Will Sandy jump on U.S. 26 bypass bandwagon?
Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam received an excited reaction of questions and hope when he announced via Facebook post on Tuesday, June 18, that ODOT plans to study a bypass route for Highway 26 through Sandy.
"Oregon Department of Transportation (has) agreed to both fund and perform a comprehensive study on a local bypass for our citizens of Sandy, as well as provide and install electronic boxes for light synchronization of our traffic signals through town in the next year," he wrote.
However, Don Hamilton, ODOT Region 1 public information officer, told The Post the potential project is on the agency's radar, but the agency is "in a very preliminary part of the process."
"While we are in the very beginning stages of the process and still determining the details, we have agreed to jointly conduct a bypass feasibility analysis with the city of Sandy to inform a broader regional discussion with our Area Commission on Transportation and Clackamas County regarding the need for a more comprehensive analysis," Hamilton noted. "We have not assigned any money yet and we're still in the process of looking at where we'd get that money. We're not on the verge of a big study yet. We're not yet determining this as a comprehensive study. We don't want to be premature."
The last state-level plan for the Highway 26 corridor running through Sandy was conducted in 2008. Through this, ODOT attempted to forecast what improvements Highway 26 would require throughout the next 10 years. A bypass of the highway that runs through the center of town was proposed in the state-generated 2008 Sandy Gateway Plan, but the project was never implemented.
The original concept for a bypass of Sandy was said to most likely curve around the city's southern edge, running from west of Orient Drive to Shorty's Corner at Southeast Firwood Road. In a previous story, city planner Kelly O'Neill said the 2008 plan did not require the city to finance the bypass.
With traffic through Sandy reaching a daily average of more than 30,000 vehicles in recent years and researchers at Portland State University and Clackamas County projecting that by 2034 Sandy could be home to 18,980 people, the question has arisen numerous times — to bypass or not to bypass? This would make Sandy comparable in size to current-day Happy Valley. Given Sandy's most recent population estimate (11,149), it ranks as the second fastest-growing city in the state.
Business owners in the downtown core of Sandy have historically had mixed emotions about the bypass concept.
Chris Corbin of Brady's Brats & Burgers on Proctor Boulevard, said, "Our business lives off of the traffic that comes through Sandy." He's concerned about the possible decline in customers that he said would result from a bypass.
Though fairly new to the area as a restaurateur, Corbin is no stranger to the effects of bypasses on communities like Sandy. Corbin was working for State Farm in McMinnville when that city got its bypass.
"You definitely saw traffic go down," Corbin noted. "As a State Farm office, it wasn't a big deal for our business, but the Mexican restaurant next to us went out of business."
Corbin fears a similar fate might be in the future for Brady's Brats & Burgers. "A full-time restaurant is hard to support in a town our size, but that traffic is necessary," he said. "If the traffic was diverted somehow, I don't know how the future would look for our business. I am not for the bypass because it would kill the businesses in downtown Sandy. I do see a traffic problem. There still needs to be a solution, but a bypass might not be the answer. This is one of the necessary evils of towns growing is you have to plan ahead for traffic now and later."
Too many, too fast
Of a different opinion is Anna Judd, owner of Dolly's Pet Shoppe in Sandy Town Square off of Pioneer Boulevard. Judd has been in business on Pioneer Boulevard in Sandy for 14 years. She argued that the traffic in Sandy not only affects commute times through town, but safety for pedestrians and motorists. "People don't feel safe partially because it's very congested, but people are also not going the speed limit," Judd said.
Though the speed on Pioneer and Proctor Boulevards is 25 mph, Judd noted that most people seem to go around 40 mph, and she has observed more accidents as traffic has increased. "I'm all for a bypass," she added. "Right now the traffic is hurting my business because people see it as a hassle to get in and out of the flow of traffic to come to Dolly's. I don't think (a bypass) is going to hurt downtown Sandy."
Judd also noted that with the already rapid increase in traffic in recent years, "if traffic triples again in the next 15 years, this will be gridlock, and we'll have to do something."
"Anyone who drives through Sandy any day of the week knows the extreme congestion," Pulliam said. "It affects the livability of our community for our residents. The problem's only going to get worse. Knowing these projects take 10 or more years to get done, we need to start now. (This study would) provide us, as a city, with something to use to advocate for a project and funding."
Pulliam said he anticipates that this proposed study would be more comprehensive than the one performed more than a decade ago. "That study was more of a squiggly line on a map of where a bypass could potentially be," he said. "This is going to be far more in-depth and look at availability of property, potential cost and support and feedback from businesses and stakeholders. Part of the study will very much look to bring local businesses and stakeholders to the table."
Pulliam added that if a bypass was found to be a viable option for Sandy, the city would work to counteract possible negative ramifications of the traffic diversion, and potential projects to liven up the downtown core could "enhance the business climate if people think we have a more walkable downtown."
"(However), if this study shows this will be detrimental to our community, we won't move forward," Pulliam said. "This is something we hope will only enhance our community."