ODOT’s ‘Sunrise JTA Project’ and what it has in store for bicycling

ODOT’s Sunrise Project comes with
some big-ticket bikeway infrastructure,
but it would also remove 23 acres of
wetlands, among other impacts.
(Photo: ODOT)

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has completed the environmental impact statement (EIS) and opened up the comment period on their Sunrise Project, which is one of two phases of their Sunrise Corridor project.

The full build-out of the Sunrise Project will be a six-eight lane highway from I-205 stretching east over five miles along the Highway 212/224 corridor to the Rock Creek Junction. ODOT needs about $1.5 billion for the full build-out, but they don’t have nearly enough funding at this time. They do however, have $130 million, which allows them to get started on a package of “improvements” right away.

With a $100 million earmark from the Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 (HB 2001, which earmarked $840 million for highway projects) and $30-60 million from other sources, ODOT is moving forward with what they call the Sunrise JTA Project.

ODOT project logo

Among the new infrastructure slated to be completed in the next few years in the Sunrise JTA Project are a host of bicycling and walking elements, including an extension of the I-205 multi-use path. But before I detail what’s in store for bikes, let’s not forget the larger picture: the Sunrise Project (not to be confused with the smaller, Sunrise JTA Project) is a major highway project that will have a huge impact on surrounding areas all in the name of congestion relief and the economy.

As pointed out by local transportation expert Chris Smith, if/when the project gets built it would be “the first new freeway built on the Oregon side of the Portland metro area since I-205 was completed back in the 1980s.”

Back in December, ODOT spokesman Brad Wurfel told the Daily Journal of Commerce that much of the impetus for the project is to relieve congestion and satisfy the needs of some major, freight-reliant businesses — Fred Meyer, Oregon Iron Work, and others — that are based in the Clackamas Industrial Area.

While the Sunrise Project might help the Clackamas County economy, it also comes with considerable impacts. According to the EIS, 500 acres of land would be used for the highway and it would create 114 acres of new “impervious surface.” 94 acres of wildlife habitat would be removed and 23 acres of wetlands would be impacted. 214 residential properties would experience noise impacts and 53 homes and 80 businesses would have to be relocated. The EIS lists the area where the highway will be built as a “significant wildlife corridor.”

Let me be clear that the Sunrise JTA Project is a smaller-scale, “affordable package of improvements” within the larger Sunrise Project. In addition to the bicycling improvements detailed below, it includes; a new, two-lane road from the Milwaukie Expressway at I-205 east to 122nd Avenue, changes to the interchange at 82nd Drive and OR 224, “access improvements” in the Lawnfield industrial area, and so on.

Now let’s take a look at the new bicycling infrastructure that will be built as part of the Sunrise JTA Project. Here’s a detail from a map of bicycling and walking elements provided by ODOT:

Detail of proposed bike infrastructure planned
for the Sunrise JTA Project.
(Download full PDF here)

Along the two lane, “Sunrise Mainline” that will run from I-205 to 122nd Avenue, ODOT lists two miles of “shoulder bikeway” as one of the improvements. ODOT Community Affairs Manager Elizabeth Craig describes it as an “8-foot paved shoulder that can be used by bikes.”

Other bike-specific elements include bike lanes along Industrial Way form Mather Road to Lawnfield Road, and bike lanes along Lawnfield from 98th Court to 97th Avenue.

The biggest ticket bicycling item in the places is the relocation of the I-205 multi-use path where it currently ends at SE 82nd Ave. ODOT plans to run the path along a new overcrossing of the I-205 and onto the existing bike lanes on 82nd. (Full build-out of the Sunrise Project includes a new multi-use path extending the length of the corridor.)

If all goes according to their plan, ODOT says a “substantial reduction” in motor vehicle traffic on 82nd and Clackamas Highway (224) will result in an “improved bicycle and pedestrian environment” on those streets.

While these bikeway improvements are exciting, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. A new report shows that Oregon isn’t on target to meet emissions reduction goals and we are still need to invest more in non-highway transportation modes. Oregon needs to develop a new paradigm for solving congestion and traffic safety issues and simply adding miles of highways isn’t the way to do it. Does this “Sunrise” signify a new dawn or is it simply another day in the life of a state transportation department that sees more and wider highways as the answer to all our problems?

For further reading, and to download documents behind these projects, see the links below:

Analysis of Sunrise Project by Chris Smith of Portland Transport
Coverage in the Daily Journal of Commerce
ODOT website for the Sunrise Project FEIS
ODOT website for the Sunrise JTA Project

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