ODOT to pursue plan for rest stop

State transportation officials will not appeal a court decision that at least temporarily blocks their plans to build a freeway welcome center near Ashland, but will pursue another legal avenue to supply water for the proposed rest stop.

Art Anderson, area manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said ODOT still will try to tap into Ashland's water supply to receive about 2,400 gallons a day for the proposed rest area and welcome center.

The rest stop would be located on an 18-acre property at milepost 12.5 on Interstate 5, south of Crowson Road on rural land just outside of Ashland. But plans for the project have been stalled by a lack of water for the site.

The state Court of Appeals recently upheld an earlier decision by the Land Use Board of Appeals that found ODOT had failed to meet state land use law in pursuing a water connection. The court said the process was not adequate to override a statewide rule that makes it difficult for local governments to extend water service outside their boundaries.

The proposed facility, which could cost up to $6.5 million, would use roughly the same amount of water as the Suncrest rest area in Talent.

The 2,400 gallons is equivalent to the amount used by 6.4 households. Additional water to establish native vegetation at the Ashland site would be provided through storm runoff reservoirs.

ODOT wanted to tie into Ashland's water line without going through the process mandated by state land-use laws, but will now do so.

Neighbors have objected to the rest stop on a number of grounds, saying it would increase noise and create safety issues by attracting undesirable elements. They also say the cost cannot be justified and that travelers no longer rely on rest stops as information centers.

"This is a dumb idea," said Allen Baker, a neighbor who has been an outspoken critic of the proposal. "It's just crazy the amount of dollars needed to spend on this."

ODOT said the facility is needed for safety reasons, noting it replaced a safety rest area shut down on the Siskiyou Pass in 1997.

Anderson said ODOT has discussed many of the objections raised by neighbors.

"We've bent over backwards in the things we've done to meet their concerns," he said.

Baker said ODOT has done nothing for the neighbors.

"They didn't change one line on the drawing."

He said neighbors will take their case to transportation officials at the state level.

Anderson said ODOT has shown noise levels won't go up, the access to the area is fenced off and an office will be provided for the Oregon State Police, which should enhance security.

Anderson said it could be many months before ODOT completes the public process to tap into the city water supply and, if approved, could take another year and a half before work begins.

The rest stop would have on- and off-ramps for I-5 motorists heading north. In addition to rest rooms and landscaping, the site would also include a $2 million lodge-style welcome center that would be funded separately through the state's tourism arm.

Damian Mann is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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