DEPOE BAY — More than 20 people packed into the council chambers at Depoe Bay City Hall Tuesday night, most hoping to say their piece regarding a controversial street renovation project south of the bridge and the repercussions it might have for the city.
The urban renewal agency workshop held that night went more than two hours as members of the public were allowed to speak for or against the project before representatives from the Oregon Department of Transportation answered questions.
No decisions were made, but it became clear the city is on the hook for at least $250,000 no matter what it does. Per its agreement with ODOT, if the city council chooses to back out of the project, the city will need to reimburse ODOT for $250,000 in costs already spent during the planning stages. If it proceeds, the city will need to pay a $250,000 contribution to the $2.4 million project, plus any potential overages. To walk away from the project now would also be walking away from roughly $2 million in federal funding.
Most members of the public who spoke at the meeting were against the project, citing the already limited parking availability south of the bridge and claiming any reduction of parking spaces would be a death sentence for the businesses there. At least two attendees wanted to see the project move forward, but agreed some accommodations for parking would be beneficial. Representatives from ODOT made clear however, few to no changes could be made to the construction plans at this point.
“We have pretty much established our right of way impact and our access impact, so everything has been set,” ODOT Transportation Project Manager Christine Hildebrant said during the meeting. “We can look at suggestions and see what we might be able to do to accommodate, but it has to all be within design standards. There is no possibility to alter the footprint of the design. We cannot go larger because we do not have the funds. You could potentially reduce it or not go through with the project if that’s what the city decided.”
While the scope of the project changed many times since it was first envisioned in 2005, the city passed a point of no return when the previous city council approved the current construction plans in May 2020.
The current iteration would add a southbound lane, a center turn lane, a bike lane, a crosswalk with an island and sidewalks with ADA ramps extending from the bridge past Evans Street and the Spores residence. If the construction proceeds, the existing parking spots in the area would be reduced from 50 to 28 after construction, though according to ODOT’s documentation, 15 of those spots already don’t meet its standards and would be removed anyway during a regular re-stripe.
Originally, the project would have extended to the Shell Station and to the nearby park, but due to inflation and other factors, the scope was reduced to a two-block area just south of the bridge.
An active slide in the area and other geological issues were also discovered during planning, which require either a multi-million dollar retaining wall or to shift the entire construction away from the slide. The latter was the only practical option with the city’s limited funding and no further sources of federal or state funding available for the project.
The need to shift the road created most of the strict design requirements the project now adheres to, affecting everything from the position of the lanes to where the sidewalk can be placed. Shifting the road also triggered some of ODOT’s mandatory design standards, such a requirement to add a bike lane.
After the public and ODOT were able to weigh in, the Urban Renewal Agency Committee, is made up predominately of members of city council, discussed possible paths forward.
Councilor Fran Recht hammered on the idea that the project was already approved by the previous council over a year ago, and the surge of public outcry against the project came only during the last few months. She argued the $2 million in funding involved would be too much to simply walk away from and noted ODOT members said earlier in the meeting that there was a lot of competition in the state for this kind of project. Recht was worried backing out now might discourage the state from choosing Depoe Bay for future projects.
Recht went on to say the priority of the council was to improve public safety, health and welfare and that the project would improve safely immensely for pedestrians on the south side of the bridge.
“I want this project to go forward for safe sidewalks, safe bike lanes and safe crossing,” Recht said. “But we also need to find more parking to help the businesses, though the businesses also need to help themselves.”
Whether or not the street project moves forward, Recht and other members of the council expressed interest in finding a way to add more parking to the area south of the bridge.
Mayor Kathy Short interjected, however, stating the only way the city would be able to afford to add more parking would be through grants, which would take a significant amount of time to obtain, if they could even be obtained at all. If the city goes ahead with the project, there’s no guarantee more parking would ever be secured to replace what was lost.
Short punctuated that thought with another: the city may not even have the money required to proceed with the project.
“I don’t even know if we can afford this project that’s two blocks long. We have $571,000 in our checking account, and that means we have no contingencies for any cost overruns,” Short said. “If we have any problems over the course of this, it will be entirely on the city to pay for them. We really have to think it all the way through from the big picture all the way down. Can we afford something like this? It’s gone from $7 million to $2 million, but now if we get started, will we even be able to complete the project?”
Committee Chair Jerome Grant agreed, noting that when the slide was discovered, the entire project was thrown into disarray to try and compensate.
“The biggest thing of all is that slide. It changed everything. The cost of the project, the ability for us to digest it,” Grant said. “Before taking the slide into the bigger picture, everyone would have been happy with that original concept, but now that’s gone. ”
Grant added that if the original project had come to fruition, plenty of additional parking would have been added to compensate for the loss, and without that extra parking, it might not be wise to continue with the project.
“That $250,000, or whatever it is, is a small price to pay to avoid a bad decision,” Grant said.