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Relief coming for Southeast's many unpaved streets?

by: ERIC NORBERG - In the foreground, the section of S.E. 20th between Insley and Harold in Westmoreland, paved by the city to provide business access during the past Big Pipe sewer project, appears to be of the sort described by Mayor Adams as an inexpensive option to standard paving. It has 16 feet of asphalt paving down the middle, with gravel shoulders, and has held up very well so far under heavy truck usage. 20th has standard paving, with curbs and sidewalks, in the following block.In an e-mail to neighborhood association members, and a press release to various media contacts, Mayor Sam Adams in August announced what he is calling the “Out of the Mud (and Dust)” initiative.

Since 8% of Woodstock neighborhood roadways are unimproved (a total of 2.5 miles), compared with an average of 2% per neighborhood citywide, this initiative could be of particular interest to Woodstock residents.

The Mayor’s initiative would offer homeowners who live on, or adjacent to, neighborhood gravel and dirt roads, several less-expensive options than the traditional full street improvement. That includes a 26-foot wide asphalt street, curbs on either side, sidewalks, and planting strips or storm water swales for drainage. This sort of full street improvement is prohibitively expensive ($300 per month) for most homeowners.

Mayor Adams pointed out that the Woodstock neighborhood is one of four areas in the city with large numbers of substandard streets which fill up with mud puddles and kick up dust into yards and houses. The others are the Cully and Linnton neighborhoods, as well as areas in Outer Northeast and Southeast Portland. Other Inner Southeast neighborhoods are no strangers to such streets, too.

In the announcement, Mayor Adams stated, “Our goal is to get the average monthly cost for this program to property owners from the city’s standard $300 per month average down to $60 per month.”

Since last spring, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PDOT) has been seeking alternative design solutions that would be acceptable to both PDOT and to local residents. A City Council work session held on August 28th to evaluate street design options and consider feedback from residents was geared to provide further guidance as to how to proceed with street improvements.

Alternative street design options being proposed to residents – with the approximate monthly costs for each, over a 20-year period – include: 16 feet of paving down the middle, with gravel shoulders ($65/month); 16 feet of paving down the middle, with a gravel shoulder on one side and a walkway on the other ($85/mo); keeping the roadway unpaved, but building a walkway on one side ($25/mo); and leaving the street unpaved, without charge. City spokespeople point out that the costs listed are estimates only, given to show the difference in price ratio.

Rich Newlands from PDOT explained by e-mail that the August 28 City Council work session included a presentation on “Shared Streets”. He said, “The concept of a shared street is that the 16-foot paved area [in contrast to the 26-foot-wide classic street] could be used by cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars. Additional elements, such as traffic calming, would be considered as needed.” Newlands will discuss the results of the council session, and will offer further comment on street design options, at the Woodstock Neighborhood Association meeting on October 3rd.

In his “Out of the Mud (and Dirt)” Initiative announcement, Mayor Adams observed that many of the gravel roadways under discussion once belonged to Multnomah County, but were annexed into the City of Portland after homes were built; and the city, unlike the county, did not require street improvements. In those days, some households decided to pay a fee for street improvements, but others opted to keep the streets in their substandard condition.

Thus, after suffering many decades of mud and dust, in the not too distant future residents on dirt streets may be able to get some relief by opting for cheaper alternative street designs.

To see a map of Portland’s annexation history, enter “Portland Annexation History” into a web search. For information and color photos of the Street by Street initiative, to online to: HYPERLINK "http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/58466" www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/58466 – and click on “Street by Street Initiative”.