A local effort is underway to get approval for use of ATVs on state highways in Grant County.

Senate Bill 344, introduced by Sen. Ted Ferrioli in 2017 and passed unanimously in the House and 29-1 in the Senate, allows the Oregon Transportation Commission to designate specific routes on state highways where ATVs could travel.

ATVs are currently allowed to cross state highways at an intersection or at a place more than 100 feet from any highway intersection. The goal of SB344 was to allow ATV riders to leave a trail at a highway and then travel on the highway a short distance to the start of another trail. Drafted by a work group made up of ATV users, vehicle dealers and the state Parks and Recreation and Transportation departments, the legislation allows a road authority to authorize ATV use within highway rights of way in counties with less than 20,000 people.

While many rural Oregon cities and counties adopted ordinances to allow ATV use on city and county roads, state highways typically serve as the main access road in rural communities.

The legislation established a seven-member All-Terrain Vehicle Access Routes Advisory Committee to review applications for routes. Six members are appointed by the state parks and recreation director, and one is appointed by state transportation director.

The John Day City Council gave its consensus support Dec. 11 to forming a working group with other nearby communities to identify proposed routes in Grant County and to consider a joint application for designation.

John Day City Manager Nick Green described a presentation by Ian Caldwell, an OPRD grants and community programs representative for central and Eastern Oregon, at the Nov. 21 meeting of the South East Area Commission on Transportation.

The purpose of the legislation is to promote tourism and local recreational uses by connecting towns with trails. Those goals align with the city’s overall economic development plans, Green said.

The Transportation Commission will consider road speeds, road width and traffic volume when reviewing applications. They will also consider whether to allow ATVs on the paved roadway, the shoulder or the highway rights-of-way in a designated route.

City Councilor Gregg Haberly said he’s been working on the legislation for about eight years. He noted that adjacent states have more lenient regulations for ATV use on state highways, and it’s already allowed in Oregon for agricultural uses.

“As long as they let bicycles, motorcycles and smart cars on highways, then they should allow ATVs too,” he said.

Changing the rules for ATVs will help the depressed economy in Grant County, Haberly said. His proposal is to allow ATVs to travel on state highways from John Day to Prairie City, Long Creek, Monument and Seneca.

The state advisory committee will conduct field reviews of routes proposed for designation and consult with the county courts or commissions, the sheriff’s offices, the land management agencies that provide ATV riding opportunities and city representatives where routes would exist.

A public meeting will be held by the advisory committee, and a report will be submitted to the Transportation Commission. The committee is currently working on its first application, one submitted for the Spinreel Dunes Access south of Reedsport.

The Grant County Court approved an ordinance in 2012 that allows Class I, II and IV ATVs to use all county roads, including two-lane gravel roads, under Grant County jurisdiction. That includes quads, three-wheelers, dune buggies, custom SUVs and side-by-side ATVs.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer brought the idea to the county court after checking with the county roadmaster. His proposal was enthusiastically received by the court.

The city of John Day was developing a similar ordinance at the same time. The city council approved allowing ATVs on city roads, except for Main Street and South Canyon Boulevard which are state highways, by a 4-1 vote, and the ordinance went into effect April 11, 2013.

Grant County Judge Scott Myers told the Eagle he would support proposed ATV routes on state highways if they are safe, closely monitored and opened in seasons with favorable weather. They also must be approved by the state so it’s their liability, he said.

Caldwell told the Eagle that Umatilla, Baker and Lake counties have approved similar ordinances to Grant County’s for ATV use.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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