OSU-Cascades plans to minimize traffic

How housing, amenities and parking affect driving

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Published Dec 16, 2013 at 12:01AM

Rebranding its pumice pit as a canyon allowed Oregon State University-Cascades Campus to sidestep one of its greatest hurdles, but the university still has major decisions to make concerning transportation, decisions connected to nearly every aspect of the campus.

OSU-Cascades is expanding into a four-year campus, with the aim of welcoming its first freshman class in 2015. The university has identified 56 acres in southwest Bend to host a new campus, an area that includes an old pumice mine and ponderosa pine forests. On Thursday the university revealed plans to place academic buildings on the bottom of the former mine. With the campus starting to take shape, the university is investigating how best to minimize the number of students who drive to school, focusing on how nearby amenities, dormitories and parking may affect traffic.

Despite the long-term planning, administrators caution that any construction in the newly dubbed canyon is a long way off, and the first stage of development will bring only three buildings to a 10-acre wooded plot adjacent to the Southwest Century Drive and Colorado Avenue roundabout.

Moreover, administrators stress that this first stage will bring only 150 additional students to Bend. While this initial development takes an incremental approach, many residents are focused on the university’s plans to have 5,000 students by 2025, an increase of about 4,000 students.

“The obvious concerns with a project this big are traffic and livability,” said Eileen Krause, the co-chairwoman of a Broken Top Community Association ad hoc committee devoted to monitoring the campus. “Nobody knows how it will affect Bend because we don’t know what the campus will look like. They haven’t even closed on the site, so you can’t say they’ve addressed any issues because they don’t really have any issues yet. But we’re eager and excited to stay involved in the process and monitor the development.”

Jill Wimberly, a southwest Bend resident, echoed these concerns.

“Traffic is just such a big issue for me,” Wimberly said. “When I drive to the Mt. Washington-Century circle, it can get really bad, and I can only imagine what a four-year university will do to the west side. With only a limited number of bridges from the east and not many side streets on the west, the traffic will be hard to avoid, and livability will go down. I don’t understand why they didn’t build at Juniper Ridge and have people come out to them.”

In addition to the cost of building infrastructure at Juniper Ridge, a largely undeveloped area in northeast Bend, administrators have repeatedly stressed that the selected location offers more amenities, including restaurants, health care and parks. Phil Worth, a transportation planner and member of the university’s conceptual design team, said the presence of these amenities will allow the university to make a smaller impact on traffic.

“The location is embedded in an area that supports student life and will attract students to leave their cars at home and live on campus,” Worth said. “The campus is a half mile from the Old Mill, and Century has a grocery, coffee shop, restaurants, and it’s all within walking distance.”

At a series of open houses, Worth made the case that a university will generate less traffic than if the 56-acre property were developed as it is currently zoned, which calls for a mix of residential, commercial and industry.

“There is potential for significantly less automobile trips coming from a university than the current use,” Worth said. “Depending on how the campus is developed, it could be significantly less.”

One of the major variables is the percentage of students who will live on campus. The university’s Campus Expansion Advisory Committee (CEAC), a group that includes university employees and representatives of major stakeholders, has a sustainability task force charged with arriving at that number.

“They will look at what would generate desirable outcomes for both students and the community,” said Kelly Sparks, associate vice president for finance and strategic planning. “We will have to look at what the campus could support and the kinds of housing we can build.”

In addition to attracting students to live on campus, Matt Shinderman, co-chairman of CEAC and an instructor in the university’s sustainability program, said the university is investigating best practices to move commuter students to campus as efficiently as possible. Some of the strategies he identified include park-and-ride stations in areas like Redmond and Prineville or along major access roads to Bend. He also said the university has to intentionally limit the amount of parking available on the campus and institute fees.

“But if we don’t want our students to drive, the question becomes, ‘What do we want them to do?’” Shinderman said. “Pedestrian and bike access will be important, but as everyone knows, the existing transportation service is minimal. We have great interest in working with Cascades East Transit to expand it.”

Shinderman said CEAC is also looking at car- and bike-share programs, which would offer students more flexibility in determining how they get around.

“The best way to think about the challenge is with a systems approach,” Shinderman said. “You need to look at parking both on and off site, and the other modes open to students. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered.”

One of these factors is where commuter students live. But before that can be figured out, Sparks acknowledged there will need to be more off-campus housing available for future students.

“The current housing stock is absolutely limited,” she said.

Michelle Bunting, the owner of Bend Property Management, called the west-side rental market “especially tough, even for Bend.”

“Adding so many more students looking for housing will make it more difficult,” she said. “But it’s hard to say what will happen next year and where the market will take us.”

Sparks said the university expects that private developers will build more residences near the university, and that OSU-Cascades plans to work with the city to investigate the feasibility of such projects.

“We think private developers would see it as a smart investment,” Sparks said.

In addition to working with the city to address off-campus housing, OSU-Cascades is in discussions with the county concerning a landfill adjacent to the property’s north side. Sparks said the county and university are working on a non-binding memorandum of understanding that will acknowledge the university’s desire to use that land.

“It’s hard to say, but it could be parking for students and staff, or more buildings or even provide space for athletic fields,” Sparks said. “It could also be used as a park-and-ride for Mt. Bachelor. But, I think what’s most exciting is the opportunity for a learning opportunity, the ability for the university to help turn a brownfield into an amenity. It could be an exciting process and offer a great outcome.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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