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ODOT shows support for alternative access to Juniper Canyon at recent meeting

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Currently, only one improved road leads into and out of Juniper Canyon.

A recent meeting about a possible second access to Juniper Canyon seems to have given the proposed project some additional momentum.

Crook County Commissioner Jerry Brummer, who is spearheading the recent effort, recently met with regional representatives from Oregon Department of Transportation as well as the Crook County Road Master, street superintendent for the City of Prineville, and representatives from Crook County Fire and Rescue.

"We got together, drove up on the site so we could look at what I proposed up there," Brummer said.

Brummer initially pushed for a second access to the Juniper Canyon area more than a decade ago when he served on the Crook County Planning Commission. His concern was that about 20 to 25 percent of the county's population lives in the area, and there is only one way in and out, creating potential problems if a fire or other emergency arises.

The proposal never gained enough traction to move forward, but when Brummer was elected commissioner in 2016, he made another attempt at the project, and this time around, it seems to have some legs as evidenced by the results of the recent meeting.

"The ODOT people were very receptive to our idea and thought it was real doable," he said. "They are going to do a comprehensive design on it for us, kind of get a cost estimate rough draft."

ODOT is also willing to look at what kind of environmental work might be necessary.

The state agency will meet with local leaders again in mid-March at which time the parties will consider how to move forward on the project. The main thing Brummer hopes to learn from ODOT is the potential cost of the project, which will enable local leaders to determine what grants and state funding they would pursue.

Among the many options is getting the project included on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which has funded other major road projects in the past. Going that route would likely take four to six years to secure funds, so Brummer said that option would depend on how quickly they want to complete the work. Securing other grants might also take "quite a while" he added.

"But I think getting this initiated and getting these first steps done, it will help us move up the ladder," he stated.

So far, local leaders have not settled on any concrete plans for the new road but have a rough idea where they would like to build it. Brummer said it would likely enter the Juniper Canyon area from Highway 27 about a 1 to 1.5 miles south of the city limits and travel east, connecting with Davis Loop about 1.5 to 2 miles from the lower Juniper Canyon Road intersection. He estimates that the road would be about 1.5 miles long and potentially make use of an existing dirt road that climbs about 300 feet in elevation over the course of about 5/8 of a mile, which would keep the road at less than 6 percent grade.

ODOT believes such a path is very doable, Brummer said.

While local leaders could potentially start the road further down Highway 27 and Davis Loop, Brummer points out that doing so would cause problems. Not only does the rim go higher as it goes south, he believes that people would be less likely to use the road if they had to drive further out of town to access it.

The intent is to build a road that not only satisfies the need for a second access in emergency situations, but build one that people will want to use and reduce traffic coming off of Juniper Canyon Road and through town on Third Street.

While county leaders wait for answers to cost and funding questions, they intend to move forward with some engineering work and paying for necessary right-of-ways. Brummer noted that the county has already received a right-of-way long ago from a private land owner and would need to do the same for property owned by the Department of State Lands.

"We have talked to them about that, and they are receptive to doing that," he said.

Additional plans include hosting some community meetings so that county officials can gather input from local residents and find out what they would like to see happen.

Overall, Brummer is pleased to see the project finally gaining some traction after advocating for it more than a decade ago.

"We are a whole lot further along than we have been for the last 15 years," he said. "We are seeing something getting done on the ground instead of just talking about it."

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