Dusting off South 97

Redmond aims to make the central thoroughfare friendlier, safer

By Leslie Pugmire Hole / The Bulletin

Published Oct 17, 2013 at 05:00AM

The 3-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 97 that transects Redmond's south end may be up for some major changes if city planners, business owners and neighbors — along with the Oregon Department of Transportation — can agree on what the busy thoroughfare should look like.

A design for the strip-mall-and-big-box-strewn section of highway was finished in 2010 using a Transportation Growth Management grant from ODOT. But putting the South 97 Corridor Plan into action stalled before it reached Redmond City Council.

“There wasn't enough buy-in for the plan as it was, so the planning commission opted to shelve it until we could address all of the concerns,” said Heather Richards, Redmond Community Development director.

The goals laid out in the plan include increased safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, along with improved economic viability. The design includes elements such as shared highway entrances and parking, as well as frontage and rear access roads. Sidewalks, trees and landscaped medians are also in the plan.

“It is a very ambitious plan but still worthwhile,” said Charley Miller, president of Miller Lumber on South 97 and a member of the Redmond Development Commission. “It's not going to happen all at once. The area has tremendous potential, but without a plan it won't work as well. Previous development solutions have been on a case-by-case basis and it's created a hodgepodge.”

The commission, a citizen advisory group, dusted off the plan and made a goal of moving it forward. Advisory committees for the overall project and its technical aspects were reformed this spring.

“The idea was to go through the components of the plan and ask what we were comfortable with and what we weren't comfortable with,” said Richards. “Rules have changed with ODOT (since the plan was finished) and the city has a better idea of the needs involved.”

Advisory committee member Paul Rodby does not support medians for the area, but he's all for any changes that will slow down motorists.

“Lower speeds are safer for pedestrians and drivers, better for business,” said Rodby, who owns the McDonald's restaurant on South 97.

ODOT Spokesman Peter Murphy said that “urbanizing” the area with sidewalks, closer buildings and landscaping is a systemic change that can slow traffic more effectively than speed limits.

“Medians tend to be a challenge for everyone involved,” he said. “We can present options, but there has to be public acceptance. We're hoping everyone can come together and be supportive of the project.”

The highway is bordered by a railway and irrigation canal on its east and west sides. Its role as both a state freight route and local traffic corridor complicates the plan goals.

Lack of funding is another complication. The plan could cost from $26 million to $40 million, depending upon what the committee recommends.

Richards said the city could create an urban-renewal district along South 97, which would provide some funding through increased property values within the district. She also thinks some state funds may be available if ODOT steps back from a long-term goal of building a second phase of the Highway 97 reroute.

“The second phase is such a large project, the feasibility of achieving it in the next 20 years is minimal,” she said. “Instead of partnering with ODOT on a $250 million project, it might be better to explore local routes.”

The highway plan could increase aesthetics along the highway corridor, including architectural requirements for new buildings, positioning new buildings close to the sidewalks, side or rear parking and reduced sign clutter.

“It seemed like we were faced with a mountain of difficult questions in the beginning, like it might not be an achievable goal, but we've addressed a lot of them and I think people realize not everyone can get everything they want,” said Lori McCoy, a Redmond planning commissioner and advisory committee member.

Balancing ODOT's need for safety and uncomplicated traffic movement, the need of businesses to be both visible and accessible, and the city's needs to increase viability and livability along the corridor is a tall order. A team of consultants from SERA Architects Inc., will be in town Oct. 28 and 29 to lead advisory team members in a design charette, with an open house to follow both evenings for public input.

“We want to know if there are tools out there to achieve all of our goals that we're not aware of,” said Richards. “There aren't a lot of success stories because it's a tough issue but we hope for the best.”

Open House: If you go

What: South 97 Open House

When: 6:30-8 p.m., Oct. 28 and 29

Where: Redmond City Hall, 716 S.W. Evergreen Ave.