Bell said the project will ensure safe pedestrian crossings in a city bifurcated by busy Highway 47. Long countered that the way the city rolled the project out violated his rights. The controversy has been stewing for a long time, but now, Long said, he’s done. He’s putting his business, Long’s Tire Man, up for sale.

“I won’t be able to make a living now,” said Long. “I have to leave this city.”

The process started in 2007 when the city council conducted a visioning effort to decide what kind of infrastructure projects it should attend to in the town of 640 — and applied for a grant to make it happen.

A report compiled in conjunction with the Oregon Downtown Development Association five years earlier helped narrow it down, Bell said: top priorities should be Highway 47 improvements, including parking and sidewalks, pedestrian access, tree planting and park enhancements.

In 2007, the city applied for a Transportation Enhancement Grant, federal money distributed and controlled by the Oregon Department of Transportation, to build up sidewalks along the portion of Highway 47 that runs through the center of the city’s business core.

While maintaining regular streets is the job of cities, the state transportation agency maintains state highways. It also dictates how those highways can be accessed and at what speed cars can travel on them. So while the Gaston council can set changes to roads, such as Main or Park streets, in order to change Highway 47, it needs ODOT’s approval.

This relationship has caused friction in the past. In Forest Grove, city leaders have lobbied ODOT for additional traffic signals along Highway 47 as it winds through the city with mixed results — and in Cornelius, ODOT rules restricting the kind of lights that could be installed along TV Highway held up a major road improvement project in 2008.

In Gaston, the conflict’s epicenter settled on Long. ODOT engineers determined that one of two driveways attached to Long’s property wasn’t allowable under state code and designed the new streetscape without it.

Long said the state misread the rules. He contends his driveway was built in 1966, before property owners needed a permit to build a driveway. Once Long received notice that his driveway was deemed illegal, he started attending city council meetings.

But along the way, he ran into another problem. When he asked questions, he says, he’d be buffeted from one agency to another.

“The state told me it was a city project and the city told me it was a state ODOT project,” Long said.

According to Bell, there were several open meetings in city hall as the planning process moved forward, and the city council brought out designs so citizens could offer input. The city has also been working closely with the project’s engineering firm, Lake Oswego-based OTAK.

Blind intersections

Kimberly Dinnwiddie of ODOT said the department’s only role was to make sure the funds were being used correctly, which is typical for ODOT projects.

Bell said it was an ODOT project, with help from the city throughout the process.

And now that the project is under way, she said citizens can look forward a safer crossing. Sidewalk extensions will shorten the distance pedestrians need to walk in order to cross the highway.

“We have some very blind intersections,” Bell said, specifically where Park and Main streets intersect with Highway 47. With the crosswalk improvements and curb extensions, “hopefully we’ve created at least one block to cross safely,” she said.

But Long said because the state ruled his driveway as invalid instead of using condemnation proceedings to take it away, he can’t take his case any further without a pricey injunction.

“If they would have condemned it, I would have been allowed to go through the court process,” Long said. “But they just took it. Now all I can do is sue or try for an injunction, but an injunction would cost $40,000 and the city knows I don’t have $40,000.”

Williams said they offered to adjust Long’s driveway on Main Street to make the loss of the highway driveway easier on him, but Long refused it.

Dinnwiddie said ODOT always looks at unpermitted driveways when they start a new project. Driveways opening onto highways are often removed for safety reasons, but she said ODOT makes occasional exceptions on a case-by-case basis after working with the property owner.

“We let the property owner know what we are doing and why we are doing it,” Dinnwiddie said. “We want to make sure everyone understands the need.”

Williams said the city doesn’t have the power to take away Long’s driveway.

Long said he thinks the project is unnecessary and will continue to fight it.

“I believe in this country,” Long said. “And I believe in fighting against something I think is wrong.”

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