(Update: Adding video, comments from ODOT)
Safety is biggest priority to improve Wickiup Junction
LA PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The area known as Wickiup Junction sits on Highway 97, as you head into La Pine from the north, where the road turns into two lanes and there are developments on both sides of the road. The Oregon Department of Transportation and city of La Pine are working to finalize a plan to make the area safer and more efficient.
There are intersections where a lot of drivers make turns -- they can sit there for minutes waiting, due to high-speed traffic. On top of that, a railroad intersects the highway with up to a dozen trains a day -- and the area is seeing more businesses, which increase foot traffic.
Peter Murphy, Region 4 spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. said Friday it's not a simple project, because several areas need improvements.
"It all comes back to safety. You have to kind of make sure that everything we're talking about relates to how safe that area is," says Murphy. "We have a group of highways, a group of streets, we have railroad tracks, we have crossings. There is a lot going on in this Wickiup Junction area --so it's imperative upon us and the city to work together to come up with something that works for all these safety needs."
The key projects listed in the draft plan, totaling $35 million, include realigning Burgess Road, extending Pam Lane to Rosland Road, and intersection options to deal with congestion and safety needs. Deschutes County has also been involved in the plan's preparation, and county commissioners will review the draft plan at a meeting Monday afternoon. You can review it here, starting at page 31.
One man who works in the area says he doesn't even drive on Highway 97 to get to work. He purposefully will drive on a road that runs parallel to 97, because it's safer and quicker. He says he thinks the city, county and state should move forward with the project, to make it safer for drivers and everyone.
"Safety is always something that should be taken into consideration -- and if the improvements need to be made to make the commute safe, then yes, it has to be done," says Gary Showers, a pump attendant at Wickiup Junction gas station. "Because all you're doing is risking people's lives, and property and things like that."
Still, Murphy acknowledges, funding is a big challenge - and that a project like this, with several parts, could take years to complete.