The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled recently that transportation officials cannot sidestep state rules by extending city water to a proposed Ashland welcome center.

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled recently that transportation officials cannot sidestep state rules by extending city water to a proposed Ashland welcome center.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has proposed an 18-acre rest stop and welcome center at milepost 12.5, south of Crowson Road on rural land just outside Ashland.

Neighbors cried foul, saying ODOT was trying to circumvent state planning law, specifically Goal 11, which makes it difficult for local governments to extend water service outside their boundaries.

Gail Zaro, one of the neighbors opposed to the welcome center, cheered the ruling.

"I think ODOT is barking up the wrong tree right now," the 73-year-old said. "I don't see why they are going up against all this protest."

She believes welcome centers aren't as necessary as they used to be and described the project as a waste of money. ODOT estimates the cost of the rest stop at up to $6.5 million.

ODOT has been working on a new welcome center since the old one, located near Siskiyou Summit, closed because of safety concerns.

The new center would have freeway on- and off-ramps for travelers heading north on Interstate 5. In addition to rest rooms and landscaping, the site would include a $2 million lodge-style building funded separately by Travel Oregon and the Oregon Travel Information Council. No trucks would be allowed at the site.

The center would require both water and sewer service from the city of Ashland.

Jackson County commissioners, wading through 4,000 pages of documents related to the project, approved it in 2009 despite opposition from neighbors.

The Nov. 24 Court of Appeals ruling upholds an earlier decision by the state Land Use Board of Appeals. ODOT could appeal the latest ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Neighbors near the Oak Knoll Golf Course have banded together to raise objections, saying the center would generate noise, increase crime and pose a safety hazard.

ODOT spokesman Jared Castle said ODOT will consider its options at a meeting today.

"We haven't had an opportunity for our team to come together to discuss it," he said.

Damian Mann is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.