Councilors OK modified truck route, south Y

by: Illustration by Kittelson & Associates - Under the city’s approved plan, the highway realignment would follow the path marked in orange.

   Over 70 people packed into the Madras City Council chamber Dec. 12 to hear the council's decision on the realignment of the highways on the south end of Madras, as well as a truck bypass route.
   "I'm here to express concerns regarding all the businesses on the south end of town," said Vic Delamarter, principal broker at Midland Realty on South Adams Drive. Midland Realty is one of the businesses that will be impacted by the realignment, which has the potential to cause ripples along U.S. Highway 97/26 from L Street on the south to H Street on the north.
   Delamarter, whose business will likely lose direct highway access, recommended the reconfiguration that the council ultimately decided upon. The alternative affects fewer businesses, he said, noting, "If we're looking at ODOT's costs, we should also be looking at local businesses' costs."
   After listening to testimony from a dozen people, the council unanimously agreed to recommend a realignment of U.S. Highway 97/26 that is somewhat north of the earlier preference. A single, large intersection at J Street -- similar to the intersection on the north end of Madras -- was rejected.
   The multi-lane, signalized intersection at J Street had been suggested by Dennis Prince of Prince's Automotive at the council's last hearing Nov. 1. At that meeting, the council instructed its engineering firm, Kittelson & Associates Inc. of Bend, to draw up plans for the Prince option.
   Sagar Onta, senior engineer with Kittelson & Associates, presented an illustration of the plan, and pointed out that the drawbacks would include increased pedestrian crossing distances, long vehicle delays, and major right-of-way impacts to adjacent businesses.
   The highway would go from three lanes south of J Street to eight lanes as it approached J Street, with two turning lanes. Three businesses, Country Insurance, Madras Body and Glass and The Outpost, would have to relocate.
   Prince said that while it was his idea, "I don't think I'm the only one behind it." He estimated that he'd counted 40 businesses, a church, a neighborhood, and the fire hall that would all be affected by the city's original preference,
   That plan would have diverted northbound traffic east, from the Truck Stop over to South Adams Drive, just north of Tracie Street. South Adams would have become one way northbound in front of the Jefferson County Fire Department.
   "I don't think it cures the problem," said Prince. "My alternative is quick and simple. It doesn't affect as many businesses, but granted, the ones it affects, it wipes them out."
   Rather than an entirely new design, he said, "Take the intersection from the north end of town, swing it 180 degrees, and plug it in there."
   "Something definitely has to be done, but I don't think we need to get carried away with it," Prince said.
   Gus Burril, public works director, said that the design of the north Y wouldn't work on the south end of town because of traffic patterns.
   "It doesn't have J Street," he said, pointing out that J Street is a major east/west arterial. "You're not comparing apples to apples."
   Prince's brother, Jim, urged caution. "I would encourage you to look at it from a common sense standpoint," he said. "The Truck Stop is a perfect example. You're taking some well-established businesses and hitting them in the head."
Plan would wipe out business

   Rae Ellen Stillings, who owns The Outpost with her family, remarked that their business would be one of those wiped out by Prince's plan. "We all pay taxes," she said. "In Mr. Prince's plan, we would all be turned into a park. Parks don't pay taxes."
   Stillings commented that she likes the city's preferred plan, which spreads out the impact. "I don't like one big light," she said.
   The realignment preferred by the council would have northbound traffic veer off toward South Adams Drive near the South Y Complex/Coldwell Banker area, cut through the property where the Relax Inn now stands, and join South Adams Drive in front of the Jefferson County Fire Department. From there, South Adams would be one way to the north.
   Fire Chief Earl Cordes was against the city's initial plan, which would have taken right-of-way from the front of the fire district's property and restricted the fire department's access to the south.
   However, Cordes supported the modified version, which will give the fire department the option of turning right or left onto South Adams Drive from the south end of the property
   Others expressed concern about loss of access. Peter Carlson of Bend, who owns the Wes' Floor Covering property, commented that his property would be affected by either the original plan or the shortened intersection. "It impacts it either at the front of the store, takes all the parking away, or it bisects it in the back," he said. "Either option creates a lot of difficulties for the commercial property."
   Ron Brooks, of Bend, who has owned Taco Time for the past 30 years, said that access "is everything." Each of the alternatives will cause him to lose the southeast corner of his property.
   "We'll definitely lose the drive-through," said Brooks, who anticipates that he will have to move his building further north on his property. "Both plans significantly impact the business."
   ODOT estimates that the city's preferred option for realignment of the highway on the south end of town with cost $9 million for construction and right-of-way acquisition.
Truck bypass planned

   Gary Walker, who owns Madras Marine on Southwest Highway 97, expressed support for a truck route option that follows the Culver Highway to Southwest Loafers Lane, where it veers to the east to intersect with U.S. Highway 97 near the existing 97/26 intersection.
   Cost of the truck bypass is estimated at $19.25 million before consideration of right-of-way acquisition, impact to adjacent properties, and the cost of interchanges.
   During council discussion, Councilor Marc Heckathorn said that for the realignment of the highways on the south end of Madras, he prefers the shortened option which angles over to South Adams from the South Y Complex, and leaves the fire department with access going both north and south.
   "I'm absolutely sold on the one to the north," he said, before making a motion to approve the northern option, and a truck route that will use First Street, connect to the Culver Highway, and then intersect with highways 97 and 26 south of Madras.
   While the council's approval updates the city's Transportation System Plan -- as required by Oregon law -- the Oregon Department of Transportation has the final say in all decisions affecting highways.
   Although the city adopted an updated TSP, construction of the south Y project is at least three to five years away, according to Chuck McGraw, director of the city's community development, while the truck route is 10 to 15 years away.
   "It will take a couple of years to survey, find out how many properties will be affected, and develop access management for affected properties," said McGraw. "If, during the access management process, we find that some properties are not going to have access either off the highway or our local streets, then ODOT is required to negotiate a purchase price."
   McGraw said it was crucial for the city to pass the TSP in order to be considered for funding for the south Y. "If we don't get in on this round, we won't be able to get funding until 2012," he said.
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