Plaque honoring H.C. pioneer given to Ron Whiting

Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

OTC Chair Pat Egan (right) presents plaque, honoring Susan Dixon Whiting, to Ron Whiting of Burns. (Submitted photo)

OTC Chair Pat Egan (right) presents plaque, honoring Susan Dixon Whiting, to Ron Whiting of Burns. (Submitted photo)

The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) met at the Harney County Community Center in Burns  for its formal monthly meeting Aug. 20-21.

On Aug. 20, the commission met with members of the South East Area Commission on Transportation (SEACT) to discuss the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and approve the group’s updated charter and biennial report.

On Aug. 21, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Matt Garrett told the commission that the projects ODOT works on affect people’s lives.

He then told the story of Susan Dixon Whiting, the daughter of a Harney County pioneer family who grew up next to the “Poison Creek Bridge” on Highway 20, a few miles east of Burns. Garrett said Whiting was interested in public events and was described as an “honored and A-1 citizen.” She was the first person to cross the bridge upon its completion, and later saw the completion of Highway 20.

In her honor, the State Highway Commission placed a plaque, with her name on it, on the bridge.

In the 1960s, the bridge was replaced and a new one put in, but the plaque was put in storage.

OTC Chair Pat Egan then presented the plaque to Ron Whiting of Burns, one of Susan Dixon Whiting’s descendants, for safekeeping.

Garrett also announced ODOT recently named the activity-fitness room in its headquarters building in Salem the Les Brodie Activity Room in honor of their former chief financial officer who passed away Aug. 13.

During the public comment period, Burns Paiute tribal member Kenton Dick thanked ODOT and OTC for funding the tribe has received for several projects, including the rural transit program.

Discussion then turned to the 2015-2018 STIP.

Beginning in the summer of 2012, the STIP was divided into two broad categories, “Enhance” and “Fix-it,” instead of as a collection of projects for specific pools of funding dedicated to specific transportation modes or specialty programs.

The “Enhance” category includes activities that enhance, expand or improve the transportation system.
The “Fix-it” category is for activities that fix or preserve the transportation system.

The funding is an 80/20 split between the two categories, with the “Fix-it” activities getting the majority of funds.

Highway Division Administrator Paul Mather said the funding for the 2015-2018 STIP is still an unknown amount, so they are trying to establish project lists using their best estimates.

The commission discussed the development of a project list to use the 20 percent of “Enhance” funds, approximately $42 million. Mather said ideas included using the funds to augment the lists agreed on by the various ACTs around the state; using the funds for preliminary engineering on projects to get them ready to go; or using the funds for projects around the state to be selected by the OTC.

Commissioner Mary Olson stated her priority was getting the projects ready. “When the opportunity comes, we have to be ready,” she said.

Commissioner Tammy Baney suggested that the money could be used for preservation in smaller communities. She added that there might also be the possibilty of matching funds from other entities for economic development.

The commission agreed that the ACTs succeeded in coming up with lists of projects that met their expected funding, so maybe they should lean away from using any of the “Enhance” funds to bolster those lists.

No decision was made, and the OTC will continue to look at the best way to use the funds.

The commission approved amending Oregon Highway Plan Policy 1C and map regarding freight routes and vehicle-carrying capacity.

The vote came on the recommendation of the Freight Route Advisory Committee, made up of various stakeholders that would be affected by the decision.

It was agreed that maintaining freight routes in the state was important to the economy, but sometimes reducing weight limits is necessary in some areas.

Garrett praised the committee for bringing all groups together to have a say and work together before any decision was made. “Get all the stakeholders at the table and everyone wins,” Garrett said.

The next OTC meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18-19 in Ashland.

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