East Portland legislators, from left, Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, State Senator Michael Dembrow and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner hosted the first of many Town Hall meetings on 82nd Avenue improvements.

East Portland legislators, from left, Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, State Senator Michael Dembrow and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner hosted the first of many Town Hall meetings on 82nd Avenue improvements.

The Oregon Department of Transportation, which currently has jurisdiction over 82nd Avenue, kicked off its 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan last month. In many ways, 82nd Avenue is the best of roads and the worst of roads. Alongside prostitutes and sex shops, award-wining Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants are found there. In addition, some of the most dangerous intersections in the state are along 82nd Avenue. In recent years, it has earned a grisly reputation as a major crash corridor, ranking in the state’s top 10 percent.

Legislators call it an orphan highway, meaning it is located in the city but owned by the state. However, this past summer and fall, the agency held a series of private and public meetings with business owners and residents along the corridor, elected officials, concerned citizens and city and state bureaucrats to figure out ways to make the avenue safer, aesthetically more appealing and attractive to small businesses. Part of ODOT’s plan includes about $15 million in street improvements, sidewalk repairs, curb additions and traffic signal upgrades at dangerous intersections. One controversial element of the plan will be deciding whether or not to transfer the avenue’s jurisdiction from ODOT to Portland.

Project manager Mike Mason told the Memo the plan asks, “What are the similarities and differences of ODOT ownership versus city of Portland ownership?”

Mason said the plan proposes improvements along 7.3 miles of 82nd Avenue, stretching from Northeast Killingsworth Street south through Clackamas County and ending at Johnson Creek Blvd. ODOT owns and maintains that stretch as well as about 3.8 miles south of Johnson Creek Boulevard to where the road becomes the I-205 freeway. In addition, ODOT owns about .2 of a mile of the road north of Columbia Boulevard, but then the city takes over jurisdiction until Northeast 82nd Way ends at Airport Way. The section of the road owned by the state is also called Highway 213.

To make matters more confusing, along that 7.3-mile stretch, the city of Portland has jurisdiction over some of the sidewalks and the state over other sections of sidewalk.

ODOT secured funding for the plan process which begins February 2015 and continues for a year. ODOT not only plans to release a request for proposal to hire a consultant to work on the plan by early next year, but also plans to form a Steering Committee of elected officials and city, state and regional representatives, as well as a citizen advisory group composed of people living or working along or involved with the corridor.

The plan also looks at roadway design, access management, maintenance of the road and other topics, Mason said.

Typically, jurisdiction of a road is transferred to another governing body when “the use of it has changed over time from when it was first established as a highway, and it makes more sense to have it under a different jurisdiction,” Mason explained.

An example of such a transfer is a stretch of Sandy Boulevard, from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard out to Northeast 99th Avenue, which switched from state to city control in 2003. As part of that transfer deal, ODOT agreed to pave and improve a stretch from Northeast 13th Avenue to Northeast 47th Avenue at a cost of about $8.2 million. ODOT paid only part of that money; the rest came from a bonding program called the Oregon Transportation Investment Act, a program which funded many bridge and other infrastructure projects around the state.

Mason stressed it’s hard to compare costs of road improvement projects because “… every highway corridor’s different and you don’t know what needs to be done until you look at it,” he said. “We’ll be looking at those costs of improvement in order to transfer.”

In general, jurisdictions don’t want to take over a highway unless improvements or maintenance funding are included in the agreement, he said.

If the city does take over 82nd Avenue, “it may just be a section,” Mason said. “It may not be the whole corridor.”

Such a section might be, for example, from Northeast Killingsworth Street to Northeast Glisan Street or from Northeast Glisan Street to Southeast Powell Boulevard, Mason speculated.

Ways to improve the street flowed at a public Town Hall Thursday, Nov. 6 at Portland Community College’s Southeast campus. Members of ODOT, state legislators, business owners and residents offered suggestions about how to improve safety and beautify the busy street. ODOT also held a public open house on November 6 at Vestal Elementary School to receive more public comment on proposed plan for the corridor.

During the November 6 meeting, Metro lobbyist Randy Tucker said he is also a member of the Oregon Transportation Forum, a membership organization that advocates with the legislature for transportation policy and funding. The OTF has developed a proposed transportation package it’s hoping the legislature adopts in its next session. Elements include funding for the building, maintenance and improvement of roads around the state. Though the group did not specify funding sources, “it’s assumed there would be some gas tax or registration fee,” Tucker said. The group’s idea was “to have one penny of gas tax specifically dedicated to a jurisdictional transfer program.” Tucker said that would raise about $26 million per year statewide to facilitate such transfers, which would be voluntary on both sides.

At the Nov. 6 forum, a panel of Mid-county legislators—state Senator Michael Dembrow, state representatives Alissa Keny-Guyer and Barbara Smith Warner—asked questions and received public comments. Since 82nd extends into Clackamas County, making it a regional street, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey also addressed attendees. “There are points of excitement on 82nd and points of opportunity, but also many points of frustration,” Dembrow said.

A map of projects completed along the 82nd Avenue corridor in Portland during the past 10 years and projects planned for construction during the next five years. As both city and state have jurisdiction over different parts of 82nd Avenue, the work is a combination of city and state transportation department projects. COURTESY ODOT

A map of projects completed along the 82nd Avenue corridor in Portland during the past 10 years and projects planned for construction during the next five years. As both city and state have jurisdiction over different parts of 82nd Avenue, the work is a combination of city and state transportation department projects.

One goal of the public forum was to hear past and future plans for the street, as well as “do a whole lot more,” Dembrow said. Addressing the audience, he asked for “your thoughts, your advice, and your priorities as we seek further opportunities along 82nd Avenue.”

Brian Wong, chair of the 82nd Avenue Coalition, a group of residents and business owners in the area that’s been meeting for the past 18 months, said one of the themes that emerged, besides better transportation, is “ … what do we as a city want to see along 82nd Avenue?” He continued, “What kind of institutions do we want to see developed, how do we want to cross the street, what places do we want to go (to) once were across the street.”

Kirsten Pennington, interim policy and development manager at ODOT’s Region 1, informed the gathering about safety and construction projects completed or scheduled in the future along the corridor. She held up a map showing completed projects on one side and future projects on the other. Her agency is spending $15.6 million in the next five years on several projects, many of them involved with safety. One project, stretching from East Burnside Street to Southeast Division Street, includes lighting and sidewalk upgrades. It begins construction in early 2016.

Another safety project is at Southeast Duke Street. It includes lighting, new sidewalks, signals, curb upgrades and curb ramps to be constructed between late 2015 to early 2016.

Another at Northeast Sandy Boulevard includes lighting and an advanced warning sign and pedestrian improvements. In the next several years, ODOT will also pave parts of 82nd Avenue in Clackamas County from Southeast Mt. Scott Boulevard to King Street and from Southeast Lindy Street to Southeast King Street.

Several pedestrian upgrades will be constructed at Southeast Flavel, Woodstock, Foster Road, Raymond and Wasco streets. “We’re trying to identify additional funding to do additional crossings up and down the corridor,” she said.

Pennington said community members offered ODOT feedback about what they want along 82nd, and those ideas are reflected in other aspects of the plan.

Terry Parker, a member of the 82nd Avenue Coalition, testified he and some of his neighbors are concerned traffic restrictions on 82nd Avenue will push vehicles into his neighborhood near Northeast 57th and 60th avenues, “where intersections are already failing,” Parker said. “So the trick here is to balance livability while maintaining traffic flow on 82nd Avenue.” Parker also cautioned if 82nd Avenue is switched from ODOT’s jurisdiction to the city, there wouldn’t be enough money to properly maintain it. “They (the city) already don’t have enough money,” he said. “Even on the street fee, they’re short. So I’d rather see the legislature put in some more flexibility and let the state pay for it, or the gas tax statewide can help cover it.” Pointing out that on-street parking allows the many small businesses on Sandy Boulevard to prosper, Parker suggested more parking spots be added to attract businesses. Because the legislature is looking at raising the gas tax, Parker also advocated for a bicycle tax. “It’s time that bicyclists start helping out paying for bicycle infrastructure,” he said.

John Mulvey expressed concern about pedestrian safety along 82nd Avenue, particularly the half-mile stretch south of Johnson Creek Boulevard and north of the Johnson Creek Fred Meyer near the Multnomah and Clackamas county line, which “has the worst sidewalks in the whole corridor,” he claimed. “It has areas where buildings come within about two feet of the curb. It has areas where it’s impossible to get through even as a fully healthy adult, let alone someone in a wheelchair or a senior. There are actually TriMet stops that are physically isolated that you can’t get to via the sidewalk.” Mulvey asked if the area is under state jurisdiction now, and is being neglected, would placing it under city control “just exacerbate the problem? That’s one area of skepticism I have about the jurisdictional issue.”

Lew Scholl, another 82nd Avenue Coalition member and land use/transportation chair of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, argued for better communication and coordination between various state and city planning and engineering departments working on the 82nd Avenue project so it’s clear “which agency is responsible for what” improvements. In addition, Scholl said that wider sidewalks are needed along the whole corridor. Mentioning the recent redevelopment of Portland Community College’s Southeast Campus that triggered the construction of wider sidewalks along its border, he deduced that “redevelopment is the key. It’s really hard to do much outside of that.” Currently, too many driveways exist along 82nd Avenue, causing other problems, he said. “With fewer driveways, as 82nd businesses redevelop, it would actually open up more usable right of way, as well as sidewalks that could be real sidewalks instead of just driveway sidewalks,” Scholl said. Moreover, reducing driveways also eliminates the need for so many left turn lanes, he said. Furthermore, Scholl suggested trees be planted along the street, along with the construction of parallel routes for bicyclists and pedestrians, possibly along 80th Avenue.

Richard Mitchell, a retired Oregon State University professor, is currently involved in a study with a colleague about the social dynamics of the 82nd Avenue area. He stressed the need for planners to focus on the culture of the area. “Cities in fact live and die by the vitality of their streets,” Mitchell told the gathering. “Streets are more than means for vehicle movement. They’re places where people meet, and flirt and buy and seniors dispense opinion. The voices we need to hear are in this room but we also need to hear voices in other languages. We need to hear the voices of the new Portlanders.” He then listed a dozen languages. “Where are the voices of these new businesses?” he asked, citing a nearby Slavic church, a Ukrainian business and large Chinese grocery store. “One of the most distinguished Cambodian restaurants in North America is at Siskiyou and 82nd,” he continued. “It’s these voices, too, that can talk to us about life with children, with families, with hopes and dreams expressed on the street but it’s not just about the street that I think we need to concern ourselves with. It’s not only budgets and bulldozers that should be in our future, but the spirit of our community.”

Terry Dublinski, the transportation chair for the North Tabor neighborhood Association, spoke about the difficulty of biking on 82nd. “Biking on 82nd should be for all modes, but, as we all know, biking on 82nd would be—well—I call it terrifying,” he said. Dublinski has been working with other transportation chairs from Southeast Uplift neighborhoods to figure out a parallel route for bicyclists. They’ve created one following 80th, jogging to 79th, then crossing Southeast Division Street and moving back and forth all the way south of Southeast Flavel Street to the Springwater corridor.

Their group also envisioned creating small pocket parks or public plazas at several points just off 82nd where two-block gravel roads connect open areas. “It’s just far enough off of 82nd that you don’t get the fumes but close enough so you could access the burgeoning local businesses,” he pointed out.

Dan Campbell, transportation chair of the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association, commented 82nd Avenue creates a wall between neighborhoods, cutting off connections between residents in Lents and residents in the Foster-Powell area. He said the intersection of 82nd Avenue and Foster Road is “one of the worst cross sections in the city and in the state” and is not addressed in the current plans, but should be. Low-income resident displacement also concerned Campbell, who said, “As inner Southeast and inner Northeast are becoming gentrified, I really don’t want the poor to continue to have to go all the way out to Gresham to get into Portland.” He added the 82nd corridor “is really wonderful because there’s so many cultures,” and suggested that planners work now to create and to maintain more affordable housing around the 82nd Avenue corridor, especially as Portland’s population grows in the next 15 or 20 years.

Carol Otis, co-owner of Cartlandia, a food cart pod of 30 businesses located on 82nd near Johnson Creek Boulevard complained she could not get a pothole fixed in front of her business because the city owns the sidewalk and the state owns 82nd Avenue. “So we cannot match the engineering requirements of our sidewalk to the engineering requirements of ODOT’s street,” she said. “So we have a huge gap between our driveway and ODOT’s street. We cannot get the pothole in front of our driveway fixed by ODOT, and based on these plans, we have no hope of getting that fixed anytime in the next five years.” She said it is difficult for customers to drive in because the sidewalk and street are not level. Otis’ pothole dilemma is just one example of why transferring jurisdiction of 82nd over to the city is under consideration.

Dembrow explained a number of state legislators have been meeting for some time to create a package of transportation initiatives to emerge from the next legislative session. Part of that package would likely include the transfer of 82nd from ODOT to the city. “If we were to seek a jurisdictional transfer, though, there is expense involved,” Dembrow said. “And we would need funding for it.”

Contact Mike Mason at 503-731-8246 to join the citizen advisory group or for more information on the plan.