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Highway 97 traffic surge challenges ODOT


(Update: adding current traffic counts)

We’ve all noticed it: Traffic on Central Oregon highways is on the rise. It can feel especially crowded on Highway 97 between Bend and Redmond.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, in the last five years, the section at Empire Avenue and Highway 97 has seen an increase of nearly 7,000 drivers a day, to nearly 59,000. Farther south, at Revere Avenue, there’s been an increase of more than 9,000, to more than 61,000, and in Redmond it’s up nearly 6,500 drivers per day, to more than 40,000.

ODOT Region 4 spokesman Peter Murphy said Thursday it’s an indication of what’s to come.

“The congestion that people will see today is kind of a sample of what’s coming down the road,” Murphy said. “Because what we’ve noticed over time, or like the past five years, there’s been a pretty good increase of the number of vehicles on the roadway. Probably on the order of some of the biggest increases in the state, as a proportion.”

As usual, we’ll see an increase in traffic as we get closer to the holiday season, with shoppers, skiers, and families visiting Central Oregon.

Murphy said there’s a plan in place to fix the increase in congestion with the U.S. 97 Bend North Corridor Project.

The current plan is to basically create a new highway and move it east. That would separate local and highway traffic and break up congestion. The project could cost up to $350 million, but it will not all happen at once.

“What we’ve done basically is we’ve phased the new project,” Murphy said. “So that we can make an improvement at Cooley and that would help that new project but help today too. And we’ll look for other funds to do other projects and do the same thing. A project this size does not happen all at once.”

There’s $50 million set aside for this project from House Bill 2017, last year’s big transportation package.

Murphy said they’re going to get done what they can, as soon as possible. He said they are trying to find additional funds, and will put them to work as soon as they can.

Warren Scott is a Central Oregon resident who has traveled the highway between Redmond and Bend for work for the last five years

“It used to take probably about 15 minutes to get here (Bend), but because of the traffic it almost takes a half-hour at least. So, it’s almost doubled over the years,” Scott said.

Scott works for Goodwill at a collection drop-off in the Target parking lot next to the highway. He said in his estimation, he’s witnessed probably 200 accidents on Highway 97 over the last five years.

Along with more residents and visitors comes more businesses, putting more pressure on the system.

The developers for the new Robal Road Village shopping area filled a 2016 traffic impact analysis. The new development, which includes Cracker Barrel, estimated a high-end generation of more than 200 new trips during the weekday peak hours. The Cracker Barrel parking lot alone has 94 parking spots for customers to park in when they open, planned for early February.

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