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County unlikely to build most projects in road plan

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Commissioners note aspirational tone of proposed 20 year transportation plan

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioners Alex Tardif, Margaret Margruder and Henry Heimuller mull the latest draft of the county's Transportation System Plan during a meeting Wednesday, May 3.

A newly revised transportation system plan for Columbia County recommends roughly $460 million worth of infrastructure projects, but it's unclear how many of the projects will ever come to fruition.

Columbia County commissioners gave the plan its first public review last Wednesday, May 3.

The 20-year planning document was crafted with help from DKS Associates, Angelo Planning Group, Oregon Department of Transportation, Columbia County Roads Department and with input from public advisory groups.

A total of 67 transportation and infrastructure projects, including 40 county-initiated projects, are identified in the plan. Among the projects are bridge repairs and replacements, bicycle and pedestrian access improvements, rail line upgrades, and transit projects for services like CC Rider.

The county gets funding from state and federal highway funds along with system development charges and a natural resources depletion fee.

Despite the hefty $460,520,000 price tag, only a fraction of that is likely to be made available from the state.

The plan identifies over $332 million worth of needed investments spread out over 21 projects along state highways.

"ODOT has indicated that only $12 million in discretionary state and/or federal funds, beyond what is currently programmed in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, may be available to invest in Columbia County over the next 20 years for system modernization and enhancement," the report notes.

"Nothing in here is committing the county to funding the projects. This is just a list of what the needs are," John Bosket, project manager for EKS, told commissioners.

Commissioner Alex Tardif said he felt the plan ignored some of the county's main transportation issues and questioned the feasibility of actually completing any major infrastructure projects in the

county without additional revenue.

"If we're really gonna take this through the next 20 years and we really want to accomplish things on this list, then we really need a four-lane highway," Tardiff said.

Tardiff also acknowledged the importance of action in the Oregon Legislature.

"We're at a crossroads now where if we don't get a gas tax passed in the next year, we're not gonna touch 90 percent of the projects in this plan because we don't have the money to do it," Tardiff said.

Commissioner Henry Heimuller said he viewed the TSP as more of a guide for needs, rather than a to-do list.

"If we get 10 percent of these done over the next 20 years, we've done really, really well," Heimuller said. "It is frustrating, because you like to think of this as a list of goals over the next 20 years."

Of note in the plan is an estimated $6.5 million county project to improve Apiary Road to a minor arterial standard, from Highway 47 to Old Rainier Road, including shoulder widening and improved curve delineation. A $24.5 million county project proposes to improve Beaver Falls Road to Delena Road in Clatskanie to a major collector road standard, with wider shoulders, upgraded bridges and an additional guardrail.

Proposed projects are broken down into constrained projects, which are those prioritized for funding based on needs, and "aspirational" projects considered valuable but not likely to be funded.

The county board of commissioners is expected to deliberate on the TSP again on Wednesday, May 31.