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ODOT kills Highway 26 safety project

City of Gresham wants to use the $2 million for in-city road improvements


by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - POST PHOTO: JIM HART Turning any direction at Stone Road and Highway 26 is dangerous because highway traffic is traveling at least 55 mph. Local residents have been asking for a signal at this intersection, but ODOT officials say no.The $2 million road project designed to improve drivers’ safety at a couple of Highway 26 intersections near Boring has been set aside, postponed indefinitely.

“(The project) has been put on the shelf, metaphorically speaking,” said Jilayne Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

That means if plans already completed could assist future road projects, it would be available.

Project planning began about four years ago when the city of Gresham asked for $2 million from ODOT to help create better access to the Springwater industrial area in north Boring. But that planning did not include Boring residents — the people who would be affected most by changes.

That made the project at least controversial. Many Boring and east Gresham residents asked to have a traffic signal installed at Stone Road to make it safer for cars to cross the highway or to make a left turn onto Highway 26.

But ODOT officials remained resolute in their resistance to that idea, saying a signal would make it less safe.

Katherine Kelly, planning manager for the city of Gresham, said the reason for shelving the project is that the economic downturn has slowed growth in Gresham, and there is no need now to develop Springwater industry.

Jordan acknowledged that development of the Springwater area was basically at a standstill, and it didn’t make sense to spend $2 million now to prepare for future industrial traffic.

Kelly agreed that because funds for infrastructure projects such as water and sewer in the Springwater area are coming in slowly, the area would not develop quickly.

In response to the lack of cooperation and opposing views of ODOT officials, members of the Boring Community Planning Organization contacted their legislators and asked if they could look into the situation and try to motivate ODOT to compromise.

Shortly after the letters began arriving in legislators’ mailboxes, ODOT officials announced that the project had been set aside.

Officially, ODOT is saying that the city of Gresham killed the project in order to save the federal grant and apply it to two other projects within the city limits: making traffic signals adjust to real-time traffic flows on roads connecting Interstate 84 with U.S. 26 and widening Hogan Road intersections from Division to Powell.

But Gresham officials are saying the economic downturn made them do it.

One of the legislators who asked ODOT why it killed the project is saying he was told local residents had a hand in the demise of the unpopular project.

Dylan Gray, chief of staff for Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, whose district includes parts of Boring and parts of Highway 26, said ODOT officials have told his office the state was backing out of the project because local residents objected.

No one was more taken aback after hearing that the project had been shelved than Boring CPO Chairman Steve Bates, who also said he was pleased with ODOT’s and Gresham’s actions.

“I was shocked with the voice mail that I received from Representative Bill Kennemer,” Bates said, “and the email that arrived shortly thereafter from Senator Alan Olsen’s office.

“The withdrawal of ODOT from the intersection improvement project has been met with considerable celebration from the people of Boring.”

The intersection safety improvement project was intended to make travel safer on Highway 26 at 267th Avenue and Stone Road until mega-funding was available to build a full-scale freeway interchange at 267th Avenue.

The two intersection changes would have limited drivers’ access to Highway 26 in the same way as it is currently curtailed at its intersection with Kelso Road — right in, right out and no left turn onto Highway 26.

Local residents of Boring and east Gresham criticized the proposals, saying they would force drivers who wanted to go to Gresham to go toward Sandy, and divert drivers who wanted to go to Sandy toward Gresham.

They asked for a signal at Stone Road to make it safe and give drivers a choice of their direction of travel.

“(The city of Gresham) liked the idea of traffic signals,” Jordan said, “but it’s our facility and we make the decision on what we do on our facilities. We’re just not willing to sacrifice the safety of folks in order to put in a traffic signal.”

Jordan said any future improvements to those two intersections would have to go through the State Transportation Improvement Program.

For more information, call Jordan at 503-731-8237 or Kelly at 503-618-2110.

Gresham Outlook reporter Mara Stine contributed to this article.