Madras Community Development Director Nick Snead.Looking for solutions for a property owner who was unable to sell his land for commercial development, three years ago, Nick Snead, Madras Community Development Department director, started working with other Central Oregon cities experiencing the same issues.

The city of Madras teamed up with Bend, Redmond and La Pine to form TRIP 97, the cities’ acronym for Transportation Reinvestment Innovation and Planning for U.S. Highway 97, to build a platform to give the cities more influence with state agencies, particularly the Oregon Department of Transportation, when dealing with the state’s Transportation Planning Rule.

Snead got involved in 2010, as a result of problems experienced by Gary and Janet Walker, of Madras. In 2006, a Bend developer had offered the Walkers $5.8 million to purchase their 17-acre parcel southwest of Madras.

The city annexed the property and rezoned it commercial, but then ODOT required expensive transportation studies, and eventually, appealed the city’s rezone to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

ODOT argued that under the state’s recently passed Transportation Planning Rule, the city had to show what improvements to U.S. 97 would be needed and how they would be funded. LUBA remanded the issue back to the city for additional findings, but in the meantime, years had elapsed, and the developer had backed out of the sale.

Snead hoped to prevent the same type of issue from occurring again, and stifling commercial development, he told the Madras City Council on Jan. 14, and county commissioners on Jan. 22, when the city and county met for their regular meeting.

The concept, he said, was to look at the Highway 97 corridor as an asset, with each of the cities contributing an amount proportional to its size to a fund to look at corridor standards, identify funding sources, create a development impact analysis tool, and identify potential projects to maintain the functionality of the corridor.

The city of Madras contributed $5,000 to the partnership, which is working with ODOT under “the shared vision of U.S. 97 continuing to serve as an economic engine for Central Oregon today and into the future.”

Members of the partnership are collaborating to pursue solutions “that maximize investments and make the best corridor management decisions for the region.”

Specifically, TRIP 97’s framework summary states that the partnership will address “the unintended consequences of the transportation planning process and policies,” as they:

. Increase system performance emphasis on regional job creation, safety, accessibility, and alternative travel modes;

. Allow a range of improvement projects that include lower cost management and maintenance options in addition to capital strategies;

. Prioritize corridor investments by the partnership to address system needs across jurisdictional lines; and

. Utilize growth allowed by TRIP 97 to help fund the identified system improvements.

For Central Oregon, rather than the previous estimate of $1 billion for all the corridor improvements to meet policies in existing plans, TRIP 97 estimates that a realistic improvement package to maintain safety and mobility could be funded with $150 million. The partnership has not identified where the funding will come from.

Councilor Tom Brown said that he hoped that ODOT would be willing to work with the cities. “Without funding, there’s no place to go,” he said. “For us, it’s all about economic development.”

“We are citizens of Madras, but we are also citizens of Central Oregon,” said Councilor Walt Chamberlain, adding that whatever benefits Madras benefits the other cities as well.

At the last city council meeting, Snead said his staff gave a report on phase I of the project, which has been completed.

“We identified some areas of concern (including governance choices for Trip 97), and the council agreed with them and gave guidance to the staff. And they said to bring issues to the council so they can resolve problems or concerns,” Snead said.

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