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Bend Bypass Needs Major Surgery 

Rapid growth has $120 million parkway clogged

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Date Published Oct. 6, 2005

J

ust four years after the Bend Parkway put the pedal to the metal the $120 million bypass needs major surgery to keep the economic heart of Central Oregon pumping at full throttle.

And our "medical insurance"—state funding that is—won't cover all the costs on this congested stretch of U.S. Highway 97.

Traffic on the north end of the parkway comes to a grinding halt with signals at Robal and Cooley Roads. Three signals on the south end result in screeching tires and accidents. Nerve-wracking, dead stop on-ramps and off-ramps test the skills of any NASCAR-racer wannabe. U.S. Highway 20 from the west doesn't even directly connect to the parkway. Want to head east on Highway 20 from the parkway? Good luck. Don't even mention the Reed Market nightmare. And does anybody pay attention to the 45-mile-per-hour speed limit?

Most everyone knows the gridlock on the north end of the roughly seven-mile-long parkway needs fixing, but the main solution—an interchange at Cooley Road—riles neighborhood associations, big box retailers and a bunch of other businesses.

Wal-Mart's planned supercenter at the northwest corner of Cooley and Highway 97 will add super traffic. Also, Bend's vision for a campus/research/industrial park at Juniper Ridge, northeast of Cooley/97, will place enormous demands on a failing transportation network while routing traffic through residential neighborhoods and past nearby schools.

The City of Bend and the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) are working with the county and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to solve this mess. But the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) hasn't given the green light for the approximately $20 million to $35 million Cooley Road interchange.

"The Bend Parkway has been a huge frustration for me," said Stuart Foster, chairman of the OTC, which oversees highway funding for state road projects. (He made the comment and the following ones at an August commission hearing in La Grande. The Source Weekly received a copy of the tape recording of the hearing.)

"Frankly ODOT didn't do a great service in designing what we got, which I assume was in close consultation with the community," Foster said. "Bend has failed, and the business community has failed in it. We have an egg on all our faces."

He particularly criticized the north end of the parkway.

"O

nce it was constructed, at least it appeared to me, nobody planned for what happens at the south end and at the north end; the parkway ended in a shopping center, which is still absolutely mind-boggling to me," he said. "You spend a 100 million bucks and we had the thing designed to end at a shopping center."

Apparently, that didn't help the Mountain View Mall; much of it was demolished and it's now being rebuilt as the Cascade Village Shopping Center. But it's the continued sprawl northward, zoned commercial for decades, that rankled another commission member in comments made in La Grande.

"Over the years, the land-use decisions that have been made and the investments that have been made by landowners adjacent to Highway 97 have done nothing but deteriorate the function of Highway 97," said Gail Achterman, who once lived in Central Oregon.

"It's almost as though someone had gone out with malice aforethought to say, 'North of where the parkway ends we're going to cause a mess,'" she added. "And that's exactly what's happened. I don't think anyone wanted to cause a mess, but it has gotten worse and worse and worse and worse because of our collective decisions and we simply can't tolerate it anymore."

After that blast, Achterman still hadn't finished unloading her frustrations on what has occurred in Central Oregon, the sixth-fastest growing area in the country, according to recent census figures.

"Twenty years from now, Bend and Redmond could very easily look like the difference between Portland and Beaverton, which means there is no difference," she said. "And I think that would be a great tragedy."

So the commission, heeding the call of several leaders of the neighborhood associations who testified in La Grande, is asking local officials for a "refinement plan," which is already in the works, to be completed before the dollars are doled out. The commission's main focus is the area between Cooley Road and the Highway 20/97 junction. Also, it requests, "extending the parkway from its northern terminus to Bend's urban growth boundary."

The conditional approval also states that "the refinement plan include land-use actions and transportation facility designs and financing needed to implement the plan."

So far, the state is willing to commit $15 million to the project, with local entities adding $5 million and possibly $2.5 million more, according to Peter Russell, a senior planner with ODOT in Bend. He noted, though, that these figures are "squishy" at this point.

If the project nears the high end, or $35 million mark, additional funding could become an issue with the OTC. Russell said, "If we don't have enough money, we'll have to go back and reassess the plan."

T

he plan, so far, has stirred intense reactions among neighborhood associations in the area, whose members fear that a "grade-separated interchange" at Cooley Road would forever mar the nature of their neighborhoods, particularly with the Juniper Ridge development looming on the horizon.

"This project, as proposed, is in the wrong place and the wrong solution," said Connie Kennard, chair of the Boyd Acres Neighborhood Association (BANA, in her testimony La Grande.)

Kennard's group is aligned with two others: the Mountain View Neighborhood Association (MVNA) and the Hunnell United Neighbors (HUNS), which represents landowners between Highways 20 and 97 and north of Cooley Road.

"Instead of neighborhoods disrupted with heavy traffic, noise and air pollution, Bend needs a comprehensive plan for traffic coming to and through Bend," testified Jeanne Newton, chairwoman of the MVNA.

An improved Cooley Road will handle the traffic from Juniper Ridge for the first 10 years of the project, which could begin in 12 months to 18 months, said Bend Mayor Bill Friedman, the chief cheerleader for Juniper Ridge.

Businesses fear the highway modifications will mean a loss of access to their establishments, and hence a loss of income. If the interchange were built at Cooley Road it would require the signal at Robal to be removed, since that intersection is too close to Cooley for ODOT standards. The only access to Food 4 Less, at the south end of the so-called "Golden Triangle," would be via Cooley Road.

JRH Transportation Engineering of Eugene represents Home Depot, the Pape Properties, Inc., the Bend Center, the Cascade Village Shopping Center and other commercial interests located in the Golden Triangle. Larry Reed, representing JRH, testified in La Grande that "JRH's clients are strongly objecting to OTC taking any action that leads to elimination of the signalized intersection of Highway 97 and Robal Road."

Reed told commissioners that if the Cooley Road interchange is a "done deal," it should expand the scope of the project to include "a complete access frontage road system" to be completed before construction of the interchange.

click to enlarge SOURCE WEEKLY COVER FEATURING TALKS ABOUT THE BEND PARKWAY
  • Source Weekly Cover Featuring talks about the Bend Parkway

The inherent conflict is that ODOT and the OTC want to move traffic safely, quickly and efficiently through Bend by the elimination of all five signals along Highway 97. But at the same time the highway also has to accommodate local traffic. Businesses and surrounding neighborhoods are understandably nervous about any change to the status quo.

Something's got to give.

ODOT's numbers for parkway volumes show the north end to be the busiest. In 2004, there were 34,800 average daily trips next to the Golden Triangle. That number is expected to jump to 53,100 by 2024, according to figures supplied by Joel McCarroll, ODOT's regional traffic manager in Bend.

Russell said local governmental entities, along with ODOT's transportation consultants, Kittelson & Associates Inc., are looking at "other treatments other than a grade-separation interchange and [trying to] determine how long they would last."

These treatments could include "jug-handle" on-ramps and off-ramps, "taking left turns out" and making it more like Powers Road on the parkway's southern section.

Russell noted that roadway interconnections develop in an "evolutionary" way, from road widening to adding stop signs, then signals, and then dedicated left-turn lanes.

"At some time, we'll have to do something like a grade-separation interchange," he said.

To the commission, the mayor of Bend and countless frustrated drivers, that time has come.

"If we continue to funnel traffic through that area, you have to build an interchange," Friedman said. "There's no other option."

But the Cooley Road controversy is a small issue compared to the Highway 97/20 realignment schemes currently in the "refinement plan."

Of the three plans, the one favored least, according to Sonia Hennum, a senior engineer at Kittelson in Boise, ID, would leave highways 20 and 97 as they are, but add overpasses/underpasses or interchanges eastbound Highway 20 with the parkway.

The realignment favored by businesses and most neighborhood groups is one that routes Highway 97 to Highway 20, according to Mike Schmidt, president and CEO of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, which is facilitating discussions among the various stakeholders. Under this plan, Highway 97 would then split off from Highway 20 north of the Golden Triangle and reconnect with Highway 97, providing a central access point to Juniper Ridge. Deschutes Junction would be the third entrance to Juniper Ridge.

The new, "dormant" section of Highway 97, adjacent to the shopping centers, would be rechristened "Business 97" and be under local control, much as Third Street is now. The advantage to this scheme is that, theoretically, it would separate local traffic from through traffic.

The plan favored by government entities, according to Russell and Hennum, would realign Highway 20 over to Highway 97 well north of Cooley Road. The "dormant" section of Highway 20 between the current junction with Highway 97 and the realignment would then become a city street.

The advantage of this plan, supporters say, is twofold. The new interchange at Highway 97 could double as a central access point to Juniper Ridge, something that some neighborhood associations want, and be part of a future loop around Bend connecting to Highway 20 east. This would also solve the lack of connections between Highway 20 and the parkway at Greenwood Avenue.

All three alternatives show an interchange at Cooley Road.

"I

f we're not careful, we're going to be building the bypass to the bypass to bypass in Bend," said Foster of the OTC.

The cost of realigning either Highway 20 or Highway 97 is not in the current budget being discussed for the Cooley Road interchange, Russell said. The cost of highway realignment, or bypassing the bypass, along with $20 million to $35 million for the Cooley Road project, could possibly match the $120 spent, in state and local dollars, on the parkway.

Foster is pessimistic about this prospect.

"We're right at the point of a train wreck there," he said in La Grande. "If it cost $100 million to solve the Third Street problem, if we don't get a handle on this right now, it's going to cost a half-billion to solve the parkway problem."

Today's parkway problems were not unforseen a decade ago. Indeed, due to inadequate funding, compromises were made then that have come home to roost. It could have been worse: Initially five signals were planned on the south end, but developers and the city managed to eliminate two of them with overpasses at Wilson Avenue and Reed Market Road.

click to enlarge SOURCE WEEKLY COVER FROM 2005
  • Source Weekly cover from 2005

On the southern section, the Murphy Road Crossing plan is proceeding with little of the rancor surrounding the north end. The plan calls for a realignment of Murphy Road south of the Arco station and Pinebrook Plaza before it crosses over the parkway into a new mixed-use zone. The current parkway intersection at Pinebrook Boulevard would be eliminated.

Friedman, who also is chairman of the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization, is fully aware of the parkway's shortcomings.

"We knew we were stopping short on south and north ends," he said. "But we didn't have the funds to have anything else. If you look at Redmond and their bypass [east of downtown], it's stopping short of where it should stop. It's a consequence of available cash. These things tend to be built with less of the future in mind."

Friedman has been accused by neighborhood associations of fast-tracking the interchange at Cooley Road because of his involvement with Juniper Ridge. He rejects their claims that the public has been excluded from the process, citing well-attended public meetings about Juniper Ridge held at Lava Ridge Elementary, which is on Cooley Road.

"Do people feel included if it's not going the way they prefer? No," he said.

Yet the testimony of Kennard and others in La Grande, which is roughly 300 miles from Bend, surprised transportation commissioners. THis suggests that the process was not fully open to the public.

The neighborhood associations testified that their complaints were ignored by the Bend MPO and that no citizen advisory committee had been formed. Schmidt wrote to the mayor in late August urging him to form advisory panels, specifically a citizens' advisory committee, which the Bend MPO policy allows for.

Friedman did say that a citizens' advisory committee is being formed, explaining that it "has been premature for us before now because we didn't have anything to plan."

"It has been on our agenda," he added. "Now is the right time to do it, and we're delighted to have people help us put together an advisory committee."

Meanwhile that $3 gallon of gas gets wasted in traffic jams that won't ease up anytime soon, particularly when heavy Interstate 5 traffic gets rerouted through Bend in the coming months due to major bridge work on I-5. Even the OTC's Achterman inadvertently referred to Highway 97 as "I-97" at the hearing in La Grande.

The refinement plan probably won't be finished until the end of the year, said Hennum, the Kittelson engineer, with one and possibly two public hearings before then. The OTC could still approve funding for the 2007-'09 biennium, which means the traffic mess on Bend's north end probably won't be solved for at least five years.


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