New ideas to ease driving on and around Salem’s bridges have been received well by Salem city councilors but how and when those ideas get a green light remains to be seen.
Councilors in work session recently discussed ideas to shave off time in traffic, ranging from delaying crosswalks to adding new signs.
The ideas come from the Congestion Relief Task Force, a group created last year to find ways to untangle traffic without the Salem River Crossing. Regardless of whether the bridge is built — and talks have since stalled — many in Salem agreed traffic has gotten more congested.
Councilors on Monday agreed to pursue the task force’s ideas such as adding signs and delaying sidewalks, but there are a few more steps to go before they show up on the roads.
The council accepted a proposal Mayor Chuck Bennett to delay formal action on the plans until a work session Nov. 19.
Bennett said in an interview that the delay gives staff more time to logically fit the task force’s ideas into the city’s existing plans and budgets. Many of the task force’s ideas had no cost estimates, he noted.
“What we saw (Monday) night is very aspirational. It now needs to be fleshed out, costed out and plugged into the city’s work plans,” Bennett said. “I don’t want this to sound like (the ideas are) going into a black box. This is to make sure it moves forward this year.”
Ultimately, the ideas won’t be passed as a single package. Instead, they will likely be implemented in pieces, said City Manager Steve Powers. Some steps could be done in 2019, others might be included in one of the city’s numerous municipal plans.
“If (an idea) makes changes to Wallace Marine Park, we need to take a look at the parks master plan,” Powers said as an example.
Powers said city employees are assessing how the ideas could be done. Some are straightforward, like timing street lights better. Others are less so, like convincing companies to give incentives for workers to bike, walk or carpool.
“We’re going to be doing our due diligence and doing more work on the feasibility,” he said. That includes looking at budget, the process for making changes and staffing needs.
Ideas mainly tackled traffic problems in the short-term. The task force, which included Bennett and Councilors Cara Kaser, Chris Hoy and Jim Lewis, didn’t recommend longer-term ideas that could have cost tens of millions of dollars.
In its final report, the task force noted that population growth could bring back the current traffic congestion within a decade.
Councilors said Monday they mostly favored the short-term tweaks, but still wanted to see what staff reports would say ahead of the Nov. 19 work session.
“I think there may be some things we’re able to do, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money to save someone 10 seconds,” said Councilor Brad Nanke.
Bennett added he the public would have more time to comment at the next session. Last Monday’s work session was the first chance for residents to comment on the congestion concepts.
At times, comments about traffic congestion illuminated the division between supporters and opponents of the Salem River Crossing.
Some speakers urged councilors to embrace the smaller traffic fixes in place of large projects.
“I think you’re on the right road by doing these things,” said Susann Kaltwasser, a resident. “That’s not to say that down the road, in another 15 or 20 years there doesn’t need to be another crossing, but I just want to compliment you for taking this attitude that there are small things we can do to make it better. And you will see improvements.”
Others called the fixes short sighted, contending a third bridge was still the best option. A group called Salem Bridge Solutions, clad in green t-shirts that read “Build It Now!” worried traffic could ultimately endanger residents if, during an emergency, an ambulance or fire engine could not cross the Willamette River quickly enough.
One speaker tried to ask councilors why they wouldn’t consider a third bridge and in the process called Councilor Tom Andersen “stupid” before councilors and the mayor cut him off and urged him away from the microphone.
After the meeting, Hoy said that despite some of the contention he was happy councilors supported the short-term fixes.
“The idea was to provide some solutions and if we implement some of these things that will happen,” he said.
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