The long-awaited rest area on Interstate 5 just south of Crowson Road is finally ready for construction to start, 17 years after funding was first secured and a decade after the project was expanded to include a welcome center. The budget for the Siskiyou Welcome Center and Rest Area is now $12 million, up from the original $3.5 million price tag, and completion is now expected early in 2019.
It might be tempting to blame the Oregon Department of Transportation for a bureaucratic boondoggle, but that wouldn't be fair. Many factors beyond ODOT's control combined to bring the project to its present state, and the new budget is not unreasonable.
The story of the rest area began with the closure of the old one, just north of the Siskiyou Summit, in 1996. Its location on a steep downgrade made it unsafe. At the time, that rest area and welcome center saw 78,000 visits a year, which plummeted after a temporary welcome center opened, tucked away off Valley View Road.
When a combined rest area and welcome center was proposed in 2008, neighbors a half-mile away objected, citing concerns over noise, crime and safety. ODOT responded with modifications: no trucks, shielded lighting, chain-link fencing topped with barbed wire and an Oregon State Police substation on-site.
Construction costs tend to rise over time, and five years of court battles helped add to the total.
Final construction should start this spring. After nearly 20 years, it's not a moment too soon.