East Bend residents may soon see relief from backed-up intersections and poor pedestrian access after Bend’s budget committee decided to build a roundabout on Purcell Boulevard and Empire Avenue instead of rebuilding old streets such as Galveston Avenue.
Last week, the city’s budget committee was poised to dole out millions of construction dollars to rebuild old streets such as Galveston and Wilson avenues. But Bend Mayor Casey Roats pitched an idea to instead use the money to build a roundabout on Purcell and Empire — something the majority of councilors and seven citizen members of the budget committee supported.
“I think there was a sense certainly from the public’s perception that too much funding and attention has been focused on the west side,” said Councilor Bruce Abernethy.
Abernethy, who served as a city councilor between 2000 and 2008 before being elected again in November, has served on several budget committees over the years.
In general, he said, the committee often rubber-stamps the budget proposal without making big changes. But this year, it was different.
“This was an example where the budget committee added significant value to the process,” Abernethy said.
The mayor’s proposal to change the budget comes months after city councilors agreed to support a different plan that would have used $35 million to rebuild 14th Street, Eighth Street and Galveston Avenue. The $35 million would have also paid to pay to design two major road projects — connecting Empire Avenue east toward 27th Street and Murphy Road to 15th Street — but it wouldn’t have funded construction.
But some councilors were hesitant about moving forward with that plan because $27 million of that $35 million will come from fees charged to developers when they build new homes. Some councilors said the city should instead spend money collected from building fees to construct new roads — such as Murphy and Empire — that accommodate new homes and businesses.
“When we build lots of homes without providing roads, residents rightfully get angry over unnecessary congestion and wonder where their fees went to,” said Councilor Bill Moseley, who supported Roats’ proposal to build the roundabout at Empire and Purcell.
Moseley said Bend residents who live near Empire Avenue send him pictures of cars backed up at intersections near Empire Avenue and Butler Market Road. Sometimes, emergency crews get stuck trying to respond to calls in those areas, he said.
Roats, who proposed tweaking the budget to pay for a new roundabout, said building the roundabout at Empire and Purcell would ease traffic congestion for residents and make it safer for the children who walk near Ponderosa Elementary School and Pine Nursery Park. Plus, building the roundabout is the first step to connect Empire to 27th Street — a project the city has been planning for at least 10 years.
“We killed two birds with one stone there because we were able to get the roundabout done and then pave the way for Empire,” said Roats, adding that the road would help accommodate hundreds of new homes and businesses planned in the area.
Roats’ proposal also calls for improving a canal bridge near the roundabout, which is currently narrow and unsafe for children who walk or bike across it. It would also use the money that would have reconstructed Galveston, Wilson and Eighth Street to upgrade intersection signals throughout the city, which will help ease congestion.
There would still be enough money left over to design the reconstruction of Galveston, Wilson and Eighth, but the plan would prioritize projects such as extending Empire and Murphy before building them. Roats said he would rather use money from a bond — instead of building fees — to rebuild old roads.
The full council must vote on the budget before it’s adopted.
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