PENDLETON - Perhaps a stoplight is all that's needed to solve the problem of cars trying to turn left from the eastbound exit off Interstate 84 onto Southgate.
George Ruby, Oregon Department of Transportation district manager, said the agency's designers are proposing a traffic light for the intersection the agency considers one of Pendleton's most dangerous.
The idea came from local citizens led by George Bonbright, who voiced concerns about ODOT's initial plan for Exit 209. Bonbright said he recently received a call from Tim Ryhearson, ODOT Region 5 project leader, who said that after reviewing the situation for several months a stoplight might work.
"I think that's very nice they finally agreed to work with the city because it's going to affect us," Bonbright said.
ODOT unveiled its initial plan at a public meeting in October. That plan removed a left turn option from Exit 209 onto Southgate and directed traffic to turn right. If motorists wanted to then drive downtown they would have to again turn right and take a short "jug handle" to Southwest Hailey Avenue. Then drivers would follow Southwest Hailey to the stoplighted intersection at Southgate and turn left.
ODOT and the city have been working on a project for the intersection since 2001. ODOT's proposal had a preliminary cost of $800,000. Ryhearson said the intersection was the No. 1 spot in Pendleton for traffic accidents and that was what prompted the proposal.
But Bonbright and other opponents of the plan argued it wasn't good for several reasons, including the difficulty motorists would encounter to reach the downtown core.
And they stressed there was a simple solution: a stoplight.
In October, ODOT and city officials said a stoplight wasn't an option because it would cause further traffic back-ups along the thoroughfare.
But in spite of it's original stance, ODOT listened. ODOT Spokesman Tom Strandberg said designers now think adding another light along Southgate would work because the lights can be synchronized to avoid problems.
Bonbright said that when it comes to government, citizens should take action or speak out on issues, otherwise "they're a done deal."
Ruby said the feedback ODOT received at that meeting is partly responsible for re-evaluating what to do at the intersection and formal plans should available in a couple of months.
Until then, ODOT will hold a public meeting to discuss the stoplight idea at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the ODOT District Office at 1327 S.E. Third St. in Pendleton.