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Its our turn

Capitol Highway Refinement Plan looks to install sidewalks, bike lanes along 1.2-mile stretch of highway

MULTNOMAH - A plan to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety along Southwest Capitol Highway has been polished and presented to neighborhood residents; what remains is securing the funding for the project.

In the beginning

The Capitol Highway Refinement Plan is an update to a conceptual framework established by the 1996 Capitol Highway Plan, an effort to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access and safety and install improved lighting and traffic-calming devices along the road. The 1996 plan encompassed a four-mile stretch of the highway between Southwest Taylors Ferry and Southwest Garden Home roads.

Working with a citizen advisory committee and a technical advisory committee comprising staff from six agencies, the Portland Bureau of Transportation narrowed its design by soliciting citizen comments through surveys and several public open houses between 2010 and 2011, an effort funded with federal dollars.

This refinement concentrates the focus of the plan to the 1.2-mile stretch of Capitol Highway between Southwest Multnomah Boulevard and Southwest Taylors Ferry Road and revises it based on its actual topography and drainage.

It also incorporates guidelines for bike pathway improvements and stormwater management that now apply to the road based on 2008 updates to the Bureau of Environmental Services' Stormwater Management Manual as well as the 2030 Bicycle Plan.

According to PBOT, this refinement plan will better position the project to obtain federal funding for construction.

Speed bumps

As of now, this stretch of Capitol Highway contains no formal sidewalks or bike lanes and no marked crossing points. Although narrow gravel pathways exist at points along its east side, they are not ADA compliant and provide little or no separation between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicular traffic.

But, despite this rural feel, Capitol Highway does not have 'rural traffic,' according to one citizen.

From a transportation standpoint, plans to improve safety and access face challenges such as a winding road alignment, mature trees and steep slopes.

There is, however, even more to consider.

The 2008 update to BES' stormwater management code now requires road improvement plans to treat stormwater runoff at the surface where it falls with 'green streets.'

Working within Capitol Highway's constrained corridor, PBOT engineers faced additional obstacles to designing within this code.

The highway's existing road surfaces are impervious, conveying polluted stormwater to nearby rivers and streams. Driveways along the highway further impede drainage, as would the proposed transportation improvements, which require the installation of curbs.

BES code recommends roadside vegetated planter strips to catch and filter runoff , but, as the soil along Capitol Highway drains poorly, such an approach would have a limited effect.

Instead, the road requires detention facilities, which project engineers have included by way of underground, oversized pipes - none of which already exist along the road.

'We have a full infrastructure project on our hands,' PBOT Project Manager Ross Swanson said at a June 14 meeting of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association.

Where it stands

PBOT's proposed design for the stretch of Capitol Highway is a hybrid of sorts.

On the east side of the road, a six-foot bike lane would be separated from the roadway with a one-foot buffer. This lane would be bordered on its other side by a four-and-a-half-foot-wide vegetated stormwater management furnishing zone. A six-foot sidewalk would border the furnishing zone on its other side.

The west side of the highway would feature a 'cycle track' similar to the newly completed one along Northeast Cully Boulevard. In this case, a three-and-a-half-foot-wide stormwater zone would run adjacent to vehicular traffic, bordered by a six-and-a-half-foot-wide bike lane. This bike lane would run next to a six-and-a-half-foot-wide sidewalk, raised six inches above the bike lane.

Alternatives considered for where the road's right of way is too narrow for this treatment include a boardwalk pathway over stormwater management facilities. On-street parking would be kept at a minimum.

Even crossing these design hurdles, however, the search for funding for the project remains a challenge.

PBOT has estimated the cost of this project at $19.1 million in 2014 numbers, including construction and engineering, right-of-way acquisition, contingency costs and inflation.

As it also incorporates the cost of on- and off-site stormwater management infrastructure improvements, this number is 'above and beyond that of a normal transportation project,' Swanson said.

Swanson said PBOT's funding strategy has thus far targeted federal dollars and that this project is the city's No. 1 priority ask for federal funds.

However, with federal money comes regulations (for example, the requirement to improve both sides of the road) and competition, he said, and 'I don't know if we can necessarily compete with this number.'

Swanson said PBOT considered whether to complete the project in phases but decided in the end that the cost was prohibitive.

'It doesn't quite work,' he said.

Looking at other means of fundraising, if it were locally funded, the cost of the project would come down, but so would its design, he said.

'Long history of broken promises'

At the June 14 MNA meeting, Marianne Fitzgerald, a Southwest Neighborhoods Inc president and member of the refinement plan's CAC, said the key to securing federal funding is to make the project a priority not only for Southwest neighbors but for city officials as well.

She said she has already met with City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and encourages others to contact him and Mayor Sam Adams about the project.

At the meeting, the neighborhood association passed a motion to send a letter to the city expressing its support for the project.

The vote to do so was divided, however, as some citizens - especially those who live along Capitol Highway - voiced concerns about loss of land and property value as well as questions of who would be responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalks and bike lanes.

Swanson said the project would only cross over onto private property in one instance - into a law firm's parking lot.

As the project is still in its planning phase and requires coordination with 96 property owners, Swanson said the refinement plan's details would change. He said specific concerns about parking and existing driveways could be addressed during a later design phase.

'It's about equity for Southwest Portland,' Fitzgerald said, explaining that, since 1993, property owners have been paying for stormwater management improvements installed in other Portland neighborhoods that they hadn't received themselves.

'It's our turn,' she said.