The Oregon Department of Transportation has a sometimes earned reputation for giving communities projects whether the communities want them or not. That's not the case with a proposed state welcome center that would be on Interstate 5 immediately before Ashland's main freeway interchange.

The welcome center has been welcomed by civic and business leaders in the city and ODOT has made notable efforts to include the public in the process. Not everyone is happy, of course, as a group of neighbors of the proposed site has raised a list of concerns.

But from where we sit, the welcome center should be a good thing for Ashland, for the state and for travelers. And we are hard-pressed to see how the neighbors will be adversely affected by the project.

The welcome center would provide a rest area and an information area for travelers entering the state from the south. It replaces a previous site that was considered dangerous because of its location on the slope of the Siskiyou Pass. An interim site in Ashland currently draws scant traffic at its out-of-the-way site.

Ashland stands to benefit perhaps more than most from the center, which will provide a starting point for the some of the $340 million that tourism pumps into Southern Oregon. Our city, which thrives on tourism, sits on the state's main thoroughfare but currently has little visible outreach to draw those drivers in. The welcome center will change that.

We understand the neighbors' concern: We all would like to protect our views and our sense of security. But we're not convinced that they've made the case that either will be seriously threatened and, beyond that, the value the center would bring to the region and state should outweigh the modest inconvenience. It's also worth noting that these "neighbors" are hundreds of yards or more from the site, so it's not as if a project is being built on the other side of their backyard fence.

In its process, ODOT reached out to opponents, and after hearing their concerns agreed to, among other things, prohibit trucks from the site and make the lighting less extrusive. Other concerns, such as fears that trucks coming off the pass will be a threat to traffic merging onto the freeway, seem a real stretch.

The former welcome center on the hillside saw an estimated 80,000 visitors per year before it was closed. The current site gets about 12,000. Estimates for the new site put the visitor total at more than 580,000 annually. That's a big number for a state that is increasingly recognizing the value of tourism and an even bigger number for a city that knows that value all too well.