Sears Road project prepares for community input

The project sought to cut 61 trees along Sears Road and widen lanes and shoulders.

Following months of rescheduling, a Sears Road Safety Project public meeting is set to take place July 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Cottage Grove Community Center.

The meeting will address a proposed tree-cutting and road-widening project on a stretch of Sears Road from Molitor Ranch Road southward to Row River Road.

The project was initiated by a $150,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant to improve safety and remove fixed objects along a Lane County road; Sears Road was chosen based on crash history and a cost-benefit analysis.

However, at a Lane County Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 12, residents of the rural road testified in opposition to the plan, convincing commissioners to vote to delay the project until a suitable compromise could be found.

“We’re trying to think of things where we could still utilize the grant money, but maybe have a more thoughtful process of how we spend that money and if the community has support for it,” said County Commissioner Heather Buch.

At issue for many residents is the proposed cutting of 61 trees along the stretch, which in some cases provide privacy or even protection from out-of-control vehicles.

“I don’t need a car at 55 miles an hour that loses control … come crashing through my yard and hitting one of my kids,” said resident Jim Poetzl at the Feb. 12 meeting.

A second phase of the proposed project would also widen the road with two 11-foot travel lanes and four-foot shoulders on both sides, a modification that many fear could lead to more frequent speeding and crashes due to a false perception of safety by drivers.

The July 29 public meeting is set to find solutions to these concerns. 

“We hope that we get a good crowd of interested folks so we can come up with a comprehensive, community-based solution,” said Buch.

Discussions with the grantors of the fund have hinted at the possibility of using the money in ways outside the original earmarks.

“Perhaps there’s some leeway there,” Buch said. “We’ll see what the community has as ideas and see what we could possibly fit in this grant application.”

Options have included reducing the amount of trees on the cut list or planting trees farther from the shoulder.

Buch, county representatives from the planning department and residents will be in attendance at the meeting. The format will give residents the opportunity to brainstorm in small groups with county officials to find solutions.

“I really want people to try to think outside the box [about] what we can do to improve their road that provides safety, but also aesthetics at the same time,” said Buch.

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