After splitting on third bridge, councilors seek common ground in West Salem

Salem City Councilor Cara Kaser addresses the West Salem Neighborhood Association on Monday, Feb. 18, regarding transportation issues. (Salem Reporter/Les Zaitz)

Salem City Councilors Cara Kaser and Jim Lewis bridged some political differences Monday night, pledging to work together to solve the city’s congestion woes after staking opposing views last week about the Salem River Crossing.

The two are the only councilors whose wards fan over West Salem, home to some of the most vocal supporters of the third bridge.

Kaser joined five other councilors in voting against the project and found herself the subject of social media murmurs of a recall. But she shrugged it off, saying she heard more kudos than condemnation.

“Of course there were people who were negative toward me, but the thank yous outweighed the people who were upset,” said Kaser, elected in 2016.

“Social media is social media,” she added.

Lewis, a staunch supporter of the Salem River Crossing, said he continues to be shocked the project is dead.

“I still wake up in the morning not believing that all that time and energy and goodwill of people before has been thrown out by six new people,” said Lewis, elected in 2014.

The two councilors and Mayor Chuck Bennett joined more than 100 people in attending the West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night at the West Salem Roth’s conference center, eager to debate the city’s congestion problems and solutions old and new.

After listening to citizens speak, all three officials took the chance to say they hoped to work together on new ideas.

 “I’m willing to work with anyone — anyone — who is committed to help address our mobility and congestion issues via an additional bridge across the Willamette River,” Lewis said.

“I really am encouraged. I think you can count on Lewis and Kaser and the other councilors to move forward on this,” said Bennett. “We’ve got a ways to go but I hope we can keep talking about it. I really hope you stay engaged.”

Kaser, Lewis and Bennett, as members of the city’s Congestion Relief Task Force, all had a hand in some of the congestion fixes coming into play. The task force made 17 recommendations, like extending Marine Drive, installing travel time signs and timing traffic signals better. Recommendations have not yet been implemented.

A standing room only crowded attended the West Salem Neighborhood Association on Monday, Feb. 18, regarding transportation issues. (Salem Reporter/Les Zaitz)

The three also spoke about recent legislation by state Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, that would make any bridge building a more regional effort. House Bill 2974 would allow creation of a special taxing district, governed by elected representatives from Polk, Marion, Benton and Yamhill counties, to raise funds for planning bridges in the mid-Willamette Valley.

Evans announced the legislation Friday, so details about what the district would look like or even the governing body are in flux, he said. But as designed it would involve more parties and help answer some funding questions.

“It’s not a panacea but it does spread the burden across more land area, across more users,” Evans told Salem Reporter.

Evans said he didn’t tell councilors of the idea until after their decision. He spoke to the neighborhood association as well Monday night about his proposal.

Kaser said she supported the idea to bring more voices into the decision-making process. She noted that she did not expect a “regional solution” to congestion to be built in Salem.

“I hope everybody will support this. I hope that council will support it. I think we really need to start advocating for that. I think it’s a good opportunity to bring in some of those other communities into the conversation and say hey you do need some skin in the game if we want a regional solution,” Kaser said. “And that regional solution should probably not be in Salem. It probably needs to be someplace else and we probably need more than one.”

Lewis noted he hoped to see Evans’ legislation get more sponsors.

“I’m hoping,” he said. “The need is dramatic.”

During the meeting, which lasted a little under two hours, residents dredged up old arguments, posed questions and even traded barbs about what they felt should be done.

While some speakers took their allotted three minutes to disparage people they disagreed with, many simply pleaded for action.

“My advocacy and reason for being here tonight, though this is not my association, was to reiterate what I told city council three years ago: do something.” Said resident Tyler Shockley. “Do something to solve our critical transportation issues now instead of once again leaving them to the next generation.”

After the meeting, Shockley approached Kaser and thanked her for “dealing with the fire.”

“I appreciate you being a stalwart,” he said.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-545-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.

TRY A FREE SAMPLE – You can see for yourself the kind of local news reporting brought to you by the team of professional reporters at Salem Reporter. You can read us for free for 30 days. Signing up is easy and gives you 24/7 access to our reports. Sign up HERE.