One of Bend’s most congested areas could see some traffic relief with a $60.4 million grant from the federal government announced Monday.

The money, which was awarded to the Oregon Department of Transportation, will help reroute U.S. Highway 97 north of Empire Avenue. The project would essentially shift the Bend Parkway between Empire Avenue and the northern city limits east and repurpose that stretch of parkway as an extension of NE Third Street.

“I’ve been (with ODOT) 13 years, and I’ve never heard of any kind of a grant like this,” said Peter Murphy, public information officer for ODOT.

The grant will make a large dent in the department’s decadelong effort to make Bend’s northern corridor safer and freer of compounding traffic issues. The city of Bend, in conjunction with other agencies, applied and failed to get the grant money in 2018.

“It’s a big deal,” Murphy said. “That’s a lot of money, and you can do a lot with it. And that’s what we intend to do.”

This year, ODOT, the city, Deschutes County and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, worked together to lobby for the federal funding in Washington, D.C., according to a statement from Walden’s office.

“Even if (the project) is mostly in Bend’s urban growth boundary, it affects everyone in the county,” Deschutes County Commission Chair Phil Henderson said. “I’m glad we could be part of the process, and I’m glad the federal Department of Transportation could come through, also.”

Bend officials are happy, too.

“On behalf of the Central Oregon region, I am thrilled that this project received … funding. This project will not only help the city of Bend, but will benefit communities across Central Oregon,” said Mayor Sally Russell.

Councilor Justin Livingston, who joined Russell to advocate for the project in Washington, D.C., in May, said it was hard to put into words how much of an impact this funding will make on the average person traveling through north Bend.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten this kind of funding on this scale,” Livingston said. “It will make such a difference for everyone traveling on the north end.”

ODOT engineers now have to make more specific decisions on exactly how the money will be spent, and do more in-depth design work to make it happen. While significant, $60.4 million is not enough to pay for the entire project, which is estimated to cost between $250 million to $350 million, Murphy said.

But whatever decisions are made will have to be made quickly. According to the federal grant, the money must be contracted to be spent by the fall of 2020.

“That’s going to mean a significant acceleration for the project, so it’s really great news,” Murphy said.

ODOT also received $50 million from the Legislature this session for improvements at the Cooley Road intersection — another aspect of the north corridor project — which is allocated to be spent in 2025, Murphy said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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