Anyone who has sat in traffic at the intersection of Cooley Road and U.S. Highway 97 during morning and afternoon commute times knows backups are a daily event.
But commuters who use the failing intersection on Bend’s north end shouldn’t expect things to improve anytime soon, even though city and state officials are close to picking a way to fix it.
For about six months, a work group of city, state and Deschutes County officials has been studying large, elaborate changes to the intersection for what’s been dubbed a “mid-term solution” to traffic issues there. But the state of the intersection took on greater importance in the last two weeks, as the Oregon Department of Transportation is requiring that it be dealt with before the city can start large-scale development at its nearby Juniper Ridge mixed-use project.
Now, the group is focusing on nine options for the intersection, all of which would involve construction and acquisition of land. Four of those options have drawn the most interest.
Next, the group intends to narrow down the options and bounce them off a newly formed committee of businesses and residents from the area.
Officials initially considered a short-term solution, like adding turn lanes, but decided it makes sense to spend more money on a mid-term improvement, like a small interchange at Cooley and Highway 97.
A mid-term solution would likely cost as much as $30 million and would take up to five years to build.
And the long-term solution, at least a decade down the road, is potentially to reroute Highway 97 north of the current the Bend Parkway.
“We haven’t talked about a specific time frame for when it has to be completed, but it’s in fairly short order,” said City Councilor Mark Capell, who is a member of the committee studying options for the intersection.
The intersection of Cooley and Highway 97 is already considered “failing” by ODOT’s standards, meaning that at certain times of the day, drivers must wait through more than one signal cycle to get through it. In that part of Bend, there are few alternate routes drivers can use to get around the clogged area.
The Juniper Ridge effect
A long-simmering concern about the intersection is that it wouldn’t be able to handle drivers coming and going from the nearby Juniper Ridge development, where Les Schwab Tire Centers has begun building its new headquarters.
Reiterating its long-standing position in a letter to the city last week, ODOT said the city must come up with a feasible plan and a way to pay for improving the intersection before any other projects at Juniper Ridge can move forward.
So far, of the nine possibilities for the intersection, four of them have scored well based on their ability to move large amounts of traffic. But the list hasn’t been narrowed down yet because factors like cost and size are still being studied, Bend Transportation Engineering Manager Nick Arnis said.
“Some of them are pretty big,” Arnis said. “You’re building an entire interchange, and I’m not so sure that’s what we’re going to be doing.”
In all but one of the concepts, Cooley Road would pass under both Highway 97 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks. In several of the options, signals on Cooley would control drivers coming on and off Highway 97.
Officials and consultants still need to factor in the cost of each option, how much surrounding land would have to be acquired and how well the options fit in with ODOT’s plans for a larger, more costly reroute of the highway north of the current Bend Parkway. The results of those studies, which are slated to be done by the end of the year, could have a big impact on what is recommended.
“These are highly preliminary things and many of them are thought to be incompatible with a lot of stuff,” said City Councilor Jim Clinton, also a member of the intersection committee. “And ‘a lot of stuff’ is like the long-term alignments of the highway.”
There are other concerns at this point, too.
“Some of them don’t look real compatible with what’s sitting there on the ground, in terms of land acquisition,” Clinton said. “None of these solutions pop out at you as being exceptionally wonderful.”
While ODOT is part of the study group, the agency is deferring to the city for now to lead the process, ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said.
“We are attending meetings, and we are trying to work with the city to develop something that works for everybody,” Murphy said.
Because the highway is controlled by ODOT and the city is responsible for Cooley, any work at the troubled intersection requires both agencies to coordinate with each other.
Clinton said he’d like to see ODOT assert itself more in the review process.
“It would seem to me that ODOT should take more of a lead in describing which mid-term solutions are compatible with the highway and which are not,” Clinton said.