The Price of Expansion

Originally published in the Bend Business Journal – February 2017

BEND CHAMBER_02-03_PG 01.pdfThe City of Bend’s latest Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion, with the addition of 2,380 acres into the city boundary has at last been approved. Now we have to tackle how we will implement this expansion. After all, Bend is expected to accommodate 116,000 citizens by 2028.

The logistic and financial realities of constructing the infrastructure that allows development to occur are significant, and fast becoming a challenge. Bend’s new UGB additions are divided into two general categories, expansion and opportunity.

“Expansion areas are for the most part located in more rural parts of town, which means that the infra- structure needs to be upgraded,” explained City Manager, Eric King. “Opportunity sites are where most of those connections are already in place.”

He added that these opportunity sites may allow for potential changes in function and density to accommodate more urban use. These land use decisions will shape what Bend will look like as it blends its rural past with a more urban future.

Part of what shapes land use decisions is infrastructure.

“The two big pieces of infrastructure improvement needs are sewer and transportation. In fact, there’s over $280 million worth of transportation needs over the next 20-year period,” said King.

That figure does not include the many planned sewer projects in progress. Transportation challenges are a rising issue in town. Bend’s roads have a direct link to its historic roots.

The core of the city was planned in the early 1900s when automobiles were few and far between. As the city grew over time, Bend transportation infrastructure was stuck in the early part of the 20th Century. Today, much of Bend’s traffic is moving through the same neighbor- hoods that were part of early Bend, a challenge that impacts Bend traffic patterns today and will continue to pose issues as we grow.

The same financial and logistics challenges apply to sewer and water infrastructure. In a not too distant past, cities could go to either the state or federal government and lobby for money for infrastructure spending. When Bend needed a new sewer treatment plant in the 1970s, the federal government provided 90% of the costs for a 10% match. The economic realities have changed since then and today money for similar infrastructure projects must be raised locally.

“Several hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of improvements are needed before we reach 2028,” said King. “The city can’t do it alone and if these costs are put onto the development community, the cost of housing goes up. We want to make sure that we balance how we raise the money and [in the process] make sure that Bend is accessible to all. But the community has got to come together to figure out how to pay for growth.”

Funding Roads & Sewer- No Easy Solution

The private sector developers will certainly have a role in bridging the infrastructure gap as we grow. Like most cities, Bend utilizes a System Development Charge (SDC) that is a fee paid by developers to raise money for infrastructure projects such as roads, water and sewer that support their developments. The SDCs have become a hot button is- sue for developers and home owners alike, who see the difficult end of the balance sheet in paying for public amenities in order to build.

“Our SDCs are as high as anywhere. When you pull a permit for a single-family home, you pay a little bit over $20,000 up front to pay for all those SDCs,” said Kirk Schueler, President and CEO of Brooks Resources Corporation. “That sum includes system development charges for sewer, water, street, and parks for residential areas.”

According to Schueler, these costs are ultimately absorbed by both the developers and the general public.

“I think there are arguments for and against how you fund things, but in the end, infrastructure is key to our success as a city,” said Schueler. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a businessman, a teacher, or a fireman. We are all tied together at some point.”

Another way to fund infrastructure such as roads is to develop Public Private Partnerships (P3). Scott Wallace is the owner of The Wallace Group, Inc., an engineering consulting firm that specializes in geotechnical design for municipal infrastructure projects. He sees P3’s as a potential way to fund some of the city’s larger transportation needs.

“The Bill Healy Bridge was built thanks to a 3P deal be- tween Westside developers and the city,” said Wallace. “These (P3) partnerships are now used to fund transportation projects across the U.S. and around the world.”

Land Use Strategy Can Reduce Costs

City planners are also considering alternatives to funding growth that have more to do with reducing the need to drive by creating areas where people can live, shop and work within a short distance. The Northwest Crossing area is an ex- ample of this type of a “Complete Community”, and may one day be copied in the newly added expansion areas as a way to cut down on traffic. In its simplest form, it’s a way to cut down on traffic, promoting multi-modal transportation, including walking, biking and public transit.

“It (Complete Communities like Northwest Crossing) is giving people more options,” said King. “We are not saying; ‘you’re never going to need your car in Bend.’ Instead, we want to reduce the number of vehicle trips. If you want to have a cup of coffee you don’t have to get into your car, you can just walk down to the neighborhood coffee shop or grocery store.”

The Complete Community touches upon another important feature of the UGB, multi-modal transportation as a way to find alternatives to the reliance on cars, and ultimately cut down on costs to over-build road- way capacity.

As part of the UGB, the city is also considering more efficient ways of designing streets.

“One of the things that we are exploring, specifically for building (roads) is what we call catchment areas; geographic specific transportation improvements,” said King.

Catchment areas will require significant transportation improvements to fully develop. An example is the busy Central Westside thoroughfare at 14th Street. The street incorporates both a residential neighborhood, a bustling business district and bookends into the brand-new OSU, Cascades campus. The city is planning to develop NW 14th Street into a model for future roads in Bend. The street is slated for major improvements as a part of the general obligation bond that voters approved back in 2011.

“We’re studying the corridor. I don’t think we will have funds to completely rebuild the whole corridor, but we’ll look for a resolution,” said King.

Potential upgrades include improved pavement and a focus on the commercial area between Galveston and Colorado. The features will include separate bike and pedestrian lanes, bringing the intensely used stretch of road up to an urban standard.

King and Schueler agree on the fact that increased lane-width, going from two lanes to four lanes is not going to solve the current traffic issues. It may also destroy the neighborhood feel that so many Bendites value.

“We sponsored a study in 2000,” said Schueler. “We brought in consultants and pulled in neighbors from all over the Westside. One of the conclusions of the study was that we don’t want to see a four-lane Newport Avenue and Galveston. I think the same survey done today would reach the same conclusion.”

“It’s not feasible to build our way out of it and build more lanes,” said King. “We need to think more creatively how we move people around Bend and leverage opportunities like a transit system, trying to reduce the vehicle miles travelled within the city. Transportation is a big focus that new city council will tackle both in terms of goal setting, as well as developing a budget to help make improvements with the resources that we have.”