Powell Butte tops Crook’s transportation challenges

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

PRINEVILLE — In Powell Butte, the signs of growth are everywhere.

Mounds of dirt line one corner that crews are straightening on the Powell Butte Highway. Orange construction signs slow traffic at part of state Highway 126. And the increasingly busy highway is often clogged with rush-hour traffic on its way between Prineville and Redmond.

There is no question that Powell Butte’s roads will have many more cars on them in the next few years and could require major infrastructure investments on the part of both Crook County and developers. But officials say that the rapid residential growth in the area — which currently has three destination resorts in the works — may take attention away from other areas in the county with serious transportation issues.

“I think that because of the destination resorts, they’ve driven a lot of that discussion because there’s been opportunities (for road improvements),” County Judge Scott Cooper said. “I don’t think Powell Butte gets more than its fair share — Powell Butte’s a hot real estate area right now so it gets a lot of attention.”

Pressing roads concerns

The Crook County Court has spent many meetings in recent months discussing aspects of road improvements in Powell Butte, including fixing dangerous corners on the Powell Butte Highway between Prineville and Bend and working out agreements with destination resorts to fund the work. But it has given comparatively little consideration to what Commissioner Lynn Lundquist called the “most pressing” road problem in the county: finding a second access point for the Juniper Canyon area.

Juniper Canyon is a rural area south of Prineville that, like the rest of the county, has seen an increase in subdivision development in recent years. The area is essentially a long cul-de-sac extending down to the Prineville Reservoir, with Juniper Canyon Road serving as the only route in and out for residents, all of whom have to drive through downtown Prineville to get to a highway.

That raises safety concerns in the case of a wildfire or other emergency that could block the exit route. At a recent Sheriff’s Office Town Hall in Juniper Canyon, residents and Sheriff Rodd Clark expressed concern about the state of affairs.

Lundquist also said last week that he is worried about the situation.

“We have to get another access out of there for fire, and I’m getting a little impatient about that,” Lundquist said.

Cooper said that the County Court has asked the planning department to review four different options for another road in the area, which faces difficulty because of sensitive wildlife areas and the fact that much of the surrounding land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Cooper added that there is a small, seasonally open road that could serve as an evacuation route in case of emergency.

One Juniper Canyon resident, Newell Clarno, recently appeared before the County Court to discuss a transportation plan for the area, which he is now developing and will include an inventory of the area’s roads and possible solutions for the exit issue. Clarno estimated that about 4,000 people live in Juniper Canyon.

“Another issue is road maintenance — a lot of the subdivisions were put in before that was a consideration,” Clarno said.

Frank Porfily, who said he owns land in Juniper Canyon, also spoke to the County Court recently about finding another access road.

“That one there is more of a critical issue I think because Powell Butte doesn’t have access problems, it has capacity problems,” Porfily said. “I suppose they go where the money’s at, and that’s where it’s at.”

Cooper said the county has set aside $700,000 for a second road out of Juniper Canyon. He added that the development of destination resorts in Powell Butte has led the County Court to focus on that area because the county is able to work out agreements with the resorts to fund some of the improvements.

Crook County does not levy any system development charges for transportation, and funding considerations have become more important given the uncertainty surrounding the county timber payments plan. The county road department’s total annual operating revenue was about $4.2 million last year, $2.5 million of which came from county timber payments.

“What we want to build is the road that makes the most sense, but sense means cost effective, it means fits with the terrain and it means that it’s far enough away from the existing road that we’re not likely to have both roads shut down,” Cooper said. “In Powell Butte, you have very large developers with deep pockets; in Juniper Canyon you have small developers with skinny pockets, and you can’t tax any one developer for systemwide improvements.”

In addition to these transportation projects, Cooper said, he is concerned about the conditions of state Highway 26 and the roads around the community of Lone Pine.

Taking a step back

Lundquist, who lives on one of the main roads in Powell Butte that will be affected by Brasada Ranch destination resort, said one of the main reasons he ran for County Court in November was to address transportation issues. Before running for the court, he was a member of a committee that recommended ways to fix the sight distances on certain corners on the Powell Butte Highway.

He has played an active role in the debate when the topic of Powell Butte’s roads have come up in County Court meetings, as it has done frequently the past few months, and has voted in opposition of the other two commissioners on the question of whether to allow Brasada Ranch to fix only one of the two main curves on the Powell Butte Highway.

Lundquist has suggested revisiting the county’s transportation system plan, which he said the Court will probably do later this summer. The plan, which was only completed a few years ago, is already not being adhered to with the projects in Powell Butte, Lundquist said last week.

“To me, the single biggest transportation issue is taking a timeout to look at how the county and the community wants their infrastructure to look,” he said. “As we have this great influx of people coming in here, is it appropriate that we just take our present road system that we have and we’re just going to funnel everyone down these same roads, or do we take a timeout and say, ‘Let’s plan for the future of it?’”

In an interview last week, Lundquist expressed the same idea, saying that he thinks the county needs to take a step back to look at the overall transportation picture. He added that he thinks the rapid development in Powell Butte has put that area in the spotlight.

“Juniper Canyon has developed at a slower pace, you know, it’s growing and growing and growing, and I don’t think you have the big change like we see in Powell Butte now,” he said. “When we have literally a new city — the three resorts are as big as Prine-ville is — and so when you have the great potential growth at one time, I think you’re hearing more about Powell Butte.”

Cooper said that more conversations about Powell Butte may happen at the County Court level, but discussions about the county’s other roads issues are happening as well.

“I think every elected official has a responsibility to represent what he perceives to be his or her constituency,” Cooper said. “Lynn happens to be very passionate about the Powell Butte area.”

He added that he thinks the county’s traffic issues and those of Powell Butte in particular get a lot of attention from county government, but there are many pressing concerns for the commissioners.

“I always have to look at it in perspective too. Yes, we have our problems and, yes, we deal with them every day, (but) drive to Bend, drive to Portland, and tell me we have traffic problems,” he said. “Transportation is important, and we do talk about it a lot, but so is making sure that you don’t come down with West Nile virus, so is making sure that we lock up the bad guys, so is making sure that the courts are able to hear your case in a timely fashion. It’s one of 23 separate department functions that we operate — it gets an awful lot of time.”

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