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An additional $3 million for various road projects has local government excited; projects to be determined

PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE DARLING/ODOT
 - Last year, ODOT officials conducted tests for semi trucks to be able to maneuver on the proposed roundabout on State Highway 126 west of Prineville. The roundabout project is expected to receive some of the state transportation bill revenues that will flow to local governments.

Road maintenance departments for the City of Prineville and Crook County received some good news as the Oregon Legislature concluded its 2017 session last week.

State lawmakers passed a long-awaited transportation bill that will commit $5.3 billion to projects throughout Oregon, with around $3 million slated for use in Prineville and Crook County.

The news comes as a source of relief for city and county officials invested in converting the Tom McCall Road and Highway 126 intersection into a roundabout. At a recent Prineville City Council meeting, City Manager Steve Forrester noted that $1 million of the local funds are dedicated to the project, which faced a $700,000 shortfall without it.

"Rep. Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) had pushed for this," he said. "That is very good news for our community."

Councilor Steve Uffelman asked if there was any other news about how the remainder of the $3 million would be spent, but nobody could provide him with specifics.

"We don't know at this point," Forrester said. "We do know that there is $76 million in (ODOT) Region 4, which is our region. We do know that there is an emphasis on bike and pedestrian efforts."

City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck added that seven projects had been specifically identified in Region 4, one of which is the local roundabout. Another is slated for inside the city limits of Prineville, and the remaining five will take place along the Highway 97 corridor.

Forrester pointed out that future meetings of the Central Oregon Area Commission on Transportation (COACT) would likely shed some light on how the local dollars will be spent.

"I can say that it is better than we thought it would be," he said of the funding, "especially in Region 4."

Street Supervisor Scott Smith went on to mention a boost of about $275,000 in annual gas tax revenue the city would receive as part of the transportation package. The money will provide the city additional funds for regular street maintenance projects as the need arises.

Crook County will likewise receive an increase in gas tax revenue to the tune of about $475,000, according to Commissioner Jerry Brummer.

"That is pretty much discretionary funds," he said. "You can use that for maintenance, new construction or whatever."

Regarding the roughly $3 million provided to the community by the transportation package, Brummer said its uses are not yet clear and he cautions that the legislation could potentially get referred to the voters.

"I don't think anybody knows as much about it as we would like to," he added.

At the same time, he is pleased to see additional funds dedicated to Crook County during a time when Secure Rural Schools program is in danger of being discontinued by Congress. The program, commonly called "county payments" has provided the county approximately $1.25 million annually in recent years.

While he is happy to receive some money to backfill that potential revenue loss, he cautions that it will not completely make up for the potential demise of county payments.

"It is way better than nothing, and thank you," he said, "but it is not the silver bullet by any means."

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