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Improvements planned for Highway 99 in Winchester

WINCHESTER — Pedestrians must walk along a narrow shoulder as they make their way along Highway 99 toward Amacher Park or nearby businesses while semi trucks and cars whiz past on their way to the Winchester Bridge and points north.

This is a busy stretch, used by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians traveling from houses and mobile home parks to businesses like Log Cabin Grocery or the Del Rey Cafe. It’s also an arterial street, meaning there’s quite a bit of traffic here.

Between Pleasant Street and Amacher Park, Highway 99 has no sidewalks, and not enough room for bicyclists to travel safely.

The whole section of road needs a full reconstruction, said Douglas County Public Works Engineering Division Manager Josh Heacock, and it’s about to get one.

The county plans to spend about $7.8 million to get the work done. The project will go out to bid this fall, once a final engineer’s estimate is in place, and the county hopes the construction will begin in winter of 2019. Heacock said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the work can be completed in one calendar year.

The renovations include replacing the road, adding 6-foot bicycle lanes on both sides, and building a sidewalk running along the east side of the road, allowing pedestrians easy access to most businesses in the area. There won’t be a sidewalk on the west side, which is bounded by a rail line.

Two small, obsolete bridges going over creeks — one near Del Rey Cafe and the other near Umpqua Sheet Metal’s driveway — will be replaced. Street lighting will also be added. New drainage will be built to prevent water on the roadway.

The renovations will end just before the Winchester Bridge, and will bring the stretch of road up to the standard of that bridge. The Winchester Bridge improvements were completed in 2008.

Heacock said during construction, drivers will face temporary delays throughout. Those will range between five minutes wait to navigating reduced lane widths. During the bridge replacements, temporary closures with detours may be necessary.

Heacock said considerable planning and budgeting have gone into this project, and he believes the renovations will serve the community well.

“I’m very excited really to see this thing come to fruition after all these years,” Heacock said.

But Robin Shoufler, owner of Del Rey Cafe, is not so excited. She fears a year, or two, of construction will cost her a lot of business, especially if the roadway closes altogether during the repairs. She believes she may have to lay off a third or more of her 15-person staff because of it.

She’s also worried because the initial plans call for her to lose her driveway entrance directly off Highway 99. Instead, she said, her customers will have to access the restaurant from Page Street. So will delivery trucks, which she said need both driveways. Without them, the trucks will be forced to park on Page Street blocking traffic because they won’t be able to turn around in the lot.

She said most of the foot traffic in the area is from homeless people rather than potential customers, and not many people bicycle in the area, so the improvements won’t do anything to help the local businesses.

“I don’t honestly see a lot of good coming out of it,” Shoufler said. “It just doesn’t benefit any of us out there.”

But for Jared Schricker, who was walking alongside the highway Thursday afternoon carrying a raft toward Amacher Park, the renovations seemed like a good idea.

“It would be nice to have more space to walk,” he said.

Transportation district moves forward, while six candidates have filed for board

The future Douglas County Transportation District is taking shape.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to sign an order initiating the formation of the countywide district. The commissioners also scheduled a second public hearing on the district for Sept. 12. A first hearing held Wednesday drew no public comment.

A board of directors will be elected in November to oversee the district, which will operate independently of the county government. The district board will be charged with collecting transportation grant money and determining how that money is spent. No tax dollars will be collected by the district.

The county government has been accepting state and federal transportation dollars and funneling them to the providers of transportation programs like U-Trans and Dial-a-Ride. The transportation district board members will take over that function in the future. They’ll be installed just in time to handle a dramatic uptick in the amount of dollars available for transit programs. Currently, the county receives just over $500,000 from the state every two years. Beginning next year, that amount is expected to swell to between $2.5 million and $3.5 million, thanks to the passage of a new statewide transit tax of $1 per $1,000 in wages.

So far six candidates have filed for seven positions on the Douglas County Transportation District Board. Two, Toby Notenboom and Vic Falgout, formerly supervised the U-Trans public transit system for the United Community Action Network.

Notenboom said Falgout was his boss for about a year. Notenboom was the director for U-Trans, while Falgout was a program director in charge of several programs, one of which was U-Trans.

“I just want to make sure it gets done right,” Notenboom said of his run for a seat on the district board.

He said it’s exciting that Douglas County will have a countywide transit district.

“It’ll be good for the county, it’ll be good for county business and it’ll be good for county citizens, just a good thing all the way around,” he said.

Notenboom owned Paul Jackson Wholesale in Roseburg until 2007, before joining UCAN. He lives in Winchester.

Falgout of Roseburg is a retired director of the Douglas County Juvenile Department and helped create the county’s juvenile detention center. After leaving the juvenile department, he joined UCAN. He said UCAN took over the system from the organization that had run it earlier and stabilized it.

He said some of the other people running asked him to join the district board.

“They think that together we could work out a better, stronger bus system for the county,” he said.

Sutherlin attorney Mark Hendershott said he has been interested in transit since he put himself through law school as a Portland TriMet bus driver. He was a member of the Transit Advisory Committee of the Umpqua Public Transit System in the 1990s, when U-Trans was operated by the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments. During that time he worked with two other candidates, Falgout and Mike Baker, he said.

Hendershott said he’d like to see transportation services expand so that county residents could make connections with buses going into Eugene.

He also said he’d like to see a board member from South County. Currently, there are two Roseburg candidates, one Winchester candidate and three candidates from North County, but none from South County.

Baker served as a Roseburg city councilor from 2003 to 2006 and 2008 to 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor against longtime Mayor Larry Rich in 2012 and 2014.

Baker is a planning and programming manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation. He is also a previous board president of Umpqua Regional Council of Governments, and served on that board when it ran U-Trans.

Baker said with Roseburg becoming more of a retirement community, there will be even more need for public transit in the future. Baker suggested more frequent bus stops as well as an expansion of night and weekend services.

“I know they’re going to get a bunch more money from the state, so it would be nice to capitalize on that and increase service in some way,” he said.

Jennifer Bragg is the development officer for North Douglas Betterment, a nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life for Drain, Yoncalla and Elkton residents. Bragg said one of North Douglas Betterment’s projects is a Dial-a-Ride service for North County. Bragg said her rural experience would be an asset to the board. She lives in the Rice Valley area north of Oakland.

Vince Portulano, of Oakland, ran on the Democratic ticket for state House District 7 in 2016, but lost to Republican Cedric Hayden. He is a volunteer driver for Douglas Rides, a member of the Oakland School District and a substitute teacher for the Douglas Education Service District. Portulano could not be reached for comment.

Commissioners to hear from interim commissioner applicants

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners will meet with the seven applicants for interim Douglas County commissioner Monday evening.

The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in Room 216 of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1036 SE Douglas Ave., Roseburg. Each applicant will have 10 minutes to both respond to prepared questions and make additional comments. The meeting is open to the public, but members of the public will not have the opportunity to question the applicants.

The commissioners are expected to announce finalists Aug. 29. Finalists will subsequently be interviewed, and the selection of one applicant to fill the seat is expected to be completed by Sept. 19. The selection will be made by Commissioners Tim Freeman and Chris Boice.

The appointed interim commissioner will fill the seat vacated by Gary Leif, who is now interim representative for House District 2. The interim commissioner will serve until the end of the year. The winner of the November election will take over the seat in January.

The applicants for interim commissioner are Richard Vander Velden, Daniel Loomis, Tim Allen, Steven Blum, Christine Goodwin, Ashley Hicks and John Hunter.

Three of those — Hicks, Vander Velden and Loomis — are also candidates who will appear on the November ballot. Candidates on the ballot in November who did not apply for interim commissioner include Tom Kress, Alek Skarlatos, Jeremy Salter, James Hoyt and Alyssa McConnel.