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As I See It: Fix the roads before further development

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Living in West Corvallis, it becomes obvious that further development here should be delayed until our roads are brought up to basic standards.

Common sense dictates all transportation infrastructure get improved before allowing additional development.

Due to lack of funding and little political will, road improvements in the West Corvallis and Philomath urban growth boundaries have been ignored for decades, while random growth has been allowed.

Most roads here are unsafe, undersized for today’s traffic and overdue for modernization. There are only two lanes from Philomath to Highway 99W. Almost every daytime hour reveals eastbound congestion extending more than a quarter-mile to the west.

Fast cut-through traffic from substandard U.S. Highway 34/20 is commonplace on hazardous secondary roadways lacking sidewalks. Then there is the often flooded railroad undercrossing on 53rd Street, with height restrictions.

We encounter obstacles during storms, and evacuation drills and emergency evacuations would create gridlock. In the event of a major calamity, such as ember storm-ignited wildfires or chemical tanker spills, residents would risk their lives, trapped by roadways with insufficient carrying capacities. Gridlock hampers emergency responders providing lifesaving services.

Do area development reviews include hard conversations with emergency planners? How is their judgment weighted? Officials in positions of public responsibility had better place themselves in positions of people trapped by emergencies. Wind-driven embers igniting developed neighborhoods is the new Northwest reality. This must be a review priority for any development.

Further developments are in the works at Southwest 53rd and Southwest Country Club Drive, Southwest 53rd and Southwest West Hills Road (including a retail center), and mixed development at 53rd and Philomath Boulevard. An Aug. 23 article (“Developer returns for third time with Corvallis apartment-shops plan”) focused on the Creekside project. This location (a 2020 Top 10 Corvallis crash site) is already a chokepoint for all users.

This project alone affects planned modernization of 53rd and Highway 34/20.

It dramatically changes frontages on 53rd and Highway 34/20 with two new streets, 76 three-story apartments, a gas station, a convenience store and a drive-thru facility (see city website).

Access will become highly competitive on both roadways, which currently have unfunded, incomplete plans for improvements by Benton County and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Especially concerning is the volume and variety of traffic to fueling stations and drive-thrus.

Drive-thrus often lack enough space for vehicles. Consider nearby drive-thrus where even with the required waiting lane, cars overflow onto the street. Imagine lines of idling vehicles waiting for prescriptions to be filled.

A new street will bisect the heavily trafficked multiuse path on 53rd, with no sidewalk on the east side.

Higher traffic volumes generated by these projects provide demand for improvements on 53rd, from Harrison Boulevard to Country Club Drive, with plentiful crosswalks to new, safer sidewalks on the east side for pedestrians and wheelchairs. 

The city of Corvallis, Benton County and ODOT need to start requiring curb-to-curb roadway improvements for new developments. Conditions that ensure modernization outlined in 2019 Transportation System Projects on 53rd and Highway 34/20 occur.

It’s past time for voters and elected officials to advocate, fund and advance proactive multi-agency improvements to all urban growth boundary area roadways.

In the 1980s, Corvallis funded Timberhill street networks before construction began. It can be done again, in neglected West Corvallis. Installing full transportation connections is the best solution to neglected urban growth boundary traffic problems. That will ensure sensible development, safe multimodal travel, functional evacuations and pride of ownership with continued growth.

To succeed, we must demand that ODOT, with federal dollars, swiftly fix the antiquated bottleneck that is Highway 20/34 between Philomath and Highway 99W.

Daniel Wood is a Corvallis resident since 1998; a former member of the California Certified Organic Farmers board of directors; a local hardware department manager for 20 years, retired; and an activist involved in organizations, promoting active transportation and safe and sane roadways for all users.


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