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Downtown Development Efforts Will Transform La Pine

(A 3-part article – Scroll down to see all 3)

By Andrea Hine, Contributing Writer

Part 1: A Downtown Everyone Can Be Proud Of

The complete makeover of the west side of US 97 between 1st and 6th Streets will include four crosswalk locations, each with ADA-compliant ramps on both sides of the highway. Two of the crosswalks will also feature raised medians and flashing beacons to warn traffic that a pedestrian is about to cross.

A recent walk from City Hall to Grocery Outlet, which took less than five minutes, solidified a vision for City Manager Cory Misley. “I stepped over broken patchwork concrete, navigated sidewalks that were too narrow and sections where no sidewalks existed at all, and jaywalked across US 97 because of the lack of crosswalks.”

But projecting ahead to next spring, Misley doesn’t see this “messy and unsafe” streetscape. Instead, he imagines the complete makeover of the west side of US 97 between 1st and 6th Streets – the culmination of a strong partnership between city officials and ODOT.

“After years of working on this project, which will impact every aspect of the highway and every business on this west-side section, we’re in the home stretch,” Misley summarized. “The entire corridor will look like the portion in front of ODOT’s maintenance yard and City Hall – with the same curbs, eight-foot sidewalks, and landscaping (enhanced with more rocks and shrubs). Decorative pedestrian lighting will extend all the way down, featuring at least 12 ‘luminaire’ fixtures spaced 165 feet apart.

“Four crosswalk locations have been identified,” he continued, “and each will have ADA-complaint curb ramps on both sides of 97. Two of the crosswalks will also feature roadway lights, raised medians (or ‘pedestrian refuge islands’) and RRFBs (rapid rectangular flashing beacons) to warn traffic that a pedestrian is about to cross the highway. In addition, the speed limit will be lowered to 30 mph instead of the current 35 mph along this stretch.”

La Pine resident Marvin Pugh welcomed these pedestrian-oriented measures.  “Traffic really roars through town,” he observed, “and this will help slow it down.”

Noted Misley: “The crosswalks, and the added safety they provide, will eliminate the need for a school zone. We’re also working toward making Huntington and 97 a major gateway into La Pine, and will wrap the sidewalk around that angled corner as a step in that direction.

“The project is being financed primarily with state money and grants,” Misley emphasized, “with federal money earmarked for the ADA-compliant ramps. The city has been budgeting and planning for its small share of the overall cost (specifically landscaping and lighting), and no loans are involved. Nor will residents’ bills or taxes be affected.

“This is only the beginning,” promised Mosley. “Our five-year goal is to do the entire east side of the highway as well. But we’re putting one foot in front of the other, and looking forward to our next project milestone in the near future – when people will be able to use and enjoy the new streetscape improvements.

“After all our discussion and planning, we’ll really start to see progress in developing a walkable and attractive downtown area that everyone can be proud of.”

Part 2: “Our Relationship With La Pine Is Really Awesome”

“I know that the project will make things look better,” predicted Brian Earles, owner of Highlander Motel and the adjacent Shell gas station. “I hope that ODOT, the city and the business owners will all be happy.”

“We have cooperated very well together, and the results will be better for everyone,” predicted Brian Earls, owner of Highlander Motel and the adjacent Shell gas station. “I had a good experience working with ODOT.”

City Manager Cory Misley is not surprised to hear Earls’ comments. “The safety and beautification improvements along the west side of the US 97 from 1st to 6th Streets – which people will see in the near future – are just part of the overall picture,” he explained.

Abbey Driscoll, ODOT’s Community Relations Manager, elaborated. “As is often the case in rural areas, you have a highway running through the middle of town. It’s a natural progression, as a community grows around this highway, that business and property owners inadvertently encroach on adjacent land – regardless of where the city, county or state property lines end.”

“ODOT worked with every single property owner, business and tenant – and looked at every private access and road abutting 97 – in order to develop a strategy,” noted Misley. “It was a multi-year effort, and ODOT has done a tremendous job.”

“We have specific teams that deal with right of way and access management (ingress and egress), and collaborate with business owners to decide what is safest,” said Driscoll. “The whole process is designed to arrive at solutions that work for everyone.”

Brian Earls knows that the project “will narrow our driveways, which means that getting in and out will be more complicated. Plus, we’ll have to redo our bay – which maybe had to be redone anyway. But,” he added, “I understand that you can only vary the parameters so much, and know the project will make things look better. I hope that ODOT, the city and the business owners will all be happy.”

“Different cities have different ‘flavors,’ in terms of how they want their city to look and function,” Driscoll observed. “Hopefully, what La Pine wants and what ODOT wants align. “We have a really good relationship with La Pine – it’s one of the best we have. It’s awesome.”

Part 3: Transit/City Center Is “Leading the Charge”

La Pine City officials, working with partners such as ODOT and COIC, are planning a public outreach to obtain a prioritized list of what people in the La Pine area want to see as part of a transit/city center to be located on 4th Street (between Huntington and US 97). (The transit center shown right is located in Sandy, Oregon, a town of 10,000 people located 25 miles from Portland.)

Those passing between Huntington and US 97 along the north side of 4th Street currently see a weed-strewn 1.64-acre lot. Few realize that this uninspiring parcel is the future site of a multimodal transit and city center considered key to the future of La Pine’s downtown development.

According to ODOT: “The growth of La Pine and south Deschutes County has created the need for more transit alternatives. Under the city’s leadership, the proposed transit center would serve to better connect La Pine to other cities in Deschutes County – serving commuters, visitors and local residents alike.”

“With the Wickiup Park & Ride at the north end of town, there has been talk for years of having a transit and city center in our downtown area,” said City Manager Cory Misley. “It will be a significant addition to the beautification and safety project currently underway, and a catalyst for the community’s overall revitalization. With the prioritization of beautification efforts and creating a walkable downtown, this site provided the opportunity to get two birds with one stone.”

He explained that “Phase I began with ODOT’s acquisition of the property (from a private owner). This will be followed by frontage improvements such as a 10-foot sidewalk around the property, new pavement, and on-street parking. We’re also envisioning minor site enhancements such as benches, a simple bus shelter, and a bus pull-in zone for easy access to and from US 97. And this is just the beginning.”

Continued Misley: “Given its importance, city officials are approaching the property with an open mind. Working with COIC (Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council), we’ve put together a steering committee (including downtown stakeholders from the schools, library, parks & rec, business owners, and urban renewal board members) to plan a public outreach.

“In effect,” he claimed, “we’ll be taking a blank slate and trying to obtain a prioritized list of what people want to see as part of the transit and city center – from downtown parking to restrooms, public art, and charging stations for electric vehicles. There are a lot of possibilities. From the choice of benches and greenery, to the design elements of any structures on the site, the transit center will be ‘leading the charge’ and demonstrating where we’re heading in future downtown development efforts.”