La Pine, like Bend, Redmond and Madras, sits on both sides of U.S. Highway 97. Unlike its larger cousins, however, there’s no traffic light in La Pine to make it easier and safer to move from one side of the highway to the other. A bill before the Oregon Legislature would help make that happen.
House Bill 3130, sponsored by Reps. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, and Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, would give counties the ability to tap into their Industrial Development Revolving Funds to finance a portion of the cost of traffic signals, including one at the intersection of the highway and First Street in La Pine.
It’s a sensible change.
In La Pine’s case, the light would make the city’s industrial park easier to reach from both the highway and the west side of town. Currently about 6,000 vehicles drive through the intersection daily. Without a light, new business cannot locate at the park because it would mean added traffic for an already busy intersection. It’s that problem that makes it reasonable to use county industrial development funds for the light.
The light would make the intersection safer, as well, industry or no. There were four collisions at the intersection in 2010, and 25 were reported in a recent 10-year period. Twenty-eight injuries resulted from those collisions. All three La Pine schools lie on the northwest side of the city, and the First Street-97 intersection is the closest highway crossing point for cars, buses and pedestrians. A light would make navigating the intersection safer for all three groups.
Deschutes County asked Whisnant and McLane to introduce the legislation and Commissioner Alan Unger argues that it makes sense to use county, not city, funds for the project because the city is so small and so new. The city could be asked to contribute, however.
La Pine would not be the only community to benefit from the change. Street lights are expensive, but they can be critical to drawing new industry to a community. Allowing a county’s industrial development funds to be used for traffic control makes sense.