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Local editorial

ODOT too often has blinders on

Traffic changes have consequences, especially for small businesses

We would design a terrific highway system for the Rogue Valley if we could transport ourselves back 100 years or so and lay out the roads before houses, businesses and industry had staked out their ground.

We would develop a common-sense grid system, with defined major roads and limited-access highways. And we would leave enough room along the edges so that the major roads could be expanded when the number of cars began to overwhelm the available lanes of traffic. It would be orderly and efficient.

But welcome to the real world, a world in which almost any change in the asphalt landscape will have an impact on existing dwellings or businesses. Such is the case in Talent, where a proposal that makes sense for traffic planners could, in the worst case, force a local business to close its doors.

Those cases ' and there have been several in recent years ' involving the Oregon Department of Transportation, raise troubling questions about who should prevail when the public good collides with private rights.

In Talent, there is a good argument to be made for prohibiting left turns into the convenience store at the corner of Highway 99 and Valley View Road. Traffic on the state highway and at the intersection is growing along with the population and it's not hard to imagine future accidents involving cars stopped dead on the road, waiting to turn, or involving cars turning across the oncoming lanes of traffic.

But it's also not hard to imagine the frustration of Alton Rhodes, owner of Quick Shop Market, who finds himself unable to protect access to a business that has been at that corner for decades.

— ODOT has suggested that he instead provide parking and access to the store from property he owns behind his business. Easy to say, much harder to accomplish for a small-business owner. He has to wonder, among other things, whether someone planning to pop in to buy a 99-cent cup of coffee will take the extra time to make their way to his front door.

ODOT and its engineers have a job to do, and it largely involves moving traffic from point A to point B safely and efficiently. The agency, however, often seems to have blinders on when it comes to non-traffic consequences.

It has blithely proposed, for instance, that Highway 62 east of Interstate 5 be elevated, eliminating access for stores that have fronted the road since the middle of the last century. The nearby North Medford interchange project eliminates left-hand turns off of Biddle Road for Witham truck stop, requiring truckers to take a circuitous route to their destination.

From a planning/traffic engineer perspective, the changes make perfect sense. From a small-business perspective, it's one more example of the little guy being run over by the bureaucracy. If there is not some significant compensation paid for the inconvenience, the burden of making our highway system better falls too heavily on too few shoulders.

For those who shrug and say that the benefits to the many outweigh the cost to the few, we offer up this reminder, which should send chills down the spines of all planners: Measure 37. Push the little guy too hard and he and his buddies eventually will push back, perhaps with stunning consequences.