If you build it, will they come?

That is the question Ashland City Councilors have asked about a park-and-ride lot planned for land at the intersection of Highway 99 and Valley View Road, near Exit 19.

The lot will be near the building that once housed Mr. C's Market.

Workers who commute into Ashland could park in the lot and then catch Rogue Valley Transportation District busses that drive past the site on their routes into town. With 25 to 30 spaces for vehicles, the park-and-ride could ease parking congestion downtown, around Ashland Community Hospital and in other trouble spots &

but only if people actually use it.

On Feb. 19, a City Council majority gave its approval for city officials to work with Jackson County and RVTD on the project.

Jackson County plans to buy land in the area for a future road and bridge project, and will donate a leftover parcel for the parking lot. However, the property's owner has concerns about the purchase.

The federal government earmarked $395,000 for construction after being lobbied for the money by the Ashland United Front, made up of Ashland Community Hospital, the Ashland School District, Southern Oregon University, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the city of Ashland and Community Works representatives. The city of Ashland could contribute up to $30,000.

Mary Pat Parker, director of marketing and public relations for the chamber, said Ashland needs to address parking congestion, which worsens during the peak tourist season. Downtown employees park further and further away from their jobs in the summer.

"I lived in the Railroad District. You could really tell. The park-and-ride would ease congestion in neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core," Parker said.

The chamber and employers will have to educate workers about using the park-and-ride, she said.

Several City Councilors said they're not sure if people will make the effort to park at the lot and take a bus into town, rather than searching for a parking spot in Ashland.

"I want to make sure this is something that's going to be used and not laughed at," said Councilor Cate Hartzell, who ultimately voted to move forward on the project.

Councilor Alice Hardesty voted for the project as well despite reading a study that park-and-rides only work when parking is very limited and/or very expensive &

conditions that don't yet apply to Ashland. She also worried the lot could end up being essentially government-subsidized parking for any future commercial development in the area.

Initially, the parking lot may not see much use, Councilor Russ Silbiger said.

"I think in five or 10 years is when it's really going to be necessary &

and I could make a case it could be needed this summer," said Silbiger, who also voted in favor of the project.

Jackson County must still buy land near the intersection from Gerry Lehrburger, who has a number of concerns.

He said a culvert that carries rainwater off the site is already too small, and a paved lot could increase run-off. The specter of losing nearly $400,000 in federal funds could also be pushing the project forward before his questions about the best overall use of the land are explored.

"The cart driving the horse is the federal money," he said.

Jackson County plans to buy land in the area anyway for a 2013 project to extend Valley View Road and connect it to West Jackson Road. Valley View bridge, which meets Highway 99 at a slanted angle that is difficult for trucks to negotiate, will also be replaced with a new bridge slightly to the north that will face the highway straight on.

County officials will hire an appraiser and make an offer to Lehrburger for his land. Negotiations will begin 40 days later. Lehrburger can hire his own appraiser or request a different appraiser accepted by both sides. If he and the county cannot agree on a price, the next step could be arbitration and mediation. Only as a last resort will the county invoke eminent domain, under which a court would set the price, according to Jackson County Engineer Dale Petrasek.

Along with Hartzell, Hardesty and Silbiger, Councilor Kate Jackson voted for the project.

"If we don't step out there and take risks, we will be right where we are now in 10 years," Jackson said.

Councilors Eric Navickas and David Chapman voted against the project.

Navickas said he supports mass transit and park-and-rides, but doesn't believe Jackson County had done enough to work with the property owner and avoid the possibility of using eminent domain.

Chapman said he "detests" federal earmarks.

Earmarks are known as "pork barrel spending" among people who criticize using federal money on special local projects.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .