Transportation System Plan: Main and 26th

In a view from a truck weigh station, a motorist waits to make a left turn from Main Street onto 26th Street Saturday while another car passes on the shoulder. The city's Transportation System Plan update process brought in a number of comments on that particular spot.

The Philomath City Council took a step forward in updating its 19-year-old Transportation System Plan with an Aug. 13 public hearing. John Boskit of DKS Associates and Darci Rudzinski of Angelo Planning Group hit the highlights in a presentation that lasted just over an hour as part of the hearing’s staff report.

The proposed document will serve as the transportation element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan to prepare Philomath for transportation needs within its urban growth boundary through 2040.

“We also look at municipal code and we look at the Comprehensive Plan and make sure they’re in line with the new plan and where it doesn’t line up and needs to be updated,” City Manager Chris Workman said. “We have recommendations from the consultant on things to change in both the Comprehensive Plan and the municipal code.”

No members of the public testified at the public hearing.

The TSP was scheduled to go back to the city council at a Monday meeting for a vote. Councilors were to consider an ordinance to adopt the plan and associated updates, such as what would be required in development code. The meeting was scheduled to occur after the newspaper's deadline.

“It provides that long-range direction for the development of your transportation facilities the city owns and manages,” Boskit said about the TSP. “Also, it helps you make sure you’re keeping pace with development as it happens so you know what projects need to happen.”

Based on questions and comments from councilors following the presentation, that’s exactly what seemed to be a major concern — keeping pace with development. Philomath has approved various projects over the past several months and population estimates are expected to be higher than any current projections.

Eric Niemann, city councilor, said that with the recent annexations and development approvals in the area of 500 to 600 new residences, projected population numbers in the TSP actually exceed the 2040 numbers outlined in the original plan.

“That I think is a concern or maybe we consider taking another look at them and potentially amending,” Niemann said.

“Within Philomath, there really weren’t any congestion issues, so there is a fair amount of room to absorb change,” Boskit had said earlier.

David Low, city councilor, also expressed concern over population projections not reflecting the reality of what’s going to be happening in Philomath over the next couple of years.

“I think here, we have something quite unusual where we’re going to have quite a bit of additional growth in a short period of time and I’m not sure if we know what the cumulative effects of what that will be like,” Low said. “I think that’s the part that worries me a little bit. There’s a lot on our plate right now … I just want to have that comfort level, I guess, that all of this stuff will fall into place and we’ll have our transportation needs in place.”

Workman said the state requires TSPs — in fact, all master plans — to use the latest data available from Portland State University’s Population Research Center. Workman said that when those numbers do change with Philomath’s recent development plans included in Portland State’s projections, the city council at that time can then approve a TSP update.

“When Portland State re-does their numbers, that would be the time when we can go back in and we can look at updating that section of our Transportation System Plan,” Workman said.

Another city councilor, Jerry Jackson Sr., brought up the Oregon Department of Transportation’s plans to update the couplet.

“Are they going to make any recommendations that will allow us not to make the roads so they shove them (motorists) through town faster or that they’ll actually make it so it’s friendly to our businesses?” Jackson asked. “Because the couplet certainly is not friendly to our businesses.”

Boskit said that as far as he knows, there was no economic assessment or study done on impact applicable to the downtown, although there were comments in general.

Philomath is planning to enhance the city’s downtown corridor through its upcoming streetscape project, although Workman said a big part of the overall picture will be “ODOT coming to the table and saying we’re ready and we have funding available to improve the highway.”

Jackson said it’s important for local citizens to know that the city is looking at the issue.

“When we started that program years ago to try to get that urban renewal money for the downtown, it was based on the fact that we knew the couplet was going to be re-done. It was a good thing to do and … I’m glad to see it’s in there,” he said.

The standard for TSP updates usually run around 10 years. Philomath’s current plan was approved in 1999. Boskit said the plan can also stimulate conversation and awareness about things like system development charges when the city looks at its needs for the next 20 years. He said the plans are used extensively in grant applications.

The TSP update began back in 2015 and Boskit noted major milestones in his presentation.

Regarding economic goals included in the plan, a few key projects were mentioned, including the widening of Highway 20/34 to four lanes between Philomath and Corvallis, which is a regional issue, to relieve traffic congestion.

Boskit said to advance that project, more planning and design needs to be done to see exactly what that plan would look like.

“That one’s a hot spot coming up in Corvallis’s TSP and Benton County’s,” Boskit said. “It’s an issue for everybody.”

Boskit said a lot of comments came in through the TSP update process about safety concerns on the highway at 26th Street. A determination was made that it would be in the best interests of all involved that the truck weigh station be moved out of town and that a left-hand turn lane goes in.

“Moving the weigh station, that’s one of regional significance,” Boskit said. “ODOT is talking about moving that one out and expanding a facility in Blodgett. There are probably some questions they have to think through.”

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