Public visits open house to ask questions about the roundabout at Highway 126 and Tom McCall Road

HOLLY SCHOLZ - ODOT Project Leader Mike Darling explains the roundabout plan to a visitor during the roundabout open house Thursday. ODOT, Crook County and the City of Prineville hosted the event.

City of Prineville and Oregon Department of Transportation personnel answered questions, referred to maps, and visited one-on-one with members of the public during a roundabout open house Thursday, Jan. 25 at the Crook County Library.

"I would say it's excellent," ODOT Public Information Officer Peter Murphy said of the turnout. "To get people to turn out like this at 4:00 in the afternoon, I would say it's a very good thing."

Prineville Public Works Street Supervisor Scott Smith, on the other hand, was hoping to see double the approximately 100 visitors who attended the two-hour open house.

"A lot of those people that have been making negative comments on Facebook didn't show up. I would have hoped that there'd be more," he said. "ODOT felt like it was a good turnout, and I know some city employees felt like it was a good turnout."

The purpose of the open house was not to take public comment on the $4.9 million roundabout project at Tom McCall Road and Highway 126 but to give the public opportunity to ask questions one-on-one with officials.

"The only concern I had, and I asked the gentlemen with ODOT, were they aware of the height limits for the approach to the runway? It's about 15 feet at that location where they have that side road," said retired Ochoco National Forest Service employee Harry Clagg who used to fly in and out of the Prineville Airport.

Clagg was assured that there would be warning signs for drivers with high loads.

"I think it's a great job that they've come up with. It's very nice," Clagg said. "They were fortunate to have enough room around it to be able to be offset construction and send current traffic around the construction area."

Similarly, Charles Beauchamp said he's all for the roundabout and came to the open house to see the final plans. His neighbor works at Facebook and has told him how hard it is to turn left to head down the grade during quitting time.

"People waiting to get out, they're going on 126 straight through it, and they won't slow down or stop. They're in a hurry. Everybody's in a hurry," Beauchamp said, adding that the roundabout is "safer, and it's faster, and it's just better all the way around."

Alex Crider, who drives a 53-foot semi-truck for Stinger Transport, is not convinced a roundabout is the best solution for that intersection.

"The biggest problem with it is when there's a lot of traffic, the semi-trucks can't jump out there because of our weight issues, so we end up sitting there. So, it puts the driver more tense, up on edge," he said, adding that more stop and go causes wear and tear on his equipment and poor fuel mileage. "At a roundabout, I have to slow down every time I approach it, but with a traffic light, it's a 50/50 chance."

The street supervisor said he answered questions from several open house attendees, including about the longevity of the roundabout, which is around 20 years.

"One couple had major concerns of the roundabout being built in the northwest quadrant off the highway, which required a substantial amount of county land being dedicated for right of way," Smith said.

He pointed out that the area was not of high value and essentially unbuildable because of flight restrictions, being so near to the airport.

"We've been going through this for eight years, trying to determine what is the best solution that addresses safety that also provides us the ability to do something now financially versus waiting another 10 years for the money collected to build an interchange-type structure," Smith said.

Prineville City Councilor Teresa Rodriguez and her husband own T & R Trucking LLC and believe the roundabout will work out well.

"My husband drove through Sisters and said he doesn't have a problem with that. This one will be bigger, which will be even better," she said.

She is on the roundabout center design committee and wants to make sure trucks will be able to see cars approaching. Roundabouts often have a mound in the center high enough so cars cannot see across but low enough so truck drivers can see, Rodriguez explained.

"The cars don't come flying up there at 70 miles an hour and blow it," she said.

Rodriguez was happy to point roundabout naysayers to ODOT personnel during the open house to have their specific questions addressed.

"I'm hoping that people realize this is not just wanting to be Bend. This is an affordable way to solve a traffic issue in the safest manner," she said.