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Wal-Mart shifts gears over traffic

Local editorials

Central Point needs to make sure residents' interests are protected

To counter objections that a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at Hamrick Road and East Pine Street would cause severe traffic problems, company officials now say they might not close the existing store on Highway 62. The implication is that leaving the old store open would reduce the volume of traffic generated by the new store.

We don't buy it, and neither should Central Point planners.

For starters, this is a complete reversal of the company's position. Wal-Mart spokespeople repeatedly told reporters and city officials that that the company planned to close the Highway 62 store after the new one opened.

Now, a traffic analysis prepared for Wal-Mart states, According to Wal-Mart representatives, there are no plans to close the Highway 62 store.

Since when?

Even if leaving the existing store open would reduce traffic to the new location ' a dubious assertion at best ' nothing would prevent Wal-Mart from closing the Highway 62 store at any time, after the new store was built and operating. Central Point could hardly require Wal-Mart to keep open a store in another jurisdiction if it made business sense to close it.

— The biggest concern of Central Point planners ' and the Oregon Department of Transportation ' is the potential impact on the Central Point freeway interchange. ODOT has concluded that the interchange would fail the day a new Wal-Mart opened its doors.

Upgrading an interchange is a lengthy, costly and potentially controversial proposition, as anyone can attest who witnessed the protracted battles over the South Medford Interchange project. Arranging the necessary financing, getting approval from federal highway officials and planning such a project takes years.

Building a store, in contrast, takes a matter of months.

Central Point officials have commissioned their own traffic study, which should be complete in time for public hearings in March.

The stakes are huge. The city needs to take its time, assess all the potential effects of such a large store and be prepared to face down the army of consultants and lawyers Wal-Mart will inevitably bring to bear.

If city officials decide the store could be accommodated with extensive traffic improvements, they should require Wal-Mart to foot much of the bill. Otherwise, the city will be merely subsidizing a giant headache for Central Point residents at taxpayer expense.

If careful study shows the drawbacks of allowing a Supercenter outweigh the benefits, the city should tell Wal-Mart to take a hike, as Hood River County did last week.

Another Measure 30 fact

One in a series of facts voters need to make an educated decision about Ballot Measure 30

If voters reject Ballot Measure 30, automatic budget cuts will hit many state services, including the court system.

Courts in Jackson County stopped hearing most misdemeanor criminal cases for four months last year because of budget cuts after voters defeated Ballot Measure 28. Defendants in some felony cases got a temporary reprieve because there was no money to provide public defenders to represent them.

If Measure 30 fails, indigent defense will take a &

36;10 million budget cut. If nothing is done to make up that shortfall, money for public defenders will run out in the spring of 2005.

The Constitution guarantees the right to counsel, and public defense officials say they cannot legally prioritize who gets a lawyer and who doesn't. That means no lawyer for any indigent defendant, which means no prosecution. Even for murder cases.