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Crook County's transportation system plan prioritizes new access road for Juniper Canyon

JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Commissioner Jerry Brummer contends the county should work toward creating a second access road for the Juniper Canyon area, to augment the current single access road, Juniper Canyon Road, above.

Roughly 15 years ago, when Jerry Brummer served on the Crook County Planning Commission, a particular provision caught his attention.

He noted that no county subdivision was allowed to have a cul-de-sac 800 feet or longer unless it had a secondary ingress and egress.

"I looked at that and thought, you know we have a 25-mile cul-de-sac," he recalls, "and there is only one way in and one way out."

That "cul-de-sac" is Juniper Canyon Road, which begins at Paulina Highway near the edge of Prineville and concludes at the Prineville Reservoir, more than 20 miles away.

Brummer became intrigued with the idea of adding a second access, noting that about a quarter of the county's population lives in the area accessed by the single road, putting the residents in serious danger should a wildfire or another disaster strike.

"I did a little research, trying to find a place that might work to do that," he said, adding that he later came up with what might be a suitable location. But the project faced a few substantial hurdles, including cost and obtaining an easement through private property.

In the end, the project didn't gain any traction. Brummer left the commission and nobody championed the idea thereafter.

Fast forward to 2016; the idea resurfaced as Brummer ran for a Crook County Commissioner seat. During candidate forums, he named the secondary access road as one of his top priorities if elected.

"Being a commissioner, I might have a little more opportunity to leverage some grants or some funds to get it done," he thought.

In November, Brummer was elected and after taking office in January, he kept the project in his sights. Fortunately, in 2017, he wasn't the only one wanting to see another way in and out of Juniper Canyon.

This past fall, the county planning department put the finishing touches on its transportation system plan, a document that highlights the highest priority transportation projects the county wants to pursue. When it was approved last month, the access road was placed at the top of the priority list.

The TSP inclusion was a major milestone for the project, Brummer points out. Not only does it increase the likelihood that the county will work on the road sooner than later, it increased the chances of it receiving funding.

"When you are on the TSP, that makes you eligible for a lot more grants," he said, adding that it also helps the project receive inclusion on Oregon's State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

Brummer believes that the greatest hurdles the projects face will be financial. The road, as currently proposed, would be about two miles long. It would begin on Highway 27 about two miles south of Prineville and go up and over a ridge to the east, connecting with Lower Davis Loop, a couple miles away from Juniper Canyon Road.

Assuming the county can win a grant from Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council to fund design efforts, project leaders could then develop a cost estimate and move forward.

Though Brummer would like to see the road done tomorrow, he acknowledges that such efforts take time and he expects it will take at least three or four years to see the idea through to completion.

But with the project earning top priority on the county TSP, he is feeling more confident than ever in its chances to move forward and not fall by the wayside again.

"These things don't happen fast, but at least we are taking baby steps and getting something done," he concluded.

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