Frustrated with poor conditions, West Linn ponders assuming ownership of Highway 43
To avoid damage to his electric car when driving on Highway 43, West Linn resident Miki Mehandjiysky "slaloms" around the roadway's numerous potholes. To him, the highway's conditions, especially the southbound side, are more reminiscent of an off-road environment than a major thoroughfare.
"I don't think the city and ODOT should wait until people's cars start to fall apart before addressing the issue," Mehandjiysky said.
West Linn residents have long lamented the poor pavement conditions of Highway 43. From I-205 to the former Marylhurst campus, the state-owned highway is riddled with cracks and potholes. Further north, however, the highway through downtown Lake Oswego is generally smoother.
This discrepancy was noted in a recent comment on a West Linn social media page, which read, "Funny how 43 magically gets all better and very nice once you hit Lake Oswego."
As a means to address the crude highway conditions, the city has begun to consider taking over ownership of the roadway so it can be better cared for.
Beyond travelers' anecdotes of bumpy commutes, the Oregon Department of Transportation's pavement analysis offers a glimpse of the conditions.
In 2020, ODOT rated pavement conditions of Highway 43 from Glenmorrie Drive (near Marylhurst) to I-205 as "poor." The roadway through downtown Lake Oswego, from Glenmorrie Drive to A Avenue, is deemed "fair."
Further north, the segment from A Avenue through Terwilliger Boulevard was also rated as "poor'' in 2020.
However, ODOT records suggest that the West Linn portion of the highway has improved somewhat in recent years. In 2012, the Glenmorrie to I-205 stretch was rated just above "very poor" and has slowly improved since.
Despite these moderate improvements in ratings, ODOT has only completed paving projects in the area twice in those years: in 2017 when the agency repaved the highway near Mary's Woods and Marylhurst, and in 2021 when it paved near Bolton Primary School.
ODOT currently has more projects out to bid for other small portions of the corridor through West Linn.
Still, these ODOT projects don't seem to have made much difference, according to West Linn Public Works Director Lance Calvert.
"ODOT hasn't effectively maintained Hwy 43 for as long as I've been here (over 10 years)," Calvert wrote in an email to the Tidings.
According to Calvert, ADA requirements are one primary reason ODOT has neglected to maintain the roadway.
Calvert said that in recent paving projects by ODOT, the agency avoided improvements that would require ADA upgrades.
State law requires that when ODOT completes certain work on a roadway, it also fixes where the roadway doesn't meet ADA standards — which is most of the corridor.
"Highway 43 is very difficult and expensive to retrofit to meet ODOT ADA standards due to the steep topography of the corridor," Calvert said. "Thus Highway 43 ends up being last on ODOT's priority list."
ODOT Public Information Officer Don Hamilton affirmed the expense of necessary ADA work.
"That is a significant expense," Hamilton said. "We're always trying to make sure that when we do work that that the sidewalks and ramps are up to ADA standard."
As to why the highway feels smoother heading north into Lake Oswego, Erica Rooney, Public Works Director for the city of Lake Oswego, explained Tigard and Lake Oswego repaved that portion of the highway about six years ago after completing pipework beneath the roadway as part of their water partnership project.
"We have not repaved since then," Rooney said.
The city of West Linn adopted a concept plan for improvements to the highway in 2016 and has worked on plans and designs for the corridor ever since, but rising costs and struggles to secure funding have prevented work from moving forward.
The city has even considered a jurisdictional transfer of the roadway, similar to the city of Portland's recent acquisition of 82nd Avenue from ODOT and Tigard's consideration of acquiring Hall Boulevard.
In a discussion at a joint meeting of the West Linn City Council and Transportation Advisory Board last month, Mayor Jules Walters expressed frustration with the state of the highway and the fear it will only worsen with the increased traffic expected to hit the area when tolls go into place on I-205.
"We want to make sure they (ODOT) do their due diligence and at least some repairs before we take it back over if they're willing to hand the jurisdiction over to us," Walters said.
According to Calvert, to learn if a jurisdictional transfer would be feasible, the next step is for the city and ODOT to determine the price of a transfer and to raise the condition of the roadway to a "state of good repair."
Though talks about the possibility of West Linn taking over the road have just begun, Calvert explained that ODOT would likely give the city funds for repairs. This would be a more efficient use of tax dollars, according to Calvert, because of stricter requirements for state projects.
"Moving the funds to the city prior to repair allows for more work to get done with the same amount of tax dollars," Calvert said.
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