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Bend transportation panel weighs money measure options


(Update: Adding video, Justin Livingston comments)

It’s becoming more certain that the city of Bend will be asking voters for more money to put toward a big backlog of transportation needs, quite possibly in a measure on next spring’s ballot. A recent survey of some key stakeholders found community leaders agreeing on many aspects but divided on two key questions: How much to seek, and how soon?

The city is evaluating policies, considering top priorities and different funding options to update Bend’s Transportation System Plan.

For about 14 months, a 25-member Citizen Transportation Advisory Committee (known as CTAC) has been meeting to review information and advise the city on the next steps.

The panel has been working to address current issues of connectivity, congestion and school crossing projects, trails and lack of community access to public transportation in five key areas of the city:

Area 1: Awbrey Butte, Summit West, River West

Area 2: Boyd Acres, Orchard District, Mountain View

Area 3: Larkspur, Old Farm District, Southeast

Area 4: Old Bend, Century West, Southern Crossing, Southwest

Core Area: focus on business district and core area

Public meetings and online questionnaires have allowed the public to engage with city officials to express concerns about necessary changes to be made in each of the listed areas.

To alleviate some of these issues, community leaders appear split on two possible strategies for deciding the size of a planned transportation bond request that could face voters next year. Here’s the report to CTAC on the responses from a group of 15 community leaders and stakeholders.

Neighborhood workshops also have taken place, and a summary of the results from those sessions can be found with last month’s CTAC agenda packet.

While all interviewed said it’s imperative to get moving on more transportation funding, they said a balanced project list is crucial, as is strong city councilors’ support. Connectivity is a key word, as are partnerships with other public agencies, such as the school and park districts. Most interviewed want to make sure bike and pedestrian projects are part of the package, and say “robust outreach” is crucial to success.

One strategy is to request a smaller bond — less than $100 million, “with the clear understanding another transportation bond measure will follow this first Stepping Stone in a few years.” The goal is to build credibility with voters by getting some projects done and also educate them more on the city’s transportation issues.

“The competing advice is Go Big, seeking voter approval for a larger measure – $100 million or more – that produces results citywide that every Bend resident can see and appreciate,” the stakeholder summary states.

There’s also a split among those interviewed on when go out to voters. Some are concerned the proposed May 2020 election date is too soon to fully make the case to the public and win approval, while others are ready to move forward and seek a funding measure and see a good chance of success.

City Councilor Justin Livingston said, “I think the May 2020 timeline is what is currently built into the council goals, and at this point I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that.”

“The timing of the project with the citizen committee will really kind of dictate that timing, and if we need a bit more time to prioritize and get more community feedback, then I’m all for putting that to the (panel),” he added.

Consultants DHM Research also conducted a recent phone survey of more than 300 Bend registered voters and said that “voters are generally ready to pay more to address transportation issues in Bend,” with traffic congestion the top issue they want city leaders to address.

However, they noted, “Half of the support for a transportation funding referral is ‘somewhat supportive,’ a lukewarm feeling that could flip to ‘somewhat oppose’ with effective persuasion.” The strongest supporters are younger people, newer residents and those in the high- and lower-income categories. Foes are primarily middle-age, long-time residents and Republicans.

With that data and no doubt lots more public testimony and input, city councilors will make the final decisions in coming months on whether, when and how much funding to request from voters.

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