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Traffic doesn't obey boundaries

Cities should be able to request studies from nearby projects

Traffic engineers and public works directors have tough jobs: They're dealing with a finite amount of land, an even smaller amount of land available for new roads and a seemingly limitless supply of cars ready to fill those roads. No matter how they plan and no matter how big they build them, their projects are doomed to obsolescence.

So it makes no sense that the state of Oregon makes their jobs even tougher by preventing them from looking beyond the city limits sign in figuring out how to plan and pay for the pavement that new traffic demands.

A three-day "Traffic Jam" series running this week in the Mail Tribune details the enormity of the task facing planners. Planned developments will add tens of thousands of new vehicle trips to streets and highways all over south Medford. Put them all together and the total number of new trips expected by 2020 totals a staggering 187,000 &

8212; and that's just for the projects that are already in the works.

That's a jaw-dropping amount and it's accompanied by this head-scratching bit of information: The state of Oregon prohibits cities from demanding traffic studies or payments for road improvements from developers who build projects on the outskirts of the towns, even if it's clear there will be a significant impact inside the cities' limits.

The drawbacks to this are obvious even in theory. But here are a few specifics: Several major developments are planned on North Phoenix Road, immediately south of Medford's city limits. The plans include 1,352 homes proposed by the Rogue Valley Manor, 227 acres scheduled for an "employment center," a 400-acre residential and commercial development at Arrowhead Ranch near Phoenix, and a Home Depot already under construction in Phoenix. North Phoenix Road is already expected to be bursting at the seams, largely as a result of the 1,000-acre Southeast Plan in Medford that's expected to eventually hold up to 8,700 homes and produce up to 135,500 vehicle trips per day. Add to that another 50,000 trips or so from the beyond-the-boundary developments and the problem just gets worse.

Phoenix has already run into the problem from the other end, watching as the Southeast Plan took shape just a few miles from its northern limits. Any vehicle heading south from that development is almost certain to take North Phoenix Road and end up adding to the traffic woes at the Phoenix freeway interchange.

But neither Medford nor Phoenix can ask developers of outside properties to produce traffic impact studies or ask for help in paying the costs that will come with that neighboring growth. That means the burden will fall on the cities' taxpayers, instead of on the developers who often stand to profit mightily.

The state Legislature should follow the lead of other states by requiring that traffic studies include the full area affected by major projects and then require developers to help pay the associated costs.