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'Out of the Mud Initiative' passed by City Council

On Thursday, November 29, the Portland City Council voted “yes” to implement new alternative design options for unimproved roadways in residential areas. In August, Mayor Sam Adams proposed the initiative, and called it “Out of the Mud” – because it literally offers residents less expensive options to get paving on the city’s 60 miles of unimproved streets, a disproportionate number of which are in Southeast Portland.

In September, THE BEE reported on the different improvement options proposed by the Mayor. During the month of October, the Woodstock Neighborhood Association hosted two presentations by Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) staff to inform residents about these proposed new design standards.

The second of the two presentations was on October 22nd at the Woodstock Community Center, and in spite of the televised fourth and final Presidential Debate that evening, twenty-three residents attended. There, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Rich Newlands described in detail the options, costs, and processes involved. All attendees at that gathering agreed that the traditional full-street improvement at a cost of $300 per month for 20 years was prohibitively expensive.

Residents were further concerned that even these new, more flexible options, at $60 or $65 per month for twenty years, did not represent enough of a cost reduction. Many expressed the hope that in the future the city would do more to help subsidize costs of any LID (local improvement district).

One of the options passed by council on November 29th was for a walkway only. This option would leave the street unpaved, but allow for a six-foot wide concrete walkway that would provide access to adjacent properties from a school or other neighborhood destination.

For the “walkway only” option, Newlands points out that even though concrete is impermeable, its advantage over mulch or bark chips is that it fulfills ADA requirements, making it possible for people using wheelchairs, walkers, or canes, to navigate the street. This option, if done through a formal LID process (which allows for long-term financing), would cost each resident approximately $20 per month for 20 years.

Any “DIY” (Do It Yourself) improvements, such as a walkway, where residents would make an improvement without going through the LID process, would still require a city permit. In such cases, residents would pay out-of-pocket, perhaps supplemented by in-kind labor or material donations from neighbors or friends, and would apply for their permit before work is done, to make sure there are no complications of interference with sewer, water lines, or utilities. A fifteen page PBOT booklet entitled “The Idea Book” – available online at: www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/58466 – includes additional customized options, such as roadways with space for picnic tables, benches, planting boxes, tree benches, boulders or adventure paths.

At the November 29th City Council meeting it was recognized that more work needs to be done to determine the process for such alternative options.

In general, Newlands says, “The underlying idea [of this initiative] is to allow for a lot more flexibility.”

How this works out in the future will be determined by residents working with the city to explore options for improving their unimproved roadways.