State transportation officials tried to assuage city leaders’ concerns about an upcoming intersection project in Umatilla at a special meeting this week.

Oregon Department of Transportation representatives explained a proposed project for the intersection of Highway 730 and Powerline Road to Umatilla Planning Commission and City Council members during a special work session Thursday.

The project, which is slated for next year, will realign a portion of Powerline Road to make its intersection with Highway 730 farther west from the bridge spanning the Umatilla River, ODOT Region 5 Project Leader Tim Rynearson said. Westbound traffic on Highway 730 often backs up onto the bridge creating a safety hazard with a history of collisions because of vehicles turning onto Powerline Road, he said.

The project includes moving the intersection far enough away from the bridge to create a turning lane on westbound Highway 730 for vehicles accessing Powerline Road to alleviate traffic and safety concerns, Rynearson said.

The proposed project has funding from the state and is expected to be completed in two to three months next year, but only if the city approves it, Rynearson said.

The council and commission members were concerned the project did not include the construction of sidewalks on the stretch of road that would be built, which city code would require of a business if it were developing the land. ODOT representatives attempted to address this by stating the new road built for the project would have 6-foot shoulders to allow for future bike and pedestrian paths.

“It’s hard to get my design team interested in putting pedestrians on the highway,” Rynearson said.

Instead, the ODOT plan would leave a pedestrian pathway along the portion of the current road to the highway that would be closed to vehicular traffic.

The ODOT representatives said the 6-foot shoulders on the new road would be wide enough to allow for future construction of bike and pedestrian paths. They also said the state would acquire the right of way now for a large enough path of land to allow for a future widening project to create parking along the roadway if it became necessary because of development.

ODOT Area Manager Craig Sipp said the project would likely be postponed or abandoned if the city required sidewalks at this point because funding is not available.

Sipp said, although it cannot be guaranteed, the city has a strong chance at receiving future state funding for sidewalks and potentially further bike and pedestrian improvements on South Hill.

“Come back to us with a larger plan (in the future),” he said. “There’s so much that could be done out there.”

After the meeting, Rynearson said the goal was to help the parties understand the focus and scope of the project.

“I think we gained a lot of traction tonight,” he said.

Public comment was not allowed at the work session, but several community members attended to listen to the session. Afterward, Larry Nelson, who uses the intersection daily, said moving the intersection as far west as is proposed would create further traffic problems because of the highway speed at that location.

“I think the change in the intersection on (Highway) 730 is desperately needed,” Nelson said. “The only issue I’ve found is either move the proposed intersection further east or lower the speed further west.”

The intersection project will now go before the Planning Commission, which will make a recommendation for the City Council. The Planning Commission meeting concerning the intersection is tentatively scheduled for October, and public comment will be accepted.

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