Road forum draws little business interest

Discussions hoped to mitigate problems when construction starts

By Leslie Pugmire Hole / The Bulletin

Published Mar 7, 2014 at 12:01AM

Repaving project

Oregon Department of Transportation issued an intent to award bid notice Monday for a U.S. Highway 97 repaving project, ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said. The apparent low bidder was High Desert Aggregate & Paving.

A Sept. 15 completion date is the only certainty right now, Murphy said. The $2.4 million, 10-mile “grind and inlay” paving project will extend from Wickiup Avenue in Redmond to Bowery Lane in Bend.

Currently, work is set to begin at the Redmond end and move south, with most work being done between 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. A start date has not been set. Earlier, ODOT speculated that work could begin as soon as April, depending on weather.

Redmond business owner Dave Standerwick learned his lessons the hard way in 2013 after disregarding information sent to his business, Polar Bear Gas & Wash, about an impending road project expected to affect his business’s road frontage.

“When you get an invite like that, don’t ignore it,” he said.

Yet when dozens of Redmond-area business and property owners were sent an invitation to a Thursday forum regarding road projects and business, only Standerwick came.

“We business owners need to look in the mirror and share the blame,” he said. “It’s too easy to complain after the fact.”

The meeting was organized by the city of Redmond and local Oregon Department of Transportation officials after hearing from business owners affected by the 2013 overhaul of Sixth Street that many problems could have been mitigated with more discussion in the planning stages of the project.

According to City Engineer Mike Caccavano, emails were sent to all businesses along Sixth Street, the Redmond Downtown Association and select businesses along South U.S. Highway 97, where the next large project is anticipated. The city hopes it will be in the next five years.

“Dave was really the inspiration for the meeting” on Thursday, Caccavano said. “He had some great suggestions about how to make things better for the businesses, but contracts had already been signed and the project was started.”

The concept of giving businesses a chance to talk about their needs long before road construction begins stayed with Caccavano through the completion of Sixth Street project. Faced with early discussions of a major redo of parts of Highway 97, he decided now is the time to meet and put together an open forum to hear from all sides.

“Projects involving ODOT have contracts finished as much as six months ahead and city road projects are at least two months out,” Caccavano said. “If there are ideas how we could do things differently in the future, we wanted to hear about it.”

Attended by two representatives from ODOT and three city department heads, the meeting was not a total bust. City Councilor Joe Centanni, who has an office in downtown Redmond, attended, as well as Redmond Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eric Sande and Redmond Economic Development, Inc. Manager Jon Stark. All had input for the city and ODOT.

“During the Sixth Street work I heard from some downtown businesses taken by surprise by the project,” Centanni said. “They leased their space just before it started and their broker didn’t tell them what was coming. It was devastating for them.”

Redmond Community Development Director Heather Richards suggested future road projects in business districts use the bimonthly commercial real estate broker meetings as a conduit for communication.

Public Works Director Bill Duerden said the city’s new website, slated to come online soon, is expected to have interactive maps that could be used to inform the public of long-range road projects. Richards pointed out that in the city’s experience, many business owners don’t use those kinds of resources.

Standerwick agreed.

“As business owners, we can get very busy just getting through the day,” he said. “And while I do think the city was great at being accessible and accommodating when someone had concerns during the Sixth Street project, I’m not sure where the disconnect happened in not sitting down with business owners beforehand.”

For the South Highway 97 project, which has no funding or timeline set, the city formed an advisory group of business owners in 2013 to solicit ideas for early design concepts. Later, a stakeholders group will be used to help work out the details of project timing and closures, Caccavano said.

The idea of reworking Redmond’s southern section of Highway 97 with frontage roads and access lanes along the back of businesses is fairly new. Prior to the completion of a $90 million rerouting of 97 away from Redmond’s downtown core in 2008, the expectation was that an extension of the reroute in south Redmond would follow eventually. But faced with more competition for transportation funds and what looked to be a very long wait, the city began considering a more near-term solution.

“Every decision has a real-time effect,” said Standerwick. “Even if projects can be planned with crews working two hours longer every day that may mean they are done a couple of weeks or months earlier.”

Condensing the construction window with night work or longer shifts is sometimes possible, according to ODOT project manager Bill Martin, which is how the current Sisters road project was organized.

“The thing we struggle with the most on urban street jobs is measuring exposure versus closure,” said ODOT project manager Jay Davenport. “We want businesses to come to the table with solutions, we want feedback.”

It was strong input from Sisters business owners that prompted ODOT to narrow its road project to less than three months, he added.

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, lpugmire@bendbulletin.com