ODOT spending $110 million on Powell Boulevard project
State and city leaders say they're breaking ground — but not their promises — on a high-crash corridor in East Portland.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is pouring at least $110 million into Southeast Powell Boulevard, with the far-reaching plans expected to impact roadway conditions until 2025.
At the official kick-off for the Outer Powell Transportation Safety Project on Saturday, April 6, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, called the road an "orphan highway" designed without "a sense of safety or scale."
"This is going to be a stake in the ground for changing perceptions and operations in East Portland," he said.
The improvements promised on Powell east of Interstate 205 include new signalized crosswalks, sidewalks, six-feet-wide bike lanes, street lights, storm drains and center turn lanes for traffic and transit.
A physical "curb separator" will buffer the bike lane, except in areas where the curb is frequently interrupted by driveways and side streets. Between Southeast 132nd and 136th avenues, workers will construct an elevated concrete path exclusively for cyclists' use on the south side of the street. Officials say it's the first such "cycle track" ever constructed by ODOT.
"Transportation investment is not an end to itself, but a means to many positive benefits," noted ODOT Director Matt Garrett.
Though it often looks like a regular street, Portland City Hall has long been hampered by Powell Boulevard, which is owned by ODOT as part of Highway 26. For now, the state agency is limiting itself to construction from Southeast 122nd to Southeast 136th at an expected price of $20 million.
ODOT will eventually re-work a four-mile stretch of Powell linking East Portland to Gresham, with the funding provided by the $5.3 billion transportation package passed by state lawmakers in 2017. ODOT will then relinquish control after work wraps between Southeast 99th to 175th avenues next decade.
It can't happen soon enough for Paul Rossi. The owner of Stark Auto Works for the last 30 years wants property values to rise so he can sell his land — and move. "Hopefully it will revitalize the area. It's turned into a damn ghetto, quite frankly," he said.
Elected leaders were humming a more upbeat tune. Former Mayor Charlie Hales stood in the audience, while many speakers praised former City Commissioner Steve Novick for tirelessly supporting the project, though voters gave him the boot in the 2016 election.
State Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, led the crowd in "show me the money" chants, while Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, talked about being cat-called while walking in the area.
"I have held a candle too many times at a vigil for people who have died along this very corridor," Sen. Fagan said. "(This) is an investment in restoring the faith of East Portlanders."
Statewide, the intersection of Powell and 122nd is considered to be in the top 5 percent for severity and frequency of crashes.
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