Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Bend’s ongoing growth will place more pressure on city streets to provide alternate routes for drivers who use the Bend Parkway, according to regional planners working on a plan for the parkway’s next 20 years.

Representatives from the city of Bend, Deschutes County and the Oregon Department of Transportation met this week to discuss a vision for what the parkway will be in 2020. Part of that plan includes prioritizing freight travel along the parkway while also recognizing it is a key part of Bend’s local street system.

“How do we incrementally as a region and community move through that change so that it doesn’t end up as ‘Boom, all that traffic that has been accommodated by the parkway is no longer accommodated by the parkway?’” Bend Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell asked.

The Portland-based transportation engineering firm DKS estimates people take between 20,000 and 50,000 trips on U.S. Highway 97 in the Bend area each day. More cars use the north end of town than the south end, said John Bosket, an engineer with DKS.

About 40 percent of the trips are local trips that start and end in Bend, and 50 percent start or end in Bend. The remaining 10 percent start and end outside of Bend.

By 2040, Bend is expected to have about 28,000 more homes and 27,700 new jobs. Trips on the parkway are expected to increase to 23,000 to 80,000 daily, and 90 percent of them are expected to begin or end in Bend, according to DKS.

At least some of the trips that begin or end in Bend could result from drivers who are traveling through Bend and stop in town for gas or a meal. Others are from commuters, who Bend Senior Planner Karen Swirsky said fill half of the city’s jobs.

The city needs to find a way to make its local road system as effective as the parkway, Swirsky said.

“It’s really clear that lots of people use the parkway for local trips,” she said. “I do it all the time because it’s easier than our local system.”

Without changes, engineers expect 10 of the 15 ramp connections to the parkway will fail to meet demand by 2040. Major east-west connections would be at or over capacity by the same period, Bosket said.

Gary Farnsworth, the area manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Central Oregon region, said he uses the parkway as a resident of northeast Bend who has to go to the south end of town and as a department official who frequently makes business trips to Redmond and La Pine.

“If I have alternate ways to get there, I’m going to pick the one that’s shortest and quickest if I have the options,” he said.

Another part of the vision the group discussed is preserving access to downtown Bend. Southbound traffic now can make right turns on and off the parkway at Lafayette and Hawthorne avenues downtown, but the city and the state transportation department have a longstanding agreement that the department can close or restrict intersections when they interfere with the parkway’s safety or function.

The Hawthorne and Lafayette intersections have more rear-end crashes than similar intersections, and transportation officials believe the number of crashes will increase with more traffic on the parkway.

The Downtown Bend Business Association has pushed for on-ramps or off-ramps to replace the intersections, but transportation officials shot down that idea as too expensive, dangerous and unfeasible to build because buildings are in the way.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com