>Two agreements in place
More than a decade after the city of Madras began working on a plan to improve the flow of traffic on the south end of town, the Madras City Council has approved two agreements with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
   After a work session and lengthy discussion, on Aug. 28, the City Council signed the agreements to move forward with the design for the realignment of Highway 97 and acquisition of right of way for the project, which will extend from G Street to M Street -- a distance of a little over one-half mile.
   Under the basic plan approved by the City Council in October 2008, northbound Highway 97 traffic will veer to the east at L Street, and join up with South Adams Drive, which becomes one-way northbound from Tracie Street.
   Traffic signals, which were expected to be installed at J Street on both Fifth and Fourth streets, were not included in the first phase of the project, which drew the ire of Councilor Jim Leach.
   "It takes our priority and makes it a complete afterthought," said Leach, referring to ODOT's first phase for the project.
   Gary Farnsworth, of Bend, ODOT area manager, explained that the traffic signals were not included in the design of the project that already received federal approval.
   If the City Council were to insist on the traffic signals in the first phase, he said, ODOT would stop, go back and re-evaluate the process, but the project might lose its funding. "We have federal money that hopefully, we don't see go away."
   "They won't approve until we give them high-level detail," said Farnsworth. "If we add more scope, add a traffic signal, they would up the bar."
   However, for the next step, he said, "I have a tough time imagining a second phase that doesn't include a traffic signal."
   The multi-phase project is estimated at $18 million, but the first phase will only be about one-third of that. ODOT has pledged $5 million in State Transportation Improvement Program funds. That will be added to the federal earmark of $681,800, and the $350,000 contributed by the city over the course of several years, for a total of $6,031,800.
   Farnsworth said there is still a funding gap for the first phase, but ODOT has money to proceed with purchase of right of way.
   "Assuming we're able to close the funding gap," he said, the project would start construction in 2014, and be finished two years later.
   Dennis Prince, of Prince's Automotive, whose business will lose access on the east side, said that project manager Mike Darling is the sixth project manager on the Highway 97-J Street project.
   He expressed concern that the public isn't aware that the project is proceeding with right-of-way purchases.
   Prince also asked ODOT to consider low-cost safety features at the J Street intersections, which was the site of another recent accident. "Make sure the intersections are safe," he said.
   With the city's approval, ODOT will begin acquiring right of way, finalizing design, and putting together contract documents. Bid opening would likely occur in the fall or winter of 2013.
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