Stoplight turned on in the Heights

First pedestrians cross, cars stop at improved crossing

Honking horns, cheers and applause accompanied the first official pedestrian crossing on Monday at the new traffic stoplight in the Heights.

Even the threat of rain and a brisk wind didn’t dampen the festive mood as Down Manor resident Jessie Short led the group of state, county and city officials on the walk across 12th Street, also known as Highway 281, at the Eliot and Brookside intersection. She was joined by Dollie Rasmussen and Sharon Wilson, who spearheaded a grassroots fundraising drive toward the $237,000 signal.

But the somber undertone at the event was that the safe crossing had become a driving goal for community members and officials after two Down Manor residents were killed while attempting to cross the four lane roadway in May of 2000. Lynn Rasmussen, Dollie’s father-in-law, and Viola Briggs were memorialized at the Completion Ceremony. They were hit by motorists and died in separate accidents a week apart at the marked crossing near the Hood River Shopping Center, just north of the new signal.

“You came together after those tragedies and I think that’s what really makes a community,” said Oregon Department of Transportation Region 1 Manager Kay Van Sickel at the Dec. 16 event.

Her remarks acknowledged the strong feeling of community that swept through the crowd as they watched ODOT engineers flip the switch to turn on the red, yellow and green lights. After more than two years of working together, the private/public partnership had made the dream of a safe crossing a reality in spite of daunting odds. The grassroots movement headed by Rasmussen had raised $50,000 toward the project, followed by a matching contribution from Hood River County and the remainder paid for with Oregon Transportation Investment Act dollars.

“I really don’t think we can say enough good things about this unique project,” said Van Sickle.

Next summer ODOT will install another traffic signal on 12th and Pacific, a $220,000 project that is expected to be completed by early fall 2003. The transportation agency has left the crosswalk where the two deadly accidents occurred in place as an alternate walkway. However, the largest legally allowable “Pedestrian Crossing” signs have been installed to warn drivers to exercise caution. The speed limit through that section of the Heights has also been lowered from 35 to 25 miles per hour.

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