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From the Oregon Department of Transportation: Sometimes a highway is better as a local road

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Many communities in Oregon have changed the way they use highways and main streets over time.At the Oregon Department of Transportation, we build our roads to last, but roads aren't frozen in time. The communities that rely upon them change and the needs we place upon them change.

Sometimes, that means a road that was once a state highway functions more like a local road and is transferred to a local government to become a main street.

Over the last 100 years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has built out the state highway network. Small farm-to-market roads were transformed with state and federal money to become highways that connect communities to one another. This highway network helps people and goods get to where they need to go quickly and safely. Many of the state's freeways and highways travel along the paths of what used to be small, local roads.

This process still happens. Last year, ODOT took over eight miles of Cornelius Pass Road leading down to U.S. Highway 30. Development patterns and land uses necessitated a change in road design and in partnership with Washington County, ODOT has taken on ownership and management of the road. PMG FILE IMAGE - Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Sometimes, the needs of a road change in the other direction. When development occurs along highways, roads that used to be separated and efficient for freight and other vehicles become busy main streets, with people walking, biking and taking transit along them. This growth is great for the economy and for communities, but it can be dangerous for our most vulnerable road users.

The very things that allow vehicles to travel more safely at great speeds on our highways (wide lanes, minimal crossings, long straightaways) increase the danger for people walking and biking along the same route.

At ODOT, sometimes we are able to redesign segments of our highways when development patterns change around them. This can involve different approaches like lowering the speed limit, making lanes narrower, building protected bike infrastructure and more. The ultimate goal is a street where all users can safely travel. We call this our "Great Streets" program, and we recently increased funding for it.

At other times, it makes more sense to transfer the road to a local government to oversee these changes. Government at the local level is naturally the most responsive to community needs. Transferring ownership can ensure that the road is designed in a way that reflects the community.

A recent example in Portland is our effort to transfer ownership of 82nd Avenue to the city of Portland.

Not too many years ago, 82nd Avenue was a highway. It was the eastern boundary of the city of Portland, a major north-south arterial and the way people would get to Portland International Airport. PMG FILE PHOTO - Many communities in Oregon have changed the way they use highways and main streets over time, such as 82nd Avenue.

Over the years 82nd Avenue changed. The Portland border moved east to Gresham and the population boomed, drawing people from around the world and becoming the region's most diverse community. These days, the road is a major transit corridor and the main street of East Portland. Highway designs simply don't make sense for the area anymore.

The Portland City Council will soon accept our transfer of seven miles of 82nd Avenue, from Southeast Clatsop Street in the south to Northeast Killingsworth Street in the north.

Last June, ODOT agreed to provide $70 million in upgrades to 82nd Avenue, the Oregon Legislature provided another $80 million and the city of Portland provided $35 million. Such transfers can only take place when both sides are confident that the road is in a state of good repair. Work will begin soon on upgrades including improved signals, better lighting, ADA ramps, fixes to pavement, stormwater systems and the most urgent sidewalk and pedestrian crossing upgrades.

Two decades ago, ODOT transferred Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the city of Portland, allowing the city to use urban renewal money to increase the safety and walkability of the street. The result was a much more attractive and locally oriented boulevard with tree-lined medians, frequent crosswalks and transit-only lanes.

Several ODOT roads are in various stages of discussion for transfer from ODOT to a local jurisdiction. They include Tualatin Valley Highway, Hall Boulevard and parts of Powell Boulevard.

We will continue to work with local partners and the Legislature to identify the funding necessary to improve these streets, implement these transfers and build a transportation network where road design matches community priorities.

Kris Strickler is director of ODOT. Comments can be directed to 888-Ask-ODOT or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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