The plan would make the highway into a city-maintained road. Final approval waits with the City Council.

FILE - A pedestrian waits to cross SW Powell St at 82nd Avenue in 2007.The long-awaited transfer of 82nd Avenue from a state highway to a Portland city street is one step away from completion.

The Oregon Transportation Commission voted Thursday, Nov. 18, for an agreement that commits a total of $66.6 million more in state funds through 2035 for improvements to the highway. Portland will take over maintenance of 82nd Avenue within city boundaries — from Northeast Killingsworth Street to Southeast Clatsop Street, about seven miles — when the City Council approves the agreement early next year.

The Oregon Department of Transportation already spent $3.4 million this past summer for safety measures, installing new speed indicators and flashing beacons, lowering speed signs and adding pedestrian islands.

"Things have gotten worse on 82nd," Commission Chairman Bob Van Brocklin said. "There have been a number of fatalities and other problems, so it has heightened visibility because it has declined more rapidly. A lot of things have come together here to make this the time to do this."

Coupled with commitments of $35 million from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and $80 million in federal funds from the pandemic recovery plan signed by President Joe Biden, the transfer now awaits approval by the Portland City Council.

"In 2018, we began to lay the groundwork for a future transfer," PBOT Director Chris Warner said at a state commission meeting. "We are now in a position to ask the City Council to consider the transfer."

Although ODOT has made similar transfers in other communities, 82nd Avenue is easily one of its largest. It cuts through the Jade District, home to many Asian American businesses and residents, and TriMet's busiest bus route follows it.

"It's a step in the right direction," commission member Alando Simpson said.

What began as a farm-to-market road a century ago in 1922 became a state highway in 1932. But with the opening of the Glenn Jackson Bridge across the Columbia River in the 1980s, and the completion of Interstate 205 on Portland's east side, the role of 82nd Avenue changed.

"It's become clear it is no longer functioning as a state highway. A city arterial would be more appropriate," Rian Windsheimer, ODOT's Portland region manager, told the commission. "However, the financial barrier to making the transfer work was significant."

The 2021 Legislature, through the support of House Speaker Tina Kotek and other Portland lawmakers, agreed to draw $80 million from Oregon's share of the American Rescue Plan Act to add to city and state funds for the transfer. This money will be spent first, because the federal law sets a deadline.

PBOT will be responsible for design and construction of pedestrian ramps compliant with federal standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Typically, these ramps are associated with city streets. ODOT in 2016 settled a lawsuit brought by disability rights advocates over insufficient and inadequate curb ramps on state highways.

ODOT will take money from several pots to account for the state share of the agreement. Windsheimer acknowledged those withdrawals will affect other projects that also deserve funding.

"These decisions are in the best interests of ODOT and the citizens of Oregon in the long run," he said.

"The reality is that the scale of this transformation of a roadway like this is going to take time to plan, design and deliver."

NOTE: Adds comment from Bob Van Brocklin of Portland, Oregon Transportation Commission chairman.

By Peter Wong
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