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Residents say ODOT project still doesn't address all needs

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sidewalk markings at Southeast Powell Boulevard and 122nd Avenue denote future safety improvements by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The intersection has the most accidents of any in Oregon. Walking, biking, driving and navigating a wheelchair on Powell Boulevard through East Portland should be safer this fall — courtesy of a $5.5 million state project launched this week.

But the project doesn’t go nearly as far as the city of Portland and local residents want.

Oregon’s Department of Transportation began work Monday night on a series of safety improvements and repaving of Powell between Southeast 111th Avenue and the Gresham city limit at 174th Avenue.

The ODOT project will bring new lane striping, wheelchair ramps, a slightly wider shoulder for pedestrians and bicyclists, and traffic devices to slow speeding, avert crashes and nab drivers who run red lights. That should make it safer to cross Southeast 122nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, which ranks “No. 1 in the state” for accidents, says ODOT Community Affairs Manager Shelli Romero.

In all, the safety improvements target eight intersections with Powell that rank among the worst 10 percent for crashes in the Portland area, says ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton.

“This has been on our to-do list for a long time,” he says.

However, the project won’t add any new sidewalks in a stretch of Powell that traverses some of the densest and lowest-income neighborhoods of East Portland, says David Hampsten, a transportation activist from the Hazelwood neighborhood.

Nor will it come close to remaking the 1950s-vintage rural highway into the modern urban thoroughfare envisioned by the $74 million-plus concept plan adopted by the Portland City Council earlier this year, Hampsten says. That called for just one traffic lane in each direction, plus a center left-turn lane, full sidewalks and a buffered bicycle pathway.

Despite the city’s adopted plan, Powell is a state highway, under ODOT’s authority. “ODOT didn’t really go for the study; they wanted a five-lane road like Division,” Hampsten says. “But at least they’re widening the pedestrian zone a little bit.”

The project also is a “stopgap measure” to repair a road surface that is cracking, he says.

Sidewalks along outer Powell Boulevard are hit and miss, mostly built when developments occurred that were required to add them.

Demands for sidewalks

ODOT expects its $5.5 million Outer Powell Boulevard Safety Improvements Project will provide an eight-foot section of the shoulder to be shared by bicyclists and pedestrians. Signs will direct bikes to use the five feet nearest the road and pedestrians to use three feet to the right, Romero says.

Though ODOT’s summer and fall improvements to Powell won’t quell community demands for sidewalks and other investments, they should be noticeable for those who use the roadway.

Improvements will include:

• Selective rights of way expansion that enable ODOT to put in a raised bumpy stripe — known as rumble strips — giving bicyclists and pedestrians more comfort while traveling on the widened eight-foot-wide shoulder.

• More than 50 curb cuts at intersections, making it easier for those on wheelchairs and others to safely enter and exit roadways.

• New crosswalks with rapid-flash beacons at Southeast 119th, 141st and 156th avenue intersections with Powell.

• At all eight main intersections on Powell, new devices that detect when someone is running a red light, triggering a delay in green lights for the cross traffic, to avert T-boning accidents.

• Devices at those eight intersections that make it easier and safer for police to detect incidents of people running red lights, and flag them down to issue tickets.

• Four signs that flash motorists’ speed, two in each direction.

Work is expected to be done by mid-October.

Funds could fill neighborhood sidewalk gap

Some East Portland residents might call ODOT’s new safety improvements along outer east Powell Boulevard less than half a loaf, perhaps a few slices at best.

But the state has agreed to spend an additional $3 million in 2018 for new sidewalks along Powell, says David Hampsten, a transportation activist from the Hazelwood neighborhood.

And the Oregon Legislature came through in the eleventh-hour of its 2013 session with an additional $5 million for future sidewalk and related improvements on Powell. Hampsten predicts that will be used to leverage more federal funds to make a bigger dent on that endeavor. “You need to build up enough money to do a proper project,” he says.

The Legislature also granted another $3.6 million to add sidewalks on Southeast 136th Avenue. That will supplement $1.2 million being spent by the city, in part a response to community outcry after the recent tragic death of 5-year-old Morgan Maynard-Cook while walking along 136th. Combined with the new state money, that should allow enough to put a sidewalk on one side of 136th between Division and Foster, Hampsten says.

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