The stretch of U.S. Highway 97 that passes through south Redmond is frequently congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Turning left out of businesses along the highway is a herculean task. A study conducted in March found that if no improvements are made to the corridor, the city can expect 34 additional crashes a year by 2040.
But after nine years of discussion and studies, the city of Redmond and the Oregon Department of Transportation have proposed a plan to transform the stretch of Highway 97 that would improve traffic flow and safety, as well as beautify the corridor. New traffic lights, roundabouts and a median are part of the proposal, which could cost as much as $50 million to complete.
The plan needs to be approved by the city and the Oregon Transportation Commission, but city staff say these changes are needed because of the growing number of accidents and congestion.
“At the same time, business vitality is important as well,” said Mike Caccavano, Redmond’s city engineer. “It’s getting to that point where congestion is impacting businesses, and it’s getting harder and harder for deliveries and customers to get in and out.”
According to a concept map provided by Caccavano, the proposed changes to Highway 97 between Yew Avenue and Highland Avenue will be extensive.
The proposal would more than double the amount of traffic lights along the corridor, adding four. Each of these traffic stops, along with the three existing traffic lights, would include opportunities for U-turns. This is to make getting in and out of businesses alongside the highway easier, and create safer left turns.
The plan adds three roads crossing an irrigation canal, which would connect Highway 97 to S. Canal Boulevard, with a new roundabout at each intersection at Canal Boulevard. These new roads, along with alley-style roads connecting businesses from the back, will help divert traffic from the highway and increase connectivity throughout south Redmond.
One major proposed change would add a median separating north and southbound traffic on Highway 97 between a new stop light near KFC and the Veterans Way intersection, adding to a median north of Veterans Way. This would reduce collisions along the highway, according to the proposal.
Bicycle riders and pedestrians are considered in the plan, as well. A slightly elevated, 11-foot-wide bike lane and sidewalk would be added to both lanes of the highway. The elevated lanes would be separated from traffic by 6 feet of shoulder and shrubs, and trees and vegetation will line the highway. There would be a new pedestrian crosswalk added north of Veterans Way, connecting SW Kalama Avenue to Taco Bell. There will likely be a flashing light or signal to alert drivers of pedestrians, Caccavano said, although there isn’t a final design for the crosswalk, or any aspect of the proposed project.
Because this plan is still a proposal, there is no timeline for completion or cost estimate, according to Rick Williams from the Central Oregon ODOT office. However, he predicted it could cost more than $50 million, and the project would likely have to be completed in phases.
“Bottom line, this is going to be a big project,” Williams said.
Redmond city staff are exploring the possibility of starting an urban renewal district to raise funds for the highway, which the state and U.S. Department of Transportation could hypothetically match. According to City Manager Keith Witcosky, in an urban renewal district, when property taxes grow over time, the district would divert that increase in money from traditional taxing districts, such as schools and fire departments, towards funding for a specific project. The proposed highway district would only impact businesses, land and few houses near Highway 97.
Witcosky said a certain amount of traditional taxing districts need to approve the plan to do this before the Redmond City Council creates it, which is why city staff plan on talking to leaders from Redmond School District, Redmond Fire Department, Deschutes County and more. He believes these groups should be sympathetic to the idea.
“It’s a really compelling argument because this highway affects all of them.” Witcosky said.
In August, the Redmond City Council will vote on adopting the proposed highway plan. ODOT and city staff can’t seek funding sources or create an official design until the city and the Oregon Transportation Commission approve the proposed plan, Williams said.
Chris Stonebraker, who owns Beer Shop, a taproom and specialty beer store along Highway 97 near Odem Medo, said he liked the proposed changes, as long as his property taxes don’t go up to pay for them.
“I agree with all the changes, because I think something needs to be done, especially with bike lanes,” he said. “I think it’s going to help with traffic flow, because at times it gets pretty difficult to get out of here.”
Kith Patel, who manages the highway-side Redmond Inn Motel, said he felt the safety improvements would help a little, but the only way to drastically reduce crashes and traffic is to drive considerately.
“Ninety percent of driving is common sense,” he said. “If I wanted to make a left or right turn, it would take me 10 minutes right now, because people don’t move over to the center of the road.”
Having worked at the hotel since 2005, Patel added that he was skeptical that Redmond and ODOT would break ground on major highway changes.
“I hope it works out, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, email@example.com