City, state working on traffic mitigation measures
Last updated 4/26/2022 at Noon
For a town that is only two square miles in area, without a single signal, traffic seems to be one of the biggest topics of concern, especially during the summer tourist season.
Perhaps one of the main reasons traffic seems to be at top of mind for residents is that the main street through town, Cascade Avenue, is a state highway that carries freight trucks and passenger cars from the west side of the state, over Santiam Pass, and through Sisters. Our town is a gateway to and from Central and Eastern Oregon.
Being a state highway, Cascade Avenue is under the auspices of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the agency that determines what can and cannot be done with the highway. The City and ODOT have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with millions of dollars in highway funds providing improvements such as the Highway 20/Barclay roundabout and the upgrade to Cascade Avenue through the downtown core.
The City is responsible for creating its Transportation System Plan (TSP) and making necessary updates, identifying projects to improve connectivity in town for automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Those connections include streets, roundabouts, and multiuse paths. The City must work with ODOT on any projects involving Highway 20/Cascade Avenue.
In the two most recent public safety surveys conducted by the City, the biggest perceived threat to public safety was reported to be traffic, both in 2019 (50.7 percent) and 2021 (53.5 percent). The Sisters City Council is addressing the traffic safety issue by reducing speed limits on residential streets to 20 mph (“20 is Plenty”). The reduced speed will go into effect after receiving
approval of the City Traffic Engineer.
The City is also working with ODOT on the installation of a roundabout at the challenging intersection of Highway 20/Locust Street. The intersection went through a thorough feasibility study in 2011 due to both safety and congestion issues. The feasibility study included polling Sisters’ citizens. Residents favored the roundabout solution over a traffic signal by 93 percent.
Additional public outreach occurred with the 2018 City of Sisters TSP update, resulting in overwhelming support for a roundabout. Continued backing from the community made this a high-priority action item in the 2020 Sisters Country Vision Plan.
This project proposes the construction of a single-lane roundabout at the intersection next to the grade school at the east end of downtown. A roundabout at this location will provide the ability for local traffic, including pedestrians and bicyclists, to cross busy Highway 20 at a controlled intersection. The roundabout will provide access to the newly constructed pedestrian and bicycle improvements throughout downtown. The roundabout will also provide easy access and departure from the proposed City Alternate Transportation Route since this location is the eastern terminus. Improving access to the alternate route will help relieve congestion on Highway 20 in the downtown core.
Improving an alternate route
When the roundabout is completed and necessary improvements are made on Barclay Drive, truck traffic and through automobile traffic will be able to use the alternate route around downtown. Some of the trucks already go to the industrial area surrounding Barclay to pick up and make deliveries. Realignment of the Barclay corridor would allow for a continuous three-lane street with a center turn lane, which would allow for safety in turning off and on Barclay by both trucks and cars. Through acquisition of some small rights-of-way, Barclay could be straightened out, making it safer for 35-mile-per-hour travel and easier for trucks to maneuver.
The Barclay Drive/Locust intersection could be altered by making Barclay a through street to provide continuous connection along the alternate route, eliminating the need for trucks to stop. It is believed this change would help make Barclay a more favorable route through town for trucks. A stop sign would be installed north of Barclay on Locust (Camp Polk Road) for traffic coming into town from the north.
Right-of-way acquisition for the roundabout project has begun between the City and the Sisters School District. The final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction of the project should be completed in nine to 12 months once 100-percent funding becomes available.
ODOT’s Mark Barrett, Region 4 traffic design and operations manager, told The Nugget, “The Highway 20/Locust roundabout is scoped for the 2024-27 System Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), which will be presented to the program managers for approval in 2023.” He is fairly confident the project will be funded.
Traffic has been a perennial concern
Traffic is not a new area of concern in the city. About every decade, someone suggests that possibly we could create a couplet with eastbound traffic traveling on one-way Hood Avenue and westbound traffic using Main Avenue. When the 2010 TSP was done, a study of the residents revealed they favored an alternate route over a couplet and that trend continued in the two subsequent updates.
Another concept that surfaces every so often is the idea of a complete bypass being constructed outside the downtown core to the south of town. Besides the cost of such a plan, which would run into the millions, there are numerous mitigating factors such as wetlands, farm and timber lands, a wild and scenic Whychus Creek, and National Forest .
“We get so few dollars out of the big state pot of transportation funds that a project of that size and expense isn’t feasible. The majority of highway funds go to the I-205, I-84, and I-5 corridors,” explained Public Works Director Paul Bertagna.
The other priority project identified in the Sisters TSP update that is being scoped by ODOT is the possibility of installing a large roundabout at the junction of US 20 and Oregon 126 at the east end of town. Barrett indicated it would be similar in size to the roundabout at the west end of town with a single lane. There is currently no identified funding source for delivery of that project. He expects it will be a number of years before the 20/126 roundabout would become a priority project. The roundabout is not at the top of the priority list for ODOT because it is not identified as a Transportation Safety Project due to no significant
number of accidents at the junction.
City Council approved spending $675,000 to purchase the 14.51 acres of the East Portal property owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Half of the acreage includes ODOT easements for the surrounding highways. The other half will be developed as a mobility hub for the City and serving western Deschutes County. ODOT will be reimbursing the City for its half of the land cost.