When Marc Usselman and Matt Malone, of the Oregon Department of Transportation, visited Brookings Wednesday and were asked about the proposed Highway 101 couplet through town, they admitted they don?t have a clue.

They don?t know when the proposed route will be built. They don?t even know if it will be built.

What they do know about it and the preservation and reconstruction of Highway 101 from Thomas Creek Bridge to the Chetco River bridge, they freely shared with the audience.

?We have no plans. We have no designs. We are very early in this project,? Malone told a packed room at the Chetco Community Public Library. ?Where we?re going and how you can be involved in how we get there is why we?re here.?

Although Usselman and Malone couldn?t answer many specifics about the couplet proposal, the information they provided gave Brookings residents a good idea of the time table and scope of work for the preservation and reconstruction work that will improve the highway through town.

The pair also let citizens know how they can be involved in the process of determining what projects city, regional and state agencies undertake.

?If you have a project that needs to happen in your area, it needs to be adopted by your communities and that?s how they become ODOT projects,? Usselman explained.

He said potential projects such as widening roads, or straightening S-curves, which is something that interested the North Brookings Community Association, which sponsored the ODOT forum, start out with a citizen spotting a problem.

The environmental assessment of the potential solutions to traffic congestion, which some Brookings residents have taken as ?couplet study,? will begin this summer and be completed by 2004. The study has a $1 million budget, but as Malone said, that is the only portion of the project that has funds. Design and construction of a couplet, if that proves to be the best solution for Brookings, isn?t even on the horizon, Malone said.

The project within sight is the preservation and reconstruction of Highway 101 through the area. The environmental assessment of that $6.8 million project is currently underway.

Much of the road, including Chetco Avenue, that covers underground lines has recently been marked with bright orange spray paint. The preliminary design will be completed by March 2004 with construction set for late spring to fall of the same year.

The approximately 10-mile project will repave and restripe the roadway from Thomas Creek Bridge to Fifth Street in Brookings. Guardrails will be brought up to standard. ODOT will also replace damaged road signs.

Once the project reaches town, it gets a little more thorough, Malone said.

?Essentially what we?re going to do is reconstruct the road to the (Chetco River) bridge. It?s going to look about the same, but it will look new. We need to dig down and create a new base,? Malone said.

ODOT is also working in conjunction with Brookings? planners, who are in the midst of a downtown master plan, Malone explained. He said the city expressed a desire to clean up the looks of downtown.

Because of the conversations with the city, ODOT will bury overhead lines and clean up and standardize the downtown sidewalks.

?It will improve the looks of downtown. It will look better,? Malone said.

The project through downtown will also upgrade traffic signals, improve street lights and cure any drainage problems.

The environmental assessments ODOT must complete before any project proceeds does four things, according to Malone:

It describes the current condition of the roadway. It identifies a range of potential solutions. It evaluates potential environmental impacts of those potential solutions, and it helps ODOT and the local agencies determine the best solutions to the traffic problems.

The environmental assessment is also a baby step in a long journey toward traffic solutions like the proposed couplet, Malone said. He said the environmental assessments take 18 to 24 months to complete.

?We don?t know what the right answer is for downtown,? Malone told the audience. ?As we move through the reconstruction plan, we?re going to have some public meetings to get an idea of what we can do downtown. That?s part of our design process.?

A number of residents expressed concern over potential consequences of rerouting Highway 101 along a couplet route. Others asked why ODOT had to start the process of studying the couplet again after it was studied in the mid-1990s.

?The earlier study (was) at a conceptual level, but not at a design level. It went through some preliminary analysis but did not do any design analysis,? Malone said.

He said that while the preservation and reconstruction project is on line and will take place in 2004, any talk of a couplet is premature.