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Busy 82nd Avenue could get face-lift thanks to ODOT, city

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pedestrians and cars navigate the busy intersection at Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street.When you think of a Portland street known as an eyesore, which one comes to mind?

For many, it’s 82nd Avenue, long a haven for prostitutes, fast-food joints, unsightly used-car lots, and porn shops.

But 82nd Avenue is starting to get more love from the state.

Oregon’s Department of Transportation just announced it will spend $5 million to improve pedestrian and motorist safety at five key intersections on 82nd in Southeast Portland — all ranking among the top 5 percent most dangerous ones in the state.

Then ODOT will take a big-picture look at a 7.3-mile stretch of 82nd Avenue to plot more improvements between Northeast Killingsworth Street and Southeast Johnson Creek Boulevard. The study also will consider whether it makes sense for ODOT to hand control of the state highway to the city of Portland.

“There’s interest on both sides at looking at a potential jurisdictional transfer,” says Mike Mason, a senior project manager for ODOT who is leading the one-year study. “Ultimately, we want to see 82nd safer and maybe more attractive to walk along and go to.”

As a state transportation agency managing a network of state freeways and highways, ODOT has tended to view 82nd and similar thoroughfares as routes to move large volumes of motor-vehicle traffic efficiently and quickly. The agency also has other top priorities for 82nd, Mason says, such as assuring its use as a freight corridor, and as an alternative for north-south traffic should Interstate 205 get shut down by an accident.

“The city may have other standards that can make roads more neighborhood-friendly,” Mason says.

Indeed, city planners are exploring ways to revitalize 82nd Avenue in the new comprehensive land-use plan, which is designed to guide growth for the next 20 years. Among the city’s goals are making 82nd more hospitable for apartments, and turning the pan-Asian Jade District between Southeast Division Street and Powell Boulevard into a pedestrian-friendly environment. In a recent walking tour of 82nd, city planners suggested it could develop along the lines of what’s happening on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Not so coincidentally, MLK (along with Sandy Boulevard), is a former state highway that was handed over to the city to maintain, and the city is interested in taking over 82nd Avenue.

But 82nd also serves as a psychological barrier between the more hip, popular parts of Portland and the more gritty, lower-income areas of East Portland.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum in the east part of the city to make improvements,” Mason says.

Improving 82nd Avenue could be pivotal to those efforts. Regional transit officials also are planning a high-capacity bus line between the central city and Gresham, which might extend east on Powell Boulevard, then cut north onto 82nd Avenue and continue east again at Division Street.

Mason’s study, dubbed the 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan, also will explore ways to improve the highway near the newly expanded Portland Community College campus on Division. PCC is bringing thousands of new students to the area, resulting in lots more pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

Safer intersections

ODOT is starting first with the safety improvements, partly in response to complaints from neighborhood associations and business groups, Mason says. ODOT committed $5 million from its regional safety budget to improve six intersections on 82nd Avenue: Burnside, Stark, Washington, Yamhill, Mill and Division streets.

All of those except Yamhill were chosen because of high accident rates, says Kate Parker, a consultant working on public involvement for that project.

“They’re looking at what historically has caused crashes at each intersection,” Parker says, and tailoring improvements to prevent future crashes.

ODOT is working on final designs for those intersection improvements, and expects to complete construction between fall 2015 and spring 2016.

Each of the traffic signals will be replaced with new, more visible lights, and moved from hanging wires to fixed-mast arms. That helps to alleviate visual clutter that can contribute to accidents, Parker says.

Pedestrians will get curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs and push-button devices to make crossing 82nd easier. There will be improved street signs, a left-turn arrow to make it safer to turn at Burnside, and barriers to prevent motorists from taking shortcuts through the Chinese Village restaurant parking lot.

In separate projects, ODOT also plans similar improvements to the 82nd Avenue intersections with Southeast Duke Street and Northeast Sandy Boulevard, Mason says.

The longer-range study also will evaluate possible new pedestrian crossings between the major signaled intersections.

Mason expects to work closely with city staff from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The study won’t resolve whether Portland should take over control of 82nd Avenue, Mason says, as that’s expected to take longer than a year to decide. That could require protracted negotiations between ODOT and the city on the possible transfer of state funds to maintain 82nd.

As most Portlanders are aware, the city budget for maintaining existing streets is thin, prompting a controversial plan at City Hall to raise taxes.