Editorial: Don’t drop expressway designation

Published Jan 30, 2013 at 04:00AM

Relative newcomers to Bend do not remember life before the parkway, which replaced Third Street as the main thoroughfare through the city in 2001. They’re lucky; people may now forget how long a late Friday afternoon trip from downtown Bend to the intersection of U.S. 97 and Cooley Road on the north, a trip of less than two miles, used to take.

Then, in late August 2001, the Parkway opened. It provided a freeway-like drive through the city. At the same time, the state designated the remaining highway from Nels Anderson Road to the urban growth boundary an expressway, a move that, among other things, limited new access to it on the north end of the city. That latter decision has been contentious ever since.

In fact, Bend’s City Council will consider asking the state to drop the expressway designation north of Nels Anderson when it meets tonight.

Don’t drop the designation.

The expressway designation is an important one, according to Peter Murphy, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Region 4 public information officer. The federal government, which provides a chunk of the money available for highways in this state, considers expressways the most important highways in its system, short of interstates.

Robert Bryant, ODOT Region 4 manager, said lowering the designation makes it more difficult to get money for improvements on the road. He said ODOT also owns the property along the road, paid public money for it and would need to go through a state process to get a market price for it, before anyone could install a new driveway.

Then there’s this: If the Parkway has cut traffic on the old Highway 97 (Third Street) through the city, the expressway designation on the current highway north of Nels Anderson has helped to keep cars moving smoothly through that congested area by allowing access in only a few places. That doesn’t set well with merchants, though drivers in the area no doubt appreciate it.

City officials like to cast the request for the change in terms of fairness and the future. Someday, they note, perhaps 20 years from now, U.S. 97 is likely to move east, closer to the railroad tracks. At that point, presumably, it won’t matter how much access there is to the current highway. As for fairness, there is no expressway designation of the highway in Redmond, Madras or Terrebonne, they argue. Nor, we’d point out, is any of those communities a city of nearly 78,000 residents and goodness knows how many cars.

Twenty years, or 18 or even 10, is a long time to stall traffic in the name of fairness, it seems to us. City councilors should do the right thing and not ask ODOT to drop the expressway designation. If they persist, the state should deny the request.