The Oregon Department of Transportation is studying one of the highest crash segments of Southeast Powell Boulevard (U.S. Highway 26) from Southeast 122nd to 136th Avenues before beginning safety improvements in the future.
In July, the Oregon legislature voted to allocate money to improve the highlighted section of Southeast Powell Boulevard.
The Oregon legislature voted in early July to allocate $17 million to conduct an environmental study of that section, which is one of the highest crash corridors in the state.
That strip is part of the state agency’s Outer Powell Transportation Project, which hopes to improve pedestrian safety by widening Southeast Powell Boulevard from Southeast 99th to 174th Avenue, adding a center turn lane as well as marked crossings, sidewalks, bike lanes, lighting and safer connections to transit, housing and shopping.
“That segment was identified as a priority for implementation should funds come in, rather than the whole corridor,” said Mike Mason, ODOT’s project manager for the plan. “The reason was because 122nd to 136th has some of the highest crash results. The whole corridor needs sidewalks and bike lanes, so hopefully we’re going to get funding over time to complete the whole project.”
The city of Portland also contributed an additional $3 million to improve the same strip.
Portland city commissioner Steve Novick, commenting on the city’s allocation, said, “Members of the east Portland community consistently rank improvements on Outer Powell Boulevard as one of their top transportation priorities. I applaud the legislature and particularly the east Portland delegation for prioritizing transportation safety investments on Outer Powell. I am proud to partner with the state legislature and ODOT to make this state highway safer for everyone.”
ODOT began construction on parts of that plan in 2013 by paving, striping, adding buffer zones and installing four new signalized pedestrian crossings along Southeast Powell Boulevard to improve safety while the larger planning effort begins.
The state conceptual study divided the whole corridor from Southeast 99th to 174th Avenue into four segments.
Along those 75 blocks, there have been 1,024 crashes between 2009 and 2013, which is 37 percent more crashes than there have been on similar state roads in the same period.
Since last September, ODOT has invested about $3 million to complete the planning, environmental study and design work for the corridor. This work will be finished in the fall of 2016, and it will lay the groundwork for additional project funding.
From last September until this spring, ODOT conducted public outreach through meetings, neighborhood walks, interviews with residents and organizations, focus groups and email feedback in order to learn what the public thought would make the road safer.
Mason said, “Our plan is to continue doing the environmental planning and then the preliminary and final design work. Construction would then start up after that.”
High-crash corridor gets safety improvements
The environmental planning is scheduled for completion October 2016. The design work would likely take another two years because property along the road must be acquired and other environmental challenges met.
Construction would start in 2019 and be completed by 2022. “Many properties will have little slivers that are acquired, some properties may have no acquisition, and then others properties may have to be acquired entirely,” Mason said.
Therefore, the environmental study will examine the impact to about 15 kinds of resources in the area, including trees, parks such as Ed Benedict Park, residential homes, stormwater management systems, utilities, wetlands, biological resources, such as birds, and hazardous materials. “There are some sites that used to be gas stations, so you need to go in and look at what the impacts of the project would be to those hazardous material sites,’ Mason said.
One impact they look at is the right-of-way, which is the line between the private and state ownership of property.
The whole process will take another year because ODOT must communicate with the Federal Highway Administration about the environmental reports, as well as hold public feedback through hearings or email to receive citizen comments and write the final document.
ODOT plans to negotiate with property owners about purchasing a sliver of their property or sometimes more, based on the property value. “It’s primarily sliver, sliver, sliver, but there are some cases if a building is too close to the highway, we may need to acquire that,” Mason said. “And right now I don’t know [where those are] and will know more in the fall. If there isn’t an agreement, then in theory the state can take the property through eminent domain, but that’s a last resort.”
At this point, the state would only acquire property within the 14 blocks that has funding.
If ODOT later obtains more funding, it might acquire more properties along other segments of Powell.
Robert Filippini, a contractor who drives to many customers in the east Portland area, likes the planned safety improvements on Southeast Powell Boulevard but cautions that pedestrian safety is a two-way street. “I’ve seen people just walk out and hope the cars will stop, and I’ve seen the flashing beacons go on and cars just run through them,” Filippini said. “You just have to let the pedestrians be alert, let them know that a car has a chance of running through it. Just look both ways.”
Filippini has observed high school youth, as well as small children, run out into the street with no warning, so he believes that technology is only part of the answer. “You have to do the ‘what if’ scenario,” he said. “If a kid jumps out in front, do I have time to stop?”
In addition, Filippini believes pedestrian education is important because in some injuries or deaths, the pedestrian may have been partially at fault. “How do you acknowledge the variables behind each accident?” he asked. “Do you see the pedestrian walking in the center, were they aware of the cars coming, did they care if the cars were coming, was she wearing black, was she wearing dark clothes? Pedestrians wear black in the dead of night. How are you supposed to see them? When they get hit, they cry foul, but how can you cry foul when no one can see you?”
In September or October, ODOT plans to hold another public open house—it’s location yet to be determined—to receive feedback about their safety concerns along outer Southeast Powell Boulevard and to present some of the findings of the environmental study.
Check the ODOT website for more information at www.outerpowellsafety.org, or call Mason at 503-731-8246.