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East County roads get OK for federal funding

by: Jim Clark A pedestrian walks on the roadside on Northeast Arata Road, east of Northeast 223rd Avenue. The county is looking to improve safety along this and other roads in the area because the residents bike and walk along the gravel shoulders.

Two East Multnomah County roads in major need of safety and visual improvements were approved as the county's top candidates for federal transportation dollars.

The East Multnomah Transportation Committee on Monday, Aug. 15, selected the candidate projects - Arata Road between 223rd and 238th avenues, and Sandy Boulevard between 230th Avenue and 238th Drive - to forward to the Metro Regional Government, which expects to get $70.7 million in federal transportation money in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Metro plans to disperse $22.5 million of that amount to transportation projects in the city of Portland and in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Multnomah County will receive $1.6 million for active transportation projects that add or improve bicycling, walking and access to public transportation; and $659,000 for freight and green economy projects.

Active transportation projects are judged on how well they improve safety and access to priority destinations such as businesses, as well as if they serve high-density or high-growth areas.

Multnomah County's top-five candidate projects were located in East County.

Arata Road

Supporters of the Arata Road project note that the stretch between 223rd and 238th Avenue has few sidewalks, poor lighting and no bike lanes, despite being surrounded by houses, three mobile home parks and the Fairview Oaks-Woods apartments, one of the region's largest subsidized housing projects. The neighborhood has a high percentage of Hispanic residents and renter-occupied housing when compared to the countywide averages.

Arata Road also has several bus stops serving about 350 Reynolds School District students.

Jane McFarland, principal planner with Multnomah County Land Use and Transportation Program, said the active transportation funds will go toward adding sidewalks, bike lanes, lighting and landscaping along Arata Road's south side.

The project will also add two pedestrian crosswalks with signals and improve a multi-use path between Arata Road and Halsey Street, often used by residents to get to nearby businesses. The federal funds cover almost $1.7 million of the $1.9 million project.

'The county will look for other forms of transportation grant programs for the north side, which would be the second phase (of the project),' McFarland said.

Pastor Bill Ehmann of Wood Village Baptist Church, 23601 N.E. Arata Road, said the road has a tremendous amount of pedestrian activity; he notes he often sees women with strollers and motorized-wheelchair users trying to navigate along the rocky, unpaved sides of the two-lane road while avoiding the traffic. During the school year, Reynolds School District buses also pick up and drop off kids on mornings and afternoons, he said.

About 10 years ago, a Reynolds student was hit by a car and killed while she was at the bus stop across the road from the church, Ehmann said. He also noted that the road is poorly lighted in some areas.

'The safety issue is the No. 1 issue I have,' Ehmann said. 'Simply trying to get from point A to point B on Arata Road, it's a mess.'

When the hill on 238th Drive is closed because of ice or an accident, traffic is detoured onto Arata Road and it becomes 'a freeway,' Ehmann said.

'Those are a few of the things that make me excited that it will get developed and become a lot safer, a better mover of people and vehicles in this area,' Ehmann said.

Sandy Boulevard

The quarter-mile section of Sandy Boulevard between 230th Avenue and 238th Drive is the first phase of a Multnomah County plan to improve Sandy Boulevard between the Gresham and Fairview city limits and 238th Drive.

The project proposes widening the intersection at 230th Avenue, adding new sidewalks and bike lanes and making the road more sustainable for heavy truck traffic. Multnomah County requested $659,000 in flexible funds for the $885,675 project.

Project supporters noted that it also would make shovel-ready industrial properties in the area, which includes the more than 100-acre Townsend Business Park, more attractive to potential businesses.

Strategically located near Interstate 84, the railroad tracks and the Columbia River, Townsend Business Park includes properties owned by Birtcher Development; Thermo-King, which manufactures refrigerated trailer units and sells golf carts; and Knight Transportation, a national dry van truckload carrier.

Mark Childs, senior vice president of Capacity Commercial Group, which is in charge of marketing Townsend Business Park, said the park's vacant property includes 30 acres for commercial land and more than 20 acres for industrial development.

However, some potential businesses are put off by Sandy Boulevard, Childs said.

'I've shown the property before to potential businesses, and they've said, 'This could be a nice park, and I would want to relocate here, but I don't want our customers driving into the park through the Sandy Boulevard access road I just drove through,' ' Childs said.

Safety issues are also a concern, he said, as both pedestrians share the road with the large trucks traveling to and from the business park.

All projects up for public comment

A regional public comment period on all of the road projects will take place in September and October. Afterward, Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and the Metro Council will make the final decision on approving the projects for funding in December.