Bend Parkway’s south end may drop below grade for later interchanges

Oregon’s Department of Transportation expects to spend up to $600,000 more on the $101 million Bend Parkway, now just a year from completion, to lower the grade of the southern, final segment and pave the way for later replacement of three traffic signals with interchanges, a top official said Wednesday.

“I think it’s likely,” said ODOT (http://www.odot.state.or.us) Region 4 Manager Bob Bryant. “I think it’s the right thing to do. Now is the right time to do it.” Bryant said the expected change order with Hap Taylor & Sons Construction in the next month or so won’t delay the scheduled November 2001 completion date for the nearly 10-year-old project, though it could mean the first bump-up of the total parkway cost since the early days of construction. (Final right-of-way costs are still being tallied as well.)

The details are still being worked out, but the current indication is that the parkway could be dropped about six to eight feet, on a stretch now planned at grade level south of Pinebrook Boulevard. Conceptual drawings have been drawn up before a “refinement study” is done to see what the design of such an interchange would look like, Bryant said.

Bryant said the city’s continued growth is not the key factor in determining why to spend extra dollars now and save more in the long run by lowering the parkway grade on the south end. “Design volumes are projected out for 20 years, and we have no reason to think the signals won’t accommodate the traffic volume for that period of time.”

“But locally and at the statewide level, I continue to hear questions, even today: Why did you put signals on the parkway?” he said. “We had five signals when we started and now we’re don to three. We’ve compounded that whole question.”

Bryant noted that much of the city’s growth, in terms of residential development, is happening on the south end, and a grade separation would allow for “better connectivity from the residential areas on the west side to the commercial areas on the east side of the parkway.” He noted the problem residents of such southern neighborhoods as Romaine Village already have in terms of entering Highway 97, especially turning left to go north.

Bryant calls it `too late’ to scrap remaining parkway signals

Couldn’t the signals be simply dropped now altogether? “It’s too late for that,” Bryant said. “As hard as I’ve tried, I couldn’t pull it together on the south end. … This has been a discussion for the last eight years. This is one of the last remaining issues before we are done. We can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I just think the time will come, sooner rather than later, when we’ll be asked to consider something different,” in terms of a grade-separated interchange or overpass, much like two other signal intersections were replaced with overpasses farther north. He said it’s like that the southern area originally planned at existing ground level would end up looking like the segment in north Bend between the Bend River Mall (Butler Market Road) and Empire Boulevard.

Bryant said the Oregon Transportation Commission will look at the issue at its January meeting, as he requests looking at “access management” funding to cover at least some of the costs. “Part of the idea around those programming dollars it to be able to address existing access to state highways. … All this provides an opportunity to provide better access for adjacent properties.

“It likely would be a substantial amount – several hundred thousand dollars, perhaps $500,000 or $600,000 to lower the grade,” Bryant said. “It would further mitigate the noise impact” in the Pinebrook area, where concrete “soundwalls” were not practical. The last signals left on the parkway are at Powers Road, Pinebrook Boulevard and the southern terminus of the parkway, where it meets up with the existing Highway 97/Third Street.

“We’ve done the same thing at Powers (Road), where we have a signalized intersection,” he said. “It’s low enough that at some point in the future, if we wanted to eliminate the signal, we could come in with a bridge without having to rebuild, tearing up the parkway. It’s kind of investing in the future, because there are increased costs in doing that.” The Pinebrook and south-end signals “are sort of tied together, like on the north end, (the lights scrapped at) Reed Market Road and Wilson Avenue kind of go as a pair. If you eliminate one, you eliminate both.”

Assistant City Manager Ron Garzini spoke briefly to the city council about the issue Wednesday night, noting that ODOT plans to study access alternatives, such as a frontage road south of Pinebrook Boulevard and extension of Murphy Road across the parkway and to the south, as shown on a map in the city’s new Transportation Systems Plan.

Garzini said the idea is to ensure the parkway’s safety and capacity while eventually eliminating the traffic signals. A public involvement program is planned as the “refinement plan” proceeds over the next 12 to 18 months.