Finding a fix for highway curves

Crook County has found a solution for one corner on Powell Butte Highway, but work is stalled on another

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 27. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – In November 2005, after a long community debate, the Crook County Court decided to shave some of the more dangerous corners off Powell Butte Highway rather than realign the road.

Now, almost 1 1/2 years later, the sharp turns at the intersections of Alfalfa and Shumway roads and Powell Butte Highway remain unchanged. The county has not been able to secure right-of-way access for the bordering properties that would be affected.

With plans for hundreds of housing units at nearby destination resorts in the works, county officials, Brasada Ranch resort developers and a local landowner have come to an agreement to fix the Alfalfa Road intersection. But the fate of Shumway Road is still unclear, even as planners are anticipating thousands more car trips per day from the resorts’ visitors and homeowners.

The highway, which starts east of Bend and runs to Alfalfa and Powell Butte, has long been the subject of concern over its winding curves, particularly two 90-degree turns at Alfalfa and Shumway roads.

The two-lane highway cuts through a juniper-covered landscape framed by the dramatic Powell Butte to the east, as well as several cattle ranches.

In the past, some local residents wanted to straighten and move the highway, but others feared an increase in the volume and speed of traffic. The two intersections lie a few miles south of where the Powell Butte Highway ends at state Highway 126.

The county has now agreed with a landowner to pay $15,000 toward acquiring right-of-way access on about 7 acres of land at the corner of Alfalfa Road and the Powell Butte Highway, County Counsel Dave Gordon said at last week’s Crook County Court meeting. Gordon added that Brasada Ranch will pay the rest of the $152,000 price tag for the right of way and cover the cost of rebuilding the corner to make the curve wider and turning easier.

The new intersection will comply with federal engineering standards and improve the sight distance on the roads, Brasada Ranch Project Manager Brett Hudson said. It will cost at least $500,000, he said.

“It’s been a two-year deal for the county and Brasada Ranch just to find a place that we actually could make some impact toward safety,” Hudson said.

Changing responsibilities

Brasada Ranch’s role in constructing the corner is part of a new agreement between it and the county that will allow Brasada to reroute the section of Shumway Road within the resort’s borders: Instead of having the road border the golf course, the developer wants to move it to add more premium home sites and improve safety. The resort will also be required to repave about a two-mile section of Alfalfa Road and add signs directing visitors to use Alfalfa as its main entrance point.

But the new agreement releases Brasada from responsibility for the Shumway corner, which was part of its original plan approval. Previously, the resort paid the county $425,000 to cover its projected traffic impact on both intersections. That money will now be returned to the resort’s developers to use on the Alfalfa intersection, which planners and developers said will cost more than Brasada was originally supposed to pay to cover its share of both intersection improvements.

The holdup on both corners has been an inability so far to acquire the right-of-way access needed to broaden the curves. Crook County Court Judge Scott Cooper said he is not willing to use eminent domain against landowners in order to fix Shumway Road.

“Right now the (Alfalfa) curve doesn’t meet any engineering standards — at high speeds the corner can throw you to one side or the other, especially in slick weather, and it just doesn’t work very well,” Cooper said. “The new corner will be designed for a 55 mph, regular-volume movement on the highway with good sight distance, but to do that we have to have a lot of land and that’s always been the challenge.”

Cooper added that he voted to go ahead with the project despite the lack of plans for Shumway Road because the deal with Brasada Ranch means the county has “95 percent of the funding in hand from a third party.”

“The need for the Alfalfa corner is going to be intensified over time, so we should go forward and do what we have the opportunity to do with somebody else’s money, and we would continue to look for what to do with Shumway as opportunity presented itself for willing sellers,” he said.

County Commissioner Lynn Lundquist voted against accepting the new agreement with Brasada Ranch. He said he would prefer that the Alfalfa corner be constructed to a less exacting standard in order to save money for Shumway Road.

Lundquist lives on Shumway Road and was part of the committee that examined the options for fixing the Powell Butte Highway curves before he was elected to the County Court in November. At the time, he supported shaving the banks of the corners rather than realigning the highway.

“I’m just looking at the total fiscal capacity of the county, and I think we’re buying a Cadillac corner that is a good corner, but I think you could get something less than that, and so we would have resources to fix Shumway corner as well,” Lundquist said. “I’m trying to look at the more macro picture than I am just one corner at a time.”

Tony Dorsch, who owns a farm at the corner of Shumway Road and the Powell Butte Highway, said he is in favor of moving the highway about 30 feet to the east, which he said will improve drivers’ ability to see around the bend. But he added that county engineers have rejected that plan, telling him it would further sharpen the turns.

“It would slow the traffic down a little bit, but so what? There’s some reticence about slowing the traffic down on that curve, but to me, it would be really nice if they’d slow it down,” Dorsch said, adding that a driver going too fast on the road two weeks ago knocked down his mailbox. “I’m concerned about it, the school buses are concerned about it, the public is concerned about it — it’s a dadgum dangerous curve.”

Dorsch said that the work on the Alfalfa corner is “mutually exclusive” with efforts to improve Shumway. He also thinks that plans to shave the banks of the corners are “second best,” he said.

“They haven’t done a blessed thing with it the four years I’ve owned that place except sit on it and hope to heck something would come along like a miracle and solve their problem,” he said. “(One) idea was to push my topsoil back toward my barn and then reduce the subsoil to get the line of sight and then put it back, but to me that’s just like a Band-Aid on an ulcer.”

The ‘social cost’ of growth

Crook County Roadmaster Penny Keller estimated at the last County Court meeting that putting in a new corner at Shumway Road will cost at least several hundred thousand dollars. As the county planning commission moves ahead with negotiations over new destination resort proposals, such as Hidden Canyon, the Pahlisch development, it may look to include requirements about rebuilding Shum-way Road in the resorts’ development approvals, Cooper said. Hidden Canyon recently applied to build 3,675 total units on 3,250 acres east of Brasada Ranch.

“As different developments add traffic to that area, they have to do their share to fix the problem, but no more than their share,” Cooper said. “The planning commission has been really gearing up on attempting to do a better job on learning how to impose exactions that get dollars out of developers to pay for the impacts of their development.”

Keller said that there are currently about 6,200 car trips per day on the Powell Butte Highway, and the county estimates that Brasada Ranch’s 600 single-family houses alone would add another 2,400 trips each day. Brasada is also building 300 overnight units.

Lundquist described the extra traffic as part of the “social cost” of allowing destination resort development in the area, which the County Court did about four years ago. Lundquist and Cooper said that the County Court will continue discussing options for acquiring right of way at the Shumway corner or starting work to lower the corner 2 or 3 feet, improving drivers’ ability to see around the corner.

“I’m going to work hard on trying to come to some resolution on the Shumway corner, because as far as I’m concerned removing a little dirt some time ago would have solved a lot of the problems, but for some reason we can’t seem to get there,” Lundquist said. “I hope we can do it without having any right-of-way change.”

Hudson, of Brasada Ranch, said that work on the Alfalfa Road construction will start as soon as possible, once the county has signed a deal with the landowners and discussions with local farmers about the timing of the irrigation season are complete.

“A lot of it’s for our benefit, so that’s why we’re not really balking at it. We’ll gain a nice entry for our owners and the county’s getting a nice new road — it’s a mutually beneficial thing,” Hudson said. “It will be nice to finally be able to get something done out here, get that project off the ground. It’s been a long time.”

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