NOTE: This piece is about a subject of specific interest in our hometown, with little application in many other places. Residents of Carlton, however, are asked to take heed.
On March 17 the Carlton City Council will have an important choice to make. Important, but not complicated, and not difficult.
It has been made to seem more complicated and even chaotic by the steady accretion of bright, shiny objects strewn around the core issue, which is: Whether to advise the Oregon Department of Transportation to reroute Highway 47 through town along Pine Street north to Monroe (thence to Yamhill Street, and north), or keep it on its current route, along Main Street through the center of downtown. ODOT has said specifically that it will do the work on the Main Street blocks, which will involve massive reconstruction over two years and possibly three or (realistically) four, unless it gets the word that Carlton prefers the reroute, in which case it would expect to take that path.
The discussion of this topic has become crowded with talk about fantasies on one hand and future-tense specifics on the other.
The fantasies are speculations of things that might happen but won’t, certainly not soon and maybe not ever. These include running the truck route along bypasses well to the west or east of the city, or along the old rail line; no planning for such work has been done and there is no money for it, and if it ever happens it could not happen for more than a decade, or more likely two. And there are other fantasies, such as a hotel which some people envision for a spot (why this particular spot is the only possibility is never clarified) along the reroute path, a project which no one has actually proposed, much less made any filing for or put forth any money for. There are fantasies too about how regional businesses might kick in to help downtown Carlton businesses survive during the coming lean years; no one has actually shown anyone that angel money yet, nor are they ever likely to.
Then there are real specific questions about the road work that genuinely must be asked and worked out, but which are secondary to the main routing issue. These include location and type of crosswalks, a new traffic signal, speed of traffic (which as elsewhere can be controlled in a variety of ways), parking elimination (some parking almost certainly will be lost whatever happens) and similar specifics. These are all important subjects, but they’re not what the Carlton City Council will be voting on March 17, which will be limited to the Main Street vs. reroute issue. The people of Carlton and their officials and the affected businesses all should be involved as these specific road construction questions are dealt with, but all of these come after the threshold question is decided. They’re premature now.
Here’s the question on the table:
Should the road work be done on the current highway route through downtown, or on the reroute path? That’s it. Anything else is a distraction, smoke and mirrors of one sort or another.
Any disruption caused by the Pine/Monroe reroute - and some would happen - would affect relatively few people and could easily be mitigated if the project is designed reasonably well. ODOT specialists already have developed mitigation for most of the concerns by businesses along the re-route.
However. If the road work through downtown Main Street proceeds, the city’s center will be ripped up for an absolute minimum of two years, according to ODOT, with a high probability that it will take much longer. Most of us who have watched highway projects elsewhere know these things hardly ever get done faster than scheduled, and often taken longer than expected, especially if something unexpected pops up (such as unexpected things buried under the roadway). We also know from experience in other places that businesses will be lost: About 40 percent of them, according to the rule of thumb, which would be enough to blow up Carlton’s recent prosperous flourishing as a wine-tourist destination spot. Many more businesses face Main Street than face the affected areas of Pine/Monroe, and they are much more sensitive to street traffic. The impact of a massive, multi-year ripup of Main is a serious and obvious enough impact that it gave pause to the state transportation department, which rarely suggests such an alternative to a city. That long-term destruction of Main Street would have the same effect as strewing a dozen sticks of dynamite through Carlton’s downtown and setting them off. Carlton, now a lively and prosperous town, would be at risk of becoming just another declining rural town with a weak economic sector. Recovery would take at least a decade, maybe two.
If that’s what the Carlton City Council chooses to support on March 17, I wouldn’t envy them looking their fellow Carltonians in the face a couple of years from now when the Great Little Town carefully crafted over the last few decades has been wrecked because of what they did.
Or, they can make the right decision.