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Don't shift Lincoln's traffic problems to others, citizens urge

Join council, county commissioner meeting draws feedback

Decisions on how to handle congestion on one street clearly could have ripple effects across the community. That message was illustrated by the fact that approximately 50 citizens turned out for the Dec. 4 joint White Salmon City Council/Klickitat County Commissioners meeting regarding NW Lincoln Street.

Those in attendance at the Park Center included many residents of Lincoln Street who were seeking some type of action to help slow traffic on the narrow street, part of which is under the county's jurisdiction while the remainder is within the city limits of White Salmon.

However, there were at least as many there who do not live on Lincoln Street, and they expressed concerns that making Lincoln Street one way would simply transfer traffic problems to adjacent streets.

Ideas discussed included making Lincoln Street one way, placing speed bumps to slow traffic, barring big trucks, widening Lincoln, and even building a new road to reach State Route 141.

The county provided information that showed how much traffic the street has been getting. A count taken over a four-day period in July indicated that the average daily number of vehicles going westbound on Lincoln was 196; while there were 210 vehicles headed east per day in that period.

Lincoln Street is not in line for widening in the foreseeable future, county officials added.

Currently, the official speed limit on Lincoln is 25 mph.

A spokesperson for the county said that if Lincoln is made one way, part of the roadway would then be striped for pedestrian traffic on one edge of the road.

One citizen asked what triggered the heightened interest in the future of Lincoln Street.

Mayor Roger Holen said there had been "several near misses of small children" on the narrow roadway, and pointed out that the road -- which is substandard in its design -- presents a liability issue for the city and the county.

"The focus of our concern at this instant is safety," Holen explained.

County Commissioner Joan Frey said the liability issue was a serious one.

"It has come to the county's attention that the liability to the county is very high for not addressing these issues," Frey said. "We're looking for a good compromise to address safety issues. That's why we're all here now."

Jack Barrett, a Lincoln Street resident and one of the organizers of efforts to find a fix for conditions along the street, said it's all about safety.

"The issue is safety of the first order," said Barrett. "What brought this meeting is this: One day when I was taking my morning walk, a car passed me going downhill. About 30 feet down, he hit something. I thought it was a 7-year-old child, and my heart just dropped. It turned out it was a dog, but it could have been a child. We're going to see in The Enterprise a story about a child being killed, versus inconvenience for a lot of people."

As a graphic illustration of the potential dangers of the narrow street when coupled with excess speed, Barrett passed around a photo of a car that had hit some rocks and rolled over on its top on Lincoln Street.

Another resident of Lincoln stressed that the dangers were serious.

"We've repeatedly asked people to slow down and put up signs asking people to slow down, and had profanity yelled at us from people speeding," said Leslie Ballard. "I can't let my children go outside because there are people flying past our house."

Bob Havig, a resident from neighboring Rio Vista Street, said he did not believe making Lincoln one way would deter speeding.

"The road needs to be widened," Havig said. "Any other approach is a band aid approach."

Havig noted the political pressures on County Commissioners from residents of NW Lincoln.

"The few shouldn't have control over actions that affect hundreds," Havig said.

The traffic problems on Lincoln are not a new development. In 1991, a consultant hired by Klickitat County -- David Evans Consulting of Portland -- made the issue clear: "The existing design of this road is substandard and, as a result, it represents a safety hazard which will increase as traffic increases," read a section from the decade-old consultant's report. "The pavement is very narrow, less than the minimum standard for a two lane local road, let alone a collector ... In addition, the grade of the road exceeds 10 percent in two places, creating hazardous conditions in icy weather. Improvement of this substandard road is a high priority because much of the recent development in the unincorporated area has occurred just north of Lincoln/Slaughterhouse Road. This road has seen and will continue to see increased traffic unless alternative access to the central part of the planning area is provided."

William Bartsch, another citizen at last Wednesday's meeting, said a solution for one area might make traffic worse elsewhere.

"You're moving a problem from one place to another," said Bartsch. "Be careful that a solution we come up with doesn't shift the problem somewhere else. This is a problem for the whole community, not just one neighborhood."

Written testimony received at White Salmon City Hall highlighted concerns about turning Lincoln into a one-way street.

"If Lincoln Street is not accessible in both directions, I am forced to use other roads with much longer, steeper grades," wrote Michelle Mayfield, who lives on El Camino Real. "None of these other alternate routes afford me the safety of Lincoln Street's shallower grade and safer intersection at its outlet."

Another letter, signed by more than 50 residents of the area, expressed concerns related to emergency accessibility if the road becomes one way.

"Currently, there are four doctors and two physician assistants living in Los Altos who regularly use NW Lincoln for access to the hospital and clinic during winter driving conditions. NW Lincoln provides the best route for these doctors who often are required to get to their destination in a hurry," read an excerpt from the two-page letter. "A further concern involves the delayed response time for emergency vehicles if the road is made one way. While this might mean only a matter of minutes, seconds do count when a person is having a heart attack."

Mayor Holen took note of the conflicting solutions being proposed, and stressed that no final decisions had yet been made.

"Nobody will be totally satisfied, but the legislative bodies and our staff will take all testimony very seriously, and try to craft a solution with a minimum impact on anybody else while gaining safety," Holen said.

County Commissioner Don Struck encouraged citizens to send in written testimony.

"It's all important, and we appreciate the turnout here tonight," Struck said.

Both the White Salmon City Hall and Klickitat County Board of Commissioners will take written input on the Lincoln Street situation through Dec. 31.

Mayor Holen said there will be another public meeting on Lincoln Street in February, "before a decision is made."


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