PENDLETON — New year, same message: The city of Pendleton will not be getting a massive grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to realign the Interstate 84 Exit 209 interchange.
For the second year in a row, the federal government passed over Pendleton in favor of another Oregon project for a BUILD grant.
This time around, the feds chose a $15.5 million roadway expansion project in Medford.
While the city waits to talk with Department of Transportation on why its project wasn’t chosen, Pendleton Mayor John Turner said he anticipates the city will try again in 2020.
Last December, DOT informed Pendleton that it would not get a $25 million BUILD grant to make improvements to the north and south side of the Exit 209 interchange that would ease traffic congestion in the area. Instead, the federal government chose projects at Port of Morrow and Port of Coos Bay.
Public Works Director Bob Patterson said he was dismayed to learn that Pendleton wouldn’t get the grant because local officials made some key changes from their last effort.
Although the ask remained $25 million, Pendleton limited its scope to the north side of the interchange to reflect an expanded list of improvements for the area.
Patterson said the Oregon Department of Transportation was more involved in the 2019 application process, and U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, all lobbied for the project on Pendleton’s behalf.
“We’ll just go back to the drawing board,” Patterson said.
City and state officials have targeted Exit 209 for improvements for years because of its problems with congestion.
As Southgate transitions to Southeast Emigrant Avenue going northbound, vehicles line up in the left turn lane as they wait to turn onto Southwest 20th Street.
The turn lane queue combined with heavy traffic going both ways makes it difficult for Exit 209 traffic north of the freeway to turn left on Emigrant or proceed forward onto Southwest Frazer Avenue.
To remedy this issue, the city and ODOT are proposing street widenings and a new signalized intersection.
Patterson said the south side of the intersection needs attention too.
The grant would have covered extension of a section of Southwest Perkins Avenue south of the InterMountain Education Service District to the intersection of Southwest Nye Avenue and Tutuilla Road. Patterson said the extension would ease traffic and create more room for development.
While the city considers how to reapproach the BUILD grant application, Patterson said the city has a mounting list of infrastructure needs.
Besides the city’s ongoing effort to improve street maintenance funding, Patterson said the city is in the process of creating interchange area management plans for exits 207 and 210. He anticipates the improvements needed for both interchanges will come with high price tags.
Paying for interchange projects aren’t feasible at the local or state level, Patterson said, prompting the city to seek out the deeper pockets of the federal government.
“It’s hard to pass up a bucket of money,” he said.
Patterson said the city is joining the queue of communities looking for answers as to why they weren’t chosen for the BUILD grant. Once they have those answers, the city will apply again in the spring.