July 23, 2004
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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The contents of the on-line edition of The Nugget represent a selection among the stories that appear in the weekly print edition.


Facing growth... and the couplet
By John Rahm, Guest Columnist

Editor's note: John Rahm serves on the Sisters City Council.

We have a general long-term challenge in Sisters that has once again come to the fore, the same challenge facing most of Central Oregon: namely, managing growth.

Projections that have been done and re-done anticipate that growth here will be dramatic, with the population within the ever-expanding city limits growing 400 to 500 percent over the next 20 years, totaling out at 4,500 to 5,000 people.

While we can all think of ways we may benefit from growth, possibly in terms of real estate values or the expanding variety of locally available services (I understand Sisters will soon have a movie theater), I don't know anyone who sees it as an overall positive in terms of quality of life.

We like Sisters the way it is.

Our relentless, ongoing growth and the adaptations that it will require over time are all generally perceived as negatives. Every attempt to make an accommodation for the inevitable influx of new residents and visitors meets with resistance. Remember the sewer?

The most volatile current issue in this category is the attempt at traffic management known as the couplet. I am not going to argue one way or the other for the couplet, other than to say that it deserves serious consideration. The couplet is the proposal now under scrutiny, but I suspect there would be a great howl of collective dismay regardless of which possible fix was put before the people.

Every proposed solution to Sisters' traffic problems would alter the town in a way that a sizable subset of citizens and merchants would find abhorrent.

The bare and brutal fact is, unfortunately, that of all of the ideas floated around town for traffic management the last few months, only two are within the realm of possibility: the dreaded couplet and (ODOT says no to this, but...) maybe alterations to Cascade which eliminate all parking thereon... an idea that was howled off the list years ago.

A bypass is in Sisters' future someday and needs to be in the transportation plan, but it will not happen in the short term unless the citizens of Sisters can scrape up $19 million. ODOT will not fund it. Nor is there any funding mechanism for the rough and questionable notion of an "alternate route" south of town, or even any public agency to see it through.

And besides, the folks in Tollgate were howling over that idea practically before the ink was dry.

What we see there up ahead is not the light at the end of the tunnel, but the headlight of the locomotive of growth.

Maybe doing nothing will work for a few years, but every year is worse. This year on Memorial Day traffic was backed up to Cloverdale Road for over five hours. We like to minimize the problem by saying "its just a few days a year" and there is some truth in that.

But both formal traffic projections and simple common sense will tell you that a situation which is bad already and worsening relentlessly will need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner sometime soon. The implementation process is slow and whatever fix we come up with will be many years in the making.

I personally think doing nothing is irresponsible. I have no idea what the Couplet Advisory Committee will recommend to the City Council, nor what the City Council will choose to do, even though I participate in both groups.

I would urge the citizens of Sisters to attend the public meetings regarding the refinement of the couplet plan with an open mind and a willingness to make difficult choices.

I think you may find that the panicky comparisons to Redmond and Madras are unfounded and that a lot of thought and concern has been applied across months of effort to make the most of a difficult situation.

There is no solution to the growth issue in general or the traffic problem in particular that will leave the town as it is, but if we decide wisely we can make a template for a town that will remain a beautiful place and a wonderful home... for 5,000 people and twice as many travelers passing through.

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