Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parking lot parkway

It appears the state transportation department has settled on a re-route of Highway 97 on Bend's north end to ease the ridiculous gridlock.

It's only taken six years to get to this point. It may take another six years just to start construction, which would take a couple of years, at least.

In the meantime, the city is poised to add more congestion to the area by no-doubt fast-tracking a new Wal-Mart super center at the Cooley-Hwy.97 intersection. Plus, the city will likely give away more land to companies to move into Juniper Ridge, the so-called Shangri-La of business parks, also on Cooley Road.

The state, though, just wants a safe, efficient road that doesn't create another parking lot of traffic. Businesses, and the city, want the opposite. Businesses prefer gridlock because it means more business. This is the cause of the 7-mile eyesore known as Third Street in Bend.

The city will do what businesses want because they believe they'll get more tax revenue. This thinking has failed to work because the city faces more than a $20 million shortfall paying for basic services like police and fire departments.

The state had to come in and put a moratorium on business growth on the north end of Bend. The transportation commission all but called for it five years ago.

“The Bend Parkway has been a huge frustration for me,” said Stuart Foster, former chairman of the OTC, which oversees highway funding for state road projects. He made these comments at an August 2005 commission hearing in La Grande. (I have a tape 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 egg on all our faces.”

He particularly criticized the north end of the parkway.

“Once 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 added. “You spend a 100 million bucks and we had the thing designed to end at a shopping center.”

Someday, ODOT hopes that Highway 97 from the boarders of Washington to California is a four-lane interstate freeway. At the pace it's going, next century might be too soon. Still, it's what communities all along the route must realize: either an unobstructed highway goes through your town or it goes around it.

No longer will businesses in communities along the route be able to hold the public safety hostage. In Bend, a handful of businesses will have to move. Some will go out of business. This is the price of progress. Is one life lost on the parkway worth one business? Is it worth more? Is it worth less?

Hopefully, ODOT will keep the lid on future growth that makes Highway 97 less safe, because the city of Bend is incapable of maintaining safe roadways.

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