(Update: Adding video, comments)
'We're projecting a tremendous amount of congestion,' says an engineer
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The future of the U.S Highway. 97/Baker Road Interchange south of Bend was the focus of Wednesday evening's online open house, hosted by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
ODOT is preparing an Interchange Area Management Plan to evaluate how the existing interchange at Deschutes River Woods operates and to determine what measures are needed to keep it functioning over the next 20 years and beyond.
According to ODOT Senior Transportation Planner Don Morehouse, the interchange was constructed in the early 1990s to serve the sparsely populated rural areas south of Bend.
But over the last few decades, Bend’s population has nearly quadrupled, leading to heavier congestion and crashes in the area.
DKS Associates Principal Engineer John Bosket has helped with designing overall plans for a new interchange to address these concerns.
"We're projecting a tremendous amount of congestion," Bosket said. "During some of the worst times, that southbound ramp can queue up pretty badly. It can actually get down to the highway at times, which is really unsafe, and that can be exacerbated when we have a railroad closure."
And Bosket says the majority of interchange traffic growth by 2040 will be trips to and from the east.
"It's only 15% growth going to and from the west on Baker Road, which over 20 years really isn't that much," Bosket said. "But on the east, it's 115%, and that's pretty significant."
So ODOT is looking at a series of eight alternatives to help improve efficiency and safety.
Some plans start as simple as maintaining the existing interchange with improvements, and shift to roundabouts, stoplights, and flyover ramps, according to HDR's Project Manager Andrew Johnson.
"It's complicated, but it's interesting," Johnson said. "And likely would be very effective at minimizing delay in congestion, and even improving safety, especially as related to that railroad."
But some local callers voiced their concerns with the plans, like Bend's Randy Windlinx.
"All these options you've been putting through, its ridiculous," Windlinx said. "The amount of money with the tunnel systems and the bridge systems and that type of thing, for what I consider a very limited amount of use that the taxpayers are going to be funding, basically for the general public."
The project is set to involve state and local jurisdictions, including Deschutes County and the City of Bend, as well as community stakeholders and interchange users.
A second online open house and survey is expected to take place this fall.