By Cara Mico, Assistant Editor
Oregon’s transportation network is fair to middling with a national ranking 25th for cost effectiveness and condition. We’re a bit higher than average for poor bridge condition and pretty abysmal for fatalities but it’s possible that our fatalities are weather and congestion related. The score for road condition is favorably skewed by the overall good condition of rural and arterial paved roads.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is tasked with facilitating the creation of an updated transportation system plan for the Manzanita, Nehalem, and Wheeler area.
A few bits of background before we dive into the meat. First, the transportation plan is just that — a plan. It’s meant to serve as a jumping off point for communities to seek funding for their priority projects. Second, the priority projects in the plan are generic. They are meant to reflect community needs, and the projects themselves are meant to be led by the communities in which the roads flow through. Finally, ODOT has road size standards it’s required to meet when building new roads so all major improvements also have to meet those standards.
“The Transportation System Plan (TSP) is a long‐range 20 year plan that describes transportation goals, policies, and possible project investments and strategies. The final TSP will provide guidance to the cities of Manzanita, Nehalem and Wheeler and will consider travel needs for people who walk, use cars, ride bicycles, move freight, or ride transit (bus),” from the TSP website.
Starting in the summer of 2021, ODOT and private consultants facilitated open houses to allow community members to provide ideas for improving regional transportation. Through a series of meetings and surveys, the three villages developed a list of project priorities to include in the plan.
Many of the projects include pavement improvements, bike lane improvements, and traffic flow improvements.
Two of the project priorities stand out and have generated questions from community members who weren’t aware of the year-long planning process.
The first project that raised community questions was the inclusion of a mini-traffic circle at the 101 bend in Nehalem.
Based on accident and usage data, publicly available here, there isn’t a justification to install a 4-way stop or a traffic signal, something many residents have requested but that some fear would make traffic worse.
The mini-circle on the project priority list hasn’t been designed yet. It’s not even technically a proposed project. Essentially it’s a potential design solution that ODOT can implement if the community chooses to include it in the final TSP.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the mini-roundabout was received in Redmond as well as what it might look like you can watch this video here. A screengrab below should give a good indication of the scale; the size of the Redmond circle is larger than the entire intersection of 101 and North Fork Road in Nehalem.
James Feldmann, the ODOT representative for this project, provided some insight into how the priority projects might move forward in the future.
He stressed that the community can largely choose which projects to include in the TSP and which of those projects in the TSP are implemented.
As an example, if Nehalem really hated the mini-circle and came to a consensus, it wouldn’t be included. If a 4-way stop or signal received enough community buy-in, it could be included in the TSP, but since there aren’t enough traffic fatalities to warrant a light and there is too much traffic for a 4-way stop, neither would receive funding because ODOT can’t implement them as they’re restricted by standard planning guidelines.
“A TSP is balancing being too generic or too specific, and you can get into trouble either way,” said Feldmann.
This was the case recently in Depot Bay where an ODOT project approved under one city council was canceled after a new city council was elected. The city had to return $700,000 in funds and lost the opportunity for $3 million more for the sidewalk project because the new city council wanted to keep a handful of parking spaces.
So projects identified in the TSP won’t necessarily come to pass, but it will be a lot harder to receive funding for a project that isn’t on the list.
“Ultimately, the city council of each city will be responsible for adopting the portions of the TSP for reference within their own jurisdiction. Tillamook County will be responsible for adopting portions of the TSP outside of the three cities, such as in Bayside Gardens,” from the TSP website.
“The TSP itself doesn’t come with money or timeframes, but it is a strategy and a plan for seizing opportunities as they become available,“ said Kara Hall, a Fehr & Peers consultant who assisted in meeting facilitation, at one of the four public community meetings.
Other priority projects that may make it into the plan include a speed-feedback sign for Nehalem like the one in Manzanita, widening the shoulders on 101 between Manzanita and Nehalem to better accommodate pedestrian traffic and improve site-lines, and better signage for walking and biking trails.
I asked Mr. Feldmann about the possibility of a wider road increasing traffic and he suggested that an increase in the shoulders wouldn’t necessarily mean that the lanes are wider. All transportation networks need regular maintenance and as an area’s usage increases a common response is to increase the capacity of the roadway by widening it. Studies show that when a road is widened and a network’s capacity is increased, it will fill to capacity. If you want to read about that fun fact you can get started here, here, and here.
It’s possible that the increasing shoulder width and decreasing the speed could counteract this impact, but ODOT has to balance the need to serve people ‘just passing through and not wanting to stop’ with the residents of the communities the roads pass through.
For instance Newport is looking at a similar issue, they are considering either a throughput or couplet to divert traffic out of the downtown area (get people out of town quickly) and a project that is intended to slow people down and revitalize downtown. ODOT believes that it’s possible to accomplish both goals; by getting the through traffic out of the way, the people who want to stay in the downtown area will have a more enjoyable experience with less vehicular traffic.
A noticeable hole in the TSP was the failure to mention the fact that the proposed mini-circle would be underwater during floods, or how regular flooding of the 101 would be addressed in general, but hey, we’ve got 20 years to worry about that.
If you want to participate in the planning process there will be a draft TSP workshop held in September with the goal to adopt in November 2022. The plan will need to be adopted by the local jurisdictions including Tillamook County. Any changes after that would need to come as amendments to the transportation chapter of each jurisdiction’s general plan. For more information visit https://nehalembaytsp.org