Tricky Prineville intersection may be in line for help from resort; plan worries ODOT

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 03. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE — Drivers tired of the long waits at the intersection of Third and Main streets in downtown Prineville could be in for a measure of relief.

A planned resort development near Meadow Lakes Golf Course could involve the addition of left-turn arrows in the north-south direction on Main Street, one of the main routes through the city.

The Prineville Planning Commission in June approved RiverGate Resort, which is expected to include 291 condo and hotel room units, on the condition that the developers either install the left-turn lights or pay $30,000 to the city and about $9,000 to the Oregon Department of Transportation. But ODOT appealed the decision, saying it had not had time to evaluate the proposal and was concerned the wiring at the intersection would not support the weight of the extra lights.

Third Street is also U.S. Highway 26, and ODOT has jurisdiction over the intersection.

Josh Smith, a senior planner with the city of Prineville, said the work will include removing and reconfiguring the lights to reduce the weight on the span wire. An engineer for RiverGate Resort has concluded that the wire can support the extra weight, but ODOT has not yet agreed with that analysis, Smith said.

“We said, ‘It either works or it doesn’t, so we’ll give an option — if it doesn’t work, they’ll just give us the cash,’” Smith said. “(ODOT) wanted to have all the information on the table before we approved the application. That’s understandable, but the city was under the impression that it’s either going to work or it’s not and you can’t make that intersection any bigger — the museum is in the way, historic buildings are in the way.”

According to a letter from ODOT to the city community development department in June, ODOT is worried about the effects of future growth in Prineville on the transportation system.

“ODOT is concerned about the projected operational deficiency of U.S. 26 at Main Street — irrespective of the proposed development,” wrote ODOT Senior Planner Devin Hearing. “Serious discussions need to take place to identify a funding mechanism that will ensure the transportation system is capable of supporting the level of growth anticipated in the city.”

Attempts to reach ODOT officials were unsuccessful.

RiverGate Resort was OKed after the approval of Angler’s Canyon, another development that could add 877 homes south of the Crook County Fairgrounds. Because the Planning Commission approved Angler’s Canyon first, Smith said, the projected car trips for RiverGate Resort would have pushed the intersection at Third and Main over capacity. Adding the left-turn lights is a way for the developer to “mitigate” for those impacts.

The congestion at the Third and Main intersection affects traffic throughout the downtown Prineville corridor, Smith said. The corner already has left arrows in the east-west direction, but Smith said cars trying to turn left from Main Street onto Third often create problems.

“It is the main intersection in town,” he said. “Everyone stops at Third and Main, and one of the biggest problems is that turn lane — one car juts out and waits until all the traffic gets through and then goes through.”

Gordon Gillespie is a city councilor and the director of the Bowman Museum, which occupies a nearly 100-year-old building on the southeast corner of Third and Main streets. Gillespie said he sees traffic backed up at the intersection “on almost a constant basis.”

“I’ve experienced where I’ve been trying to get out of town and I want to turn left at that light, and I’ve sat there for three or four lights,” he said. “I think an arrow is going to help a lot.”

The city is looking at several options to relieve traffic on Third Street in the long term. Preliminary work has started on what planners call the “Second Street egress,” which would provide an alternative east-west route from the intersection of state Highway 126 and U.S. Highway 26 through downtown, Smith said. Another idea is to create a “couplet” system, with two parallel one-way streets, like in downtown Redmond.

“(Third and Main) is still going to be a clogged intersection. What’s really needed is a bypass which Second Street should provide,” Smith said. “What ODOT would really prefer us to do now is the couplet system.”

At its last regular meeting, the Prineville City Council set a date of Aug. 14 to hear ODOT’s appeal of RiverGate’s approval. But Smith said both sides have been in communication and are hoping to avoid the appeal.

“They need to figure out basically will the span wire hold all four lights — if it does, they’re happy,” he said. “The city and ODOT are still hoping for a compromise that keeps it from going to an appeal.”

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