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The struggles of developing along Highway 101

Wendy's and Panda Express pose unique traffic headaches

Cars queue up on Ensign Lane at the intersection with Highway 101. (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, November 22, 2018

New construction along Highway 101 can be a mixed bag.

Arguably, it’s the best place for large commercial developments, but everything that goes in has the potential to disrupt traffic patterns and contribute to collisions.

With a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant set to break ground, a farm store proposed off Marlin Avenue and more high-tech and commercial projects headed to the North Coast Business Park, it’s a busy time for city planners.

And city rules that have been in place for decades don’t always have the teeth or depth needed to govern every situation.

On Nov. 8, city commissioners and planning commissioners held a joint meeting that included a discussion on ways to prevent problems like those expected when Wendy’s opens its drive-through.

“This is one of those cases that we learned there was a hole in the law,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

In Warrenton’s development code, “there are no categories whatsoever for drive-throughs,” said Kevin Cronin, who took on the community development director role earlier this year. It flabbergasted me when I first started working here.”

While Taco Bell went in without much of a hitch, Panda Express and, soon, Wendy’s present glaring traffic headaches at Ensign Lane and Highway 101, the busiest intersection in town, Cronin said. “If everyone’s getting a frosty at the same time, can you imagine the backup?”

Wendy’s development plans never received a public hearing, something required only of projects larger than 10,000 square feet.

“It’s an inherently badly designed intersection,” Cronin said, “and trying to triage that is going to be a challenge.”

Ken Shonkwiler, a senior transportation planner for Oregon Department of Transportation, said one of his agency’s missions is to prevent additional intersections with principle arterials, such as Highway 101. It’s why Alternate Highway 101 at Ocean Crest is a “right-turn-only” connection and Dolphin Road was blocked off when the Warrenton Highlands shopping center opened.

“The more breaks you have close together, your crash rate goes way up,” Shonkwiler said. “Adding another access is not a safe solution.”

After more than an hour of discussions, the group directed Cronin to develop changes to city codes that deal with road standards, traffic flow, drive-through restaurants and projects that would be considered conditional uses.

All of the recommendations would come back to commissioners for further discussion, public comments and potential adoption.

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