Neighbors’ outer Powell Blvd. Plan suggestions adopted – for now

See why Powellhurst-Gilbert and Centennial neighbors feel the year-long involvement in the plan to improve outer SE Powell Boulevard was worth it. And, why any one of four scenarios may trigger a wider roadway than neighbors say they’d like …

Neighbors as questions of officials and consultants at the last “Outer SE Powell Boulevard Conceptual Design Plan” open house.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After a nearly year-long process, the “Outer SE Powell Boulevard Conceptual Design Plan” came to a conclusion at neighbors and interested people were called to the project’s final public outreach meeting on June 20 at Earl Boyles Elementary School in the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood.

At this public meeting, held ten days before the Complete Final Plan Recommendations Report meeting, the school’s gym featured numerous exhibits, along with Portland Bureau of Transportation (PDOT) Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and consultant staff to answer questions.

> To see our story on the project’s November 15, 2010 open house, CLICK HERE.

> To view our story on the project update open house on March 16, CLICK HERE

Among the public open house events, members of a Citizens Working Group (CWG) met, sometimes weekly, to put forward the views held by residents of their neighborhoods.

CWG member Tom Barnes says he’s “thrilled to pieces” by the outcome of the process that suggests outer SE Powell Blvd. be constructed with three traffic lanes, not as many as five.

CWG member Tom Barnes, Public Safety Chair with the Powellhurst Gilbert Neighborhood Association, was a vocal opponent of plans that included roadway cross sections wider than three traffic lanes.

“We’ve supported a three-lane option for Powell Blvd. from Interstate 205 to east to SE 174th Avenue,” Barnes reminded. “This option in the short and medium terms, now appear to be able to handle Powell Blvd. traffic without any problem – and have the least amount of the impact of our neighborhoods.”

The option would provide sidewalks, raise bike lanes, one travel lane in each direction and a center median turn lane, Barnes pointed out. “There will be plants in the medians and rain water will be handled, for the most part, through bio-swales.”

Barnes noted that, in their original proposals, ODOT and PDOT were suggesting the three-lane option from the freeway east to SE 136th Ave. There, it would widen to four lanes east to SE 162nd Ave.; and then become five vehicle lanes wide as it continues east to SE 174th Ave. “The impact on the neighborhoods and the people living along Powell  Boulevard would have been catastrophic.”

“Thrilled” was the word Barnes used to described how he felt about the new plan. “What helped was a new study that showed a 50% reduction for demand on Powell Blvd. from the original numbers that they were using. This, and a lot of hard work by the Citizens Working Group volunteers who made our concerns known, helped make the difference.”

That being said, Barnes did point out that he was aware that if certain “triggers” occur, they were likely to see a four-lane or five-lane option for at least the outer portion of SE Powell Blvd. “We expect to be part of the planning process if or when those triggers happen.”

Stands with their neighbors to the west
Tom Lewis, chair of the Centennial Community Association, said they were “standing firm” with their neighbors to the west in Powellhurst-Gilbert.

“This project does impact our neighborhood, the from SE 142nd Ave. to SE 174th Ave.,” Lewis pointed out.

About the newly revised plan, Lewis added, “The light is beginning to glow a little bit brighter for governmental officials to see that a five-lane state highway isn’t necessarily the best thing for our primarily residential neighborhood. I’d hate to relive some of what’s happened during the last 30 years since [City of Portland] annexation, but what they’ve brought to our neighborhoods hasn’t always been positive. If it was up to us, and if we had the ‘working group’ 30 years ago, it may have turned out a little differently.”

Neighbor Larry McClellan points out that they’ll not be able to easily access their home’s driveway because of a planned median strip on SE Powell Blvd.

Powellhurst-Gilbert resident Larry McClellan was one of about 65 attendees at the open house – and said he was not happy with the impending improvements.

“We’ve been here a long time,” McClellan began. “My great uncle bought five acres in Larkwood, the addition from SE 115th to 118th Ave, from SE Powell Blvd. halfway up to Division St. in 1925.”

Specifically, McClellan pointed out the highway medians to be built in front of his house. “This means that I will not be able to turn into my driveway from eastbound Powell because my house is on the north side of the street. It will be illegal for me to make a U-turn at an intersection that does not have a dedicated green left turn light arrow. This means having to go way out of our way; on at least half of our trips, it will be impossible to turn into my driveway.”

Also, McClellan noted that the plan slices another 15 feet off his front yard. “It will be condemned for right-of way. This devalues my property – and cuts down on the kind of plan things I can do in the front yard.”

Open house attendees sit and listen to the formal presentation regarding the “Outer SE Powell Boulevard Conceptual Design Plan”.

After attendees had the opportunity to examine the exhibits mounted on poster boards and talk with staff, April Bertelsen with Portland Bureau of Transportation began the formal presentation.

“We kicked off the project at the last year’s East Portland Exposition,” Bertelsen reminded. “Over the last year, we’ve been doing background research and have been developing alternatives for what the future of Powell Blvd. should be. We’ve also been developing evaluation criteria.”

City and State staff, along with their consultants, looked at many factors and values that go into designing a cross section of Powell Blvd., Bertelsen continued. “It wasn’t just about how many travel lanes should be built; although a lot of our discussions were on the number of travel lanes.”

PDOT’s April Bertelsen presents an overview of their findings and recommendations.

After their last open house, officials working on the plan did some reevaluation, neighbors learned. “We now have two traffic scenarios; one for the near-term, now through 2025 or longer – and another for beyond 2035,” Bertelsen explained. “We have been in a recession, and it’s slow down the amount of growth in the forecast for the model that we had endorsed. The new model shows at the growth happened in different ways.”

Modeling is not a perfect science, she continued, adding that forecasting is based on trends, which in turn are based on the number of data inputs into the model. “Economics are a big factor.”

This project illustration shows the area of SE Powell Blvd. under consideration in this exercise.

Three-lane option accepted – unless …
Specifically, the plan outlined these “near-term” and “long-term” options:

  • SE 99th to SE 162nd – Three-lane roadway; same in long term;
  • SE 162nd to SE 174th – Three-lane roadway with right-of-way dedication for long term alternatives.

Bertelsen pointed out that neither detailed plans – nor the funding to begin construction – were available; construction work on this project wouldn’t begin any time in the near future.

Even though more than 50 of the attendees “voted” in favor of the three-lane option, changing conditions may dictate building a wider – possibly much wider – roadway.

To give planners the flexibility to construct a highway that will safely and efficiently carry traffic loads when it is built, they adopted a set of four “triggers” that are “based on observing what happens of there is a slower growth scenario or when growth picks up. With those triggers in place, it will help us move to the higher growth model.”

Any one of four benchmarks, Bertelsen says, could change the future construction plans for widening outer SE Powell Blvd.

The triggers, or benchmarks to determine the transition from near term to long term improvements include, Bertelsen said:

  1. Review of upcoming Regional Transportation Model update;
  2. Completion of Metro’s “Powell-Division Corridor High Capacity Transit Plan”;
  3. Committed funding by Clackamas County for new arterial from the south connecting with SE Powell Blvd., east of Powell Butte, that will bring more traffic; and,
  4. Congestion measurement at the SE 136th, 162nd and 174th intersections.

Regarding the last benchmark, Bertelsen added, “This means performing real traffic counts to see if it is increasing at these intersections. Modeling is one way to look at potential congestion, the other real traffic counts.”

Along with this, Bertelsen concluded, “It’s important to identify connectivity needs from side streets to Powell Blvd. This includes making recommendations for future streets bike paths and walkways that that might connect Powell Blvd. to the neighborhoods.”

Before the end of the summer, PDOT expects the Portland City Council to hold a hearing to adopt the plan.

For more information, numerous exhibits, maps and summaries, see the official PDOT website for this project: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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