FLORENCE, Ore. -- With temperatures skyrocketing in Eugene, many people escape to the coast to beat the heat, and the millions they spend in Florence keep the coastal community thriving, fueling jobs and much-needed roadwork.
With the average high temperature in July not even hitting 70 degrees, it's no wonder tourists flock to Florence during the summer months. Local tourism officials say they see roughly 1,400 people come through the doors of their visitor center every year.
"It seems a little quieter than Newport or some of the larger cities,” tourist Merle Hood said. “Everybody is friendly, and we've been blessed with awesome weather this weekend -- great sunset last night."
According to a recent report, tourists spent $136.9 million in western Lane County in 2017 alone. That money supports over 1,900 jobs in the area, and officials with the Florence Area of Chamber of Commerce are expecting more visitors this year.
“Our tourist business has just increased dramatically,” Florence Mayor Joe Henry said. “Sometimes on nice weekends, it's hard to find a place in town.”
But getting to Florence can be a dangerous trip, especially from Eugene on Highway 126. Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich said one time they saw ten fatal crashes on Highway 126 between Florence and Eugene in a single year. Since then, Bozievich said they’ve made numerous safety improvements but said their job is not done yet.
“We got a large project to try to improve the highway between Veneta and Eugene to widen it across that causeway,” Bozievich said.
Roadwork is also being done to attract even more tourists. Starting in early August, crews will be doing a major streetscaping project on a section of highways 101 and 126 near Old Town Florence. The $7 million project is being funded through the Florence Urban Renewal Agency Tax Increment, ODOT funds, City funds, and County room tax. The County has dedicated $1.2 million in room taxes.
“There is going to be lamp posts and benches and (Americans with Disabilities Act) sidewalks and banners, and it's going to be beautiful,” said Bettina Hannigan of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce.
Construction on that project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019.