WINDFALL DOESN'T INCLUDE COUPLET
August 10, 2001 11:00 pm

By MARGE WOODFIN

Brookings city officials on Friday learned that plans for the $400 million in transportation funds recently allocated by the Oregon Legislature do not include money for the proposed couplet in downtown.

City officials met with members of the South West Area Commission on Transportation Friday in Brookings to discuss recommendations for projects to be funded by the areas $28 million portion of that $400 million.

In his opening remarks, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Region 3 Manager Paul Mather said, Four hundred million dollars isnt a lot of money compared to the needs around the state.

The $28 million, about 14 percent of the total, was allocated to the South West Area, composed of Curry, Coos, Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties, based on traffic and highway usage, Mather said.

Of that amount approximately $22 million will go to Josephine and Jackson counties with the remainder going to Curry, Coos and Douglas, he said.

Projects will be prioritized by several criteria before the commission makes its recommendations to the state about those to be funded.

According to ODOT representatives at the meeting, the highest priority will go to projects ready to go and non-controversial.

When Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont asked about the proposed Brookings couplet, Mather said there are too many unknowns in that project, including specific costs and when the money would be needed.

Brookings City Manager Leroy Blodgett said, ODOT already did the cost estimate.

Mather explained that ODOTs estimate did not provide specific costs.

Other projects can be much more specific, he said, adding, Im not saying its impossible, but (the couplet) will be on the commission agenda in the future for other funding.

Other criteria to be considered in making recommendations include interchange projects for multi-lane highways, projects that support important community areas, and those that enhance freight mobility, and safety, he said.

The subject of the Brookings couplet came up again when the commission discussed allocating funds for the 2004 to 2007 State Transportation Improvement Plan.

A list of modernization projects prepared by ODOT Region 3 Planner Mike Baker did not include the Brookings couplet.

But Baker said it was inadvertently left off and would be added to a corrected list to be sent to commission members.

A discussion of criteria weighting resulted in a change in the criteria to be considered for projects.

La Bont said the process was unfair to the poorest counties that are unable to come up with additional funding for projects. Commission members agreed to reduce the points.

It was pointed out, however, that donated land or easements for projects could be counted as leverage.

When one commission member noted that Jackson and Josephine counties appear to get the lions share of the Region 3 highway funding, someone pointed out that the majority of bridges are in Coos, Curry and Douglas counties, so they receive the greatest portion of the funding for bridge maintenance.

The commission is composed of city and county officials, private citizens, members of the private sector, as well as ODOT Area Manager Mark Usselman.

Commission members attending Fridays meeting included Brookings Mayor Bob Hagbom; La Bont; Martin Callery, director of marketing for Port of Coos Bay; Chuck Ireland of Ireland Trucking; Coos Bay attorney John Whitty; Myrtle Creek City Administrator Joseph Wolf; Coos Bay City Manager Bill Grile, Coos County Commissioner John Griffith; and commission chairman Jim McClellan from the city of Winston.

Port of Brookings Harbor Manager Russ Crabtree and the ports marketing director, Nita Rolfe, attended the meeting as guests, as did Whitney Long of the Confederated Tribes of Coos Bay, and Chuck Palmer from Powers.

In addition to making recommendations about allocation of the regions share of the $400 million, commission members are charged with suggesting where $50 million for bridge maintenance should go, as well as listing the proposed projects for the 2004 to 2007 highway funding.

Recommendations from the commission are considered by ODOT management when the final funding decisions are made.

The commission normally meets bimonthly, but with the urgent task of recommending projects for the newly-provided $400 million, is meeting monthly.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14 in Coquille.