TERREBONNE — After months of gathering public input, state transportation officials unveiled their preferred plan to address the congestion and safety concerns along the U.S. Highway 97 corridor through town.

A standing room-only crowd filled the gym at the Terrebonne Community School on Wednesday night to hear the plan, which called for splitting the highway into parallel roads.

The proposed corridor would have two southbound lanes on the existing highway and create two northbound lanes using 11th Street. At the south end would be a U-turn that allows traffic to circulate north or south. At the north end, ramps would go over Lower Bridge Way, reducing traffic that backs up at the busy intersection.

Many residents in the crowd were skeptical of the plan.

George Ortman, a retired Marine who has lived in Terrebonne for 31 years, called the plan a Band-Aid that only covers the short-term needs. He believes the community will eventually need a bypass.

“It’s only going to be a temporary fix,” Ortman said. “Ten years from now we will be in the same boat we are now.”

Gary Hopson and his wife, Bobbie, came to the open house Wednesday to find out exactly how their property along 11th Street would be affected by the proposed plan. As they expected, their home would be right in the middle of the new lane setup with traffic cruising by in both directions.

The Hopsons own a lawn care and landscaping business and said it’s already difficult to get their truck and trailer out of their driveway. Under the proposal, they would be stuck, they said.

“We just came to find out when they are going start building it so we can move,” Gary Hopson said.

State transportation officials welcomed the feedback and said it will help them refine the plan and prepare it for future public hearings before the Deschutes County Commission and the Oregon Transportation Commission.

The public has until Jan. 21 to submit comments to ODOT. The public will also be welcomed at the future county and state public hearings. Meanwhile, a final concept will be designed through this year, with construction starting by 2021.

“After today, we are not done,” said Bob Townsend, ODOT area manager. “We will have a proposal on the concept and move forward with it but it’s not the end.”

Through the process, state officials will have to adjust the estimated $22.5 million cost of the project. The budget for the project is $20 million, and those funds were approved by the Legislature in 2017 to create safer access through Terrebonne.

Marc Butorac, senior principal engineer with Kittelson & Associates, presented an alternative plan for a wider, five-lane highway. But he said splitting the highway into parallel roads is the best option and meets the needs and growth of the area. It is also expected to reduce potential car crashes and pedestrian accidents by 60 percent, Butorac said.

By 2040, the average daily traffic use on that section of highway is expected to double from about 16,5000 travelers to 32,000, according to ODOT data.

Given the increase in traffic, having two northbound and two southbound lanes is a priority, Butorac said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com