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Funding, construction hopes brighten for Sullivan’s Gulch Corridor project

Looking west from NE 82nd Avenue onto what could be the location of the first paved portion of the Sullivan’s Gulch Corridor.

The Sullivan’s Gulch corridor project got some good news earlier this week. The City of Portland has revealed the project is under consideration for a federal grant that could lead to construction of the first segments of the path. PBOT also shared that they’ve engaged and are “working closely” with Union Pacific Railroad, who owns most of the right-of-way where the path would go (and who, so far, hasn’t been enthused about the project).

“It can be constructed as a shared-use path… Nice and wide, separated from the road and the railroad on our own right-of-way.”
— Paul Smith, PBOT

Back in April, the City of Portland officially began a planning process and set up a Stakeholder Advisory Committee that has been meeting monthly. Then last month, while the project got passed over for a $1.25 million federal grant, it got a promise of $500,000 thanks to City Commissioner Nick Fish (who oversees the Parks Bureau and would likely bike on the new path from his home in Northeast Portland).

Fish’s amendment was welcomed by Sullivan’s Gulch backers but it was just a promise and it had no real funding source attached to it. Now PBOT looks poised to find that money from another federal grant source.

Paul Smith, manager of the planning division for PBOT, shared with the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee earlier this week that they expect to get around $2-2.25 million from the federal government through ODOT’s Flexible Funds program.

With that allocation, Smith said PBOT is considering applying for $675,000 to build a 12 block section of the Sullivan’s Gulch Corridor from NE 70th to 82nd Avenue. This 3,500 foot section is on right-of-way already owned by the City of Portland — an important point given that Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) is yet to cooperate fully with the project.

“It can be constructed as a shared-use path,” Smith said at the meeting, “Nice and wide, separated from the road and the railroad on our own right-of-way.” Smith has already met with the Advisory Committee and with project engineers CH2MHill to discuss the path’s alignment and other details.

One reason this project has moved slowly is because UPRR owns much of land around the existing rail tracks. As a Portland Tribune article reported recently, UPRR seems reluctant to negotiate a land-swap deal with the City. PBOT’s Smith addressed that issue at the BAC meeting Tuesday night.

“They [UPRR] did start off saying that the policy doesn’t allow longitudinal trail in their right-of-way,” Smith shared, “But it’s possible over time we can negotiate the ownership of the outer band of that property. They’ve agreed to work with us.”

Smith also reminded BAC members that discussions with UPRR on this project are similar to the process they had with the rail company years ago when PBOT wanted to create a biking and walking path on lower deck of the Steel Bridge. That process started in the same way, with objections from UPRR, but ended favorably.

The Sullivan’s Gulch Corridor committee meets again on October 19th and a discussion of the potential trail alignment is on the agenda. Applications for ODOT Flexible Funds are due by October 20th and the Oregon Transportation Commission will make grant award decisions in February 2012.

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