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ODOT needs to fix Gaston mess

This week’s front page story about tensions in Gaston spurred by a state road project shouldn’t surprise readers.

Conflict between how state officials see the highways that service rural cities in Washington County and how local officials and property owners see them has hit the pages of the News-Times on multiple occasions since 2006.

The fight between Howard Long, who operates a tire business in downtown Gaston, and city and state planners, highlights an opportunity for government to solve problems.

We don’t know whether Long is right or wrong in his claim that his driveway on state Highway 47 is legal.

We do know that Oregon Department of Transportation

officials gave News-Times reporters the same runaround that Long complained about.

When the News-Times asked city officials about plans for new sidewalks, they said it was an ODOT project. But when the News-Times asked ODOT officials whether they were in charge, they said it was a city project. ODOT was merely helping the city with the $387,000 project that will overhaul the city’s sidewalks downtown.

Long said he got the same runaround. That’s just silly.

We don’t share Long’s view that Gaston shouldn’t have embarked on this project at all. We think the sidewalks in Gaston need to be improved. And this project, which leverages grant funding to allow the small city to build public improvements when it otherwise wouldn’t, is a good idea.

Long, however, says he was shut out of the loop when ODOT planners decided his driveway onto Highway 47 wasn’t legal and that his only recourse was to file a costly injunction. If that’s true, then the state took a project that should have been a shining example of teamwork and turned it into a local kerfuffle.

If it’s not true, state officials should fork over the public documents that show Long is wrong.

Other cities face similar conflicts

This flap extends way beyond Gaston.

Forest Grove, Cornelius and Banks also have state highways that run through town. That creates a conflict in interests.

The cities want their residents to have local access to the highways so they can conduct business. Cities also often want amenities such as stop lights and traffic control devices to make the roads safer for pedestrians and others.

The state, however, has an imperative to make the highways as efficient as possible in moving vehicles through town.

These divergent interests often collide, and even if the discussions end with a reasonable solution, the conflict itself can lead to acrimony.

That was the case a few years back when city officials in Cornelius took a lot of heat for the poor communication skills of ODOT workers, whose by-the-book answers enraged businesses that were hoping for a bit of problem-solving.

True, citizens need to be active in their communities, pay attention to major projects proposed in their neighborhoods and ask questions early on. But government officials need to realize that anyone trapped between two bureaucracies is going to feel frustrated.

We look to our local and state governments to solve these problems, not exacerbate them. We hope ODOT and Gaston officials can work it out in the end.

ODOT may not be the lead agency on this project, but city officials weren’t the ones who wanted to remove Long’s driveway. It’s time for ODOT to step in and fix this mess.

Hillsboro paper is good news

Two weeks ago, an article in the News-Times noted that our parent company, the Pamplin Media group, would be launching a new newspaper in Hillsboro.

Since that time our staff members have heard several variations of the question: “Is that new kid down the block good news or bad news for you?”

The answer: Good news.

The Hillsboro Tribune, which will print its first issue on Friday, offers our company a great opportunity. One public official, noting that we have four other papers covering Washington County communties, said: “You filled the doughnut hole!”

While some News-Times employees will have some responsibilities at the Hillsboro Tribune, our newest family member will be a separate publication, with an independent news and advertising staff.

The addition of the paper will help all our papers in Washington County better serve our readers by allowing us to boost our coverage of county and regional issues and help advertisers who want to reach residents of one of Oregon’s fastest growing cities.

We also think the Tribune will be able to learn a thing or two from the News-Times. After all, we haven’t been the new kid on the block for 125 years.




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