Public feedback from an online survey is helping the Oregon Department of Transportation decide what projects to prioritize in its plan to ease congestion and safety on the Bend Parkway.
From Nov. 26 to Dec. 15, ODOT received 1,122 responses to the survey about the U.S. 97 Parkway Plan, which proposes to add new off-ramps, overpasses, separate bike and pedestrian crossings and metered traffic signals.
A final version of the plan will be released this summer and will include cost estimates, which have not been calculated yet.
Results from the survey showed the largest concern from the public was a proposal to close the right turns on and off the parkway near downtown Bend. The turns at Lafayette, Hawthorne and Truman avenues would be closed.
A common concern about those changes is that they could cause new congestion on nearby local streets.
“By closing three exits, there will be more street traffic and confusion as drivers will need to make their way over to the street they want to go to,” said one respondent. “There is already enough traffic downtown, and this will increase the problem.”
Given the feedback, ODOT planner Rick Williams said the state agency is now considering keeping the exits open at Lafayette and Hawthorne, but closing the entry onto the parkway from those roads.
Williams said there is a safety concern with drivers not having enough space between vehicles to merge onto the parkway from Lafayette and Hawthorne avenues. Ideally, there should be a seven-second gap between vehicles. The gap between vehicles on the parkway now sometimes shrinks to three seconds, Williams said.
“Currently, because there is no acceleration lane, people take chances to get out,” Williams said.
Eliminating the right turns that let drivers get to and leave downtown Bend from the two streets has always been an option, especially as Bend has grown in population, Williams said.
“It was never our intention to leave these open long term,” Williams said. “The town has tripled in size since we put it in. I’m amazed they have lasted this long.”
When the parkway became fully operational in 2001, it would see about 28,000 travelers in a busy month. That number has more than doubled today.
More than 62,000 travelers used the parkway in July 2018, which is the latest data for the busiest travel month of the year.
“In the future, you will see more traffic,” Williams said. “At peak hours, it will be slower traffic.”
Another concern outlined in the survey was a need to widen the shoulders along the parkway. Today, the shoulders are not wide enough for vehicles to safely pull over in case of an emergency.
Feedback in the survey noted the shoulders are also not wide enough for police to make traffic stops in the area.
“I would like to see wider shoulders so law enforcement can pull over and ticket all the speeders and tailgaters,” a commentator said in the survey.
Williams said some community members have suggested adding travel lanes to the parkway, but that is not possible since there is limited land available around the highway. Most of it is private property and a railroad.
The goal is to address issues within the existing parkway, Williams said.
“We are not adding new infrastructure,” he said. “We are not adding more lanes, and the city is not adding new lanes in the area.”