Plans for outer SE Powell Blvd. revealed at Midway meeting

ODOT’s been talking about improving this narrow, two-lane stretch of the State-owned highway for as long as neighbors can remember. See what their plan now is …

Oregon Department of Transportation East Portland manager Rich Watanabe says improvements to SE Powell Boulevard really will occur – but just when is still uncertain.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton with Watford Reed*

* Editor’s note: My dear friend and fellow newsman Watford Reed passed away on Sunday, July 5; this was the last story on which he contributed. I already miss his help and support..

Folks who travel inner SE Powell Boulevard probably can’t understand the concern businesses in the Midway area and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbors have, about this state-owned roadway.

The reason is simple: Just east of I-205, Powell Blvd. goes from a four-lane boulevard, plus turn lanes, parking spaces, and sidewalks – down to a rutted, two-lane country road. On the east end, in Gresham, the road again widens into a highway.

History: Lots of talk, no action
Several years ago, we reported on a meeting at which Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) representatives visiting the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association told residents how they were trying to budget $200,000 to conduct a study – about how to conduct a research project – about how to improve the street.

But finally, the dream of a new, safer Powell Boulevard – at least, between SE 122nd Ave. to 136th Ave – may become a reality, said ODOT’s East Portland manager, Rich Watanabe, as he addressed 30 guests at the Midway Business Association at its June meeting.

“We’re getting into the initial phases of this project,” Watanabe began. “We’ll be starting to survey along the road, soon.”

Here’s the section of SE Powell Blvd. that ODOT plans to improve.

Lack of funds restricts project
Watanabe described these roadway improvements as a “difficult project” in this particular area, because of the close proximity of homes and businesses to the existing highway. “Another huge issue is dealing with the constraints that come from having to treat rainwater runoff on the new pavement.”

The lack of funding – available road improvement money, divvied up among many other East Portland projects – is the reason Watanabe gave for limiting the project to 14-blocks. “This is deemed the most critical area needing improvement. It’s estimated as an $11 Million project. We expect to have funding by 2011 or 2012.”

Watanabe tells about the difficulties they face in improving outer SE Powell Boulevard.

Competing for funds are projects such as:

  • Repaving inner SE Powell Boulevard, from SE 52nd Ave. east to I-205 ($6 Million, scheduled for 2010);
  • I-84 “pavement restoration” in outer East Portland ($10 Million, scheduled for 2009); and,
  • NE Sandy Boulevard turn-lane addition, shoulders, sidewalks and crosswalks ($4.7 Million, scheduled for 2011).

Bike lanes coming to Powell Blvd.
The ODOT spokesman warned not to expect a spacious highway. “We’re considering widening Powell Boulevard to three lanes, to provide for a center [left] turn lane. We expect to add bicycle lanes and sidewalks. We realize we may need additional need right-of-way to accomplish this, but we are at early stages of planning.

As for a specific timeline, Watanabe says a specific schedule has yet to be set.

Questions and Answers

Q Will trees be cut to make way for the wider road; will it require additional right-of-way?

A “Some trees may be felled, and some businesses and residents may lose property in front of their structures to accommodate the wider road.”

Q Will SE Powell Boulevard be shut down during construction?

A “We expect to maintain traffic through the area; there may be lane closures at times, during the day or night. We will look into how to maintain access to businesses in the project area.”

Q Before the project begins, can ODOT re-stripe the lanes? The markings are mostly worn off.

A “Yes, having the road properly marked is important. We have a call in to the maintenance folks who do striping; we haven’t heard back from them.”

New survey revealed at July 14 meeting
Portland Bureau of Sustainability and Planning East Portland Liaison Barry Manning will speak about a new outer East Portland research project underway, at the Midway Business Association’s July 14 meeting.

Come learn all about this new business group dedicated to helping neighbors and businesses improve the southern end of Outer East Portland. Visitors are welcome, and the presentation is free (but you pay for your own lunch). Their meeting runs from 11:45 AM until 1 PM at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Ave., just south of Division St. For more information, go to

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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