Battle shaping up over official freight routes in Oregon

| 3/11/2005

Local officials in Oregon are fighting an effort that would make U.S. 101 a state-designated freight route, which would result in increased use of the road by trucks.

The controversy began after the Oregon Department of Transportation started a review of the state’s system of freight routes, which designates those highways that serve as the primary interstate and intrastate connections to ports, intermodal terminals and urban areas. The freight routes carry a significant portion of the state’s truck traffic.

As part of the review, which began in the spring of 2004, the agency requested comments from the public on the proposal, which it called the Freight Route Analysis Project. In late 2004, it extended the period during which it accepts those comments until April 8, 2005.

Meanwhile, the program caught the attention of officials in some of the communities along U.S. 101, a well-known scenic highway that runs the length of the U.S. West Coast.

Initially, the highway was not included in a list of new freight routes. Local officials in cities along the northern portion of the state’s coastline were especially concerned that a freight route designation would damage their economic efforts along the road, which were targeted at encouraging tourism, The Oregonian reported.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners went so far as to pass a resolution and send an official letter to the state “opposing the designation of any portion of Highway 101 in Clatsop County as a freight route.”

The board heard testimony that if the highway were added to the freight routes, that designation would influence any furtherdesign or maintenance to support freight movement, rather than the county’s other planned commercial or recreational activities. In addition, the highway’s scenic byway designation might be in jeopardy.

The Clatsop County board unanimously approved opposing the change to a freight route.

But a bill now before the state’s Senate, SB894, would put U.S. 101 back on the list. It would define any road that is part of the national highway system – any interstate and any U.S. highway – as a freight route.

The Oregonian reports that altogether, could change the designation on 1,700 miles of road in the state.

But opponents of freight route expansion have not been sitting still. Another bill, SB566, has been introduced to limit the expansion by prohibiting the Oregon Transportation Commission and Department of Transportation from designating highway as a freight route if that road is also designated as historic and scenic highway.

Public hearings on both bills were held March 7; both remain in the Senate Transportation Committee.