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Businesses sue to block Sunrise highway project

Clackamas property owners followed through with their threat to hold up the $1.4 billion “Sunrise” project to build a new highway between Highway 224 and 162nd Avenue by filing a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Transportation.

If they are successful in their March 29 legal action in Clackamas County Circuit Court to stop reconstruction of Lawnfield Road near 97th Avenue, they could kill the whole project (“Lawsuit threatens Sunrise highway project,” Feb. 27).

As part of the plans, ODOT wants Lawnfield Road to go from a 17 percent incline to 8.5 percent, which would require that Union Pacific Railroad close the crossing to get to 82nd Drive. In a request for a judge to issue a stop-work order, property owners say that decreased access would make it difficult to attract industrial tenants, thereby forcing lower rents and property values.

“We believe that by moving forward with the project as planned, we will be significantly damaged by ODOT,” said their attorney John DiLorenzo.

ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but was willing to provide general comments about the Sunrise project that he hoped would frame future discussions. He expects “it’s a project that’s going to create a much stronger economic climate” not only for the immediate area, but also for the whole county and state.

“It’s important to remember that this has been the result of three decades of work, and it’s got the support of the county, Fred Meyer, Safeway, the North Clackamas Chamber and many other businesses in the area,” Hamilton said.

Speaking before a transportation subcommittee of Oregon legislators last week, DiLorenzo and business leaders complained that a proposed Tolbert Overpass would have helped access. Cam Gilmour, Clackamas County transportation director, wrote to ODOT on Sept. 27 raising the alarm about the Tolbert situation.

“Commissioners on my end are very concerned and want to do something,” Gilmore wrote. “All I can tell them is we have or had an approach all the parties agreed to involving an interim replacement crossing at Clackamas Road and then work toward getting Tolbert funding — but this requires UPRR concurrence which is not happening (apparently).”

On Feb. 5, the county decided go for bids on its about $4.76 million project before ODOT had even started the highway’s main portion, which potentially put the county on the hook without reimbursement.

Hamilton noted that ODOT and Clackamas County are in negotiations on funding the Tolbert Overpass construction.

“Just because it wasn’t included in this project doesn’t mean it won’t be part of a future project,” he said.