Fixing Bend’s traffic and neighborhood safety issues took center stage at the State of the City presentation Tuesday.
The annual event, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce at 10 Barrel Brewing’s east side location, is meant to highlight the city’s accomplishments and vision for the future.
And this year, that vision centered largely on how to fix traffic congestion — an issue voters ranked as their No. 1 issue for the city to solve in a recent telephone survey. The City Council this fall is considering a bond on the May 2020 ballot to fund possible solutions to these issues.
“We have a fast-growing city, and the reality is any fast-growing city is going to have the same infrastructure challenges we do,” City Manager Eric King said Tuesday.
King and Mayor Sally Russell spent much of the evening explaining how the city has $1 billion worth of transportation projects that need to be done in order to meet the demand of the community by 2040, and how Bend’s history has brought them to this point.
“Our development patterns have shifted over the years, so retrofitting (transportation systems) can be difficult,” King said.
Unlike other cities across the country, Bend’s growth did not boom directly after World War II, at a time when the federal government was financing major highways and other transportation projects. The growth occurred instead in the last 20 years, at a time when the federal government gives less for transportation, leaving cities to find their own ways to fund these projects, King said.
Transportation revenue doesn’t come in every month, like a utility, he said. Instead, it comes from special funding sources, such as bonds and development fees.
“Funding for transportation is unlike water and sewer where you pay a bill every month,” King said. “We don’t have that same mechanism for transportation.”
So this fall, the council will consider a list of major projects proposed by a citizen transportation committee, which studied the issue for the past two years. That list of projects totals about $250 million.
The council will then be tasked with prioritizing which will get funded by the bond. Some projects — like improving the intersections around Powers and Murphy roads at U.S. Highway 97 and fixing traffic congestion spurred by train traffic on Reed Market Road — have already been discussed as needing urgent solutions.
But during the presentation, Bend Park & Recreation District board member Ariel Mendez asked if Russell and King planned to address solutions that may improve traffic congestion but create more dangerous situations for bicyclists and pedestrians. He cited high speed limits and lack of biking and walking options around city parks as examples.
“It’s a balancing act,” Russell said.
“But part of what we’re trying to do is create the greenways and bike corridors … so maybe people can move maybe not on the main streets, but on parallel streets, and stay safe.”
King added that traffic congestion on main roads also contributes to neighborhood streets becoming more unsafe for walkers and bikers.
“People are making rash decisions, like cutting through neighborhoods, that are making bike and pedestrian traffic worse,” King said.
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