City to spread gravel on 50 miles of unpaved streets
That's how Meg Van Buren, a board member with the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association, describes a rutted, unpaved stretch of Southeast Harney Street between 60 and 62nd Avenues.
"You get part way down and you're like — 'This isn't going to work out. I'm going to turn around,'" she said on Monday, Jan. 7. "We deserve the same improvements that are done city-wide."
There may be relief coming to Van Buren and countless residents like her. The Portland Bureau of Transportation has launched a free gravel-and-grade program that should smooth out the estimated 50 miles of rough, unpaved roads and sidewalkless streets within city limits.
Officials plan to fill in potholes, spread a new coat of gravel and then even-out the roadway across every mile of unimproved track over the next three years. Planners expect the new Gravel Street Service to cost between $1 and $1.5 million a year.
"For years, residents on gravel streets have asked PBOT to address the poor conditions of their roads, and I'm here today to tell you that you have finally been heard," said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the bureau.
"Who knew how exciting gravel could be?" she marveled.
The transportation bureau estimates it would cost $6 million a mile to fully improve every street to current standards — though that includes the expense of installing below-ground pipes and adjacent sidewalks, not just paving.
Given that the city boasts another 200 miles of under-improved streets, which are paved but lack sidewalks or curbs, the price tag for a total street network upgrade would be more than $1 billion.
In its first year, PBOT plans to make the gravel-and-grade upgrades to every unimproved street south of Division on Portland's East Side. Next year, it will be everything north of Division. The West Side will take its turn in the program's third year.
After the rotation is completed in 2021, workers will head back to the start to determine the condition of the re-graded streets after years under the rubber. Maintenance crews will only be available for the gravel service during the winter months, when it's too wet to pave. There are some 300 disjointed street segments on the workers' to-do list for 2019 alone.
"We're using our existing resources," said Chris Warner, PBOT interim director. "This is money that we think is going to be well spent."
Chelsea Powers, board chair for Brentwood-Darlington, says the area's adults are excited to see the neighborhood lifted literally "out of the mud."
Some of the children, however, may miss splashing in the "duck pond" that spouts up periodically on another nearby side street.
"This essential maintenance of severely neglected unimproved roads is a significant first step," she said, "to improve infrastructure in our historically underserved and diverse neighborhood."