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PBOT requests $650,000 to kickstart a safer N Columbia Blvd in St. Johns

That’s a school on the left, a highway in the middle, and three residential streets coming in from the sides. It’s so frustrating that people who live here are being held hostage by this dangerous road. It needs to be fixed ASAP.

Like so many intersections throughout our city, the crossing of North Columbia Boulevard near George Middle School in the St. Johns neighborhood is a ticking time bomb. It’s where teenager Bradley Fortner was struck and nearly killed by a driver while walking to school in 2016, and it’s the intersection that spurred Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Tina Kotek to host a town hall three months ago.

Rep. Tina Kotek at a Columbia Blvd safety town hall last year.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“None of us who live in north Portland need to be reminded we have a lot of accidents out here,” Kotek told a room full of concerned Portlanders back in November.

Now Kotek is lobbying for funds for upgrades that would make the crossing safer. The Oregon Legislature already approved $1.5 million for this intersection in 2017; but that money won’t filter down to the City of Portland until 2019. Hoping to get started sooner and make even more robust upgrades, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has requested and additional $650,000 from the city’s General Fund for the project. This money is needed so PBOT can “move forward as quickly as possible” and begin pre-construction design and project development.

In an update on the project sent to constituents earlier this month, Kotek urged people to contact Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman and tell them to support the funding request. The $650,000 ask is part of $55 million in General Fund requests made by PBOT in their FY 2018-2019 Budget submitted on January 29th. (During last year’s budget cycle PBOT received about $14 million from the General Fund out of a total GF budget of $602 million).

Here’s the project description taken from PBOT’s budget (emphasis mine):

This location has been the site of several serious injury crashes and at least one fatal crash and is on the city-identified High Crash Network. A near-fatality of a student crossing the roadway in August 2016 highlighted the safety issues at this location. State funding in the amount of $1.5 million secured as part of HB 2017 during the 2017 Legislative session will not become available to the city until 2019, and PBOT does not have available funding to dedicate to the project in the interim period. To meet the intended 2019 construction schedule, project development and design must take place starting as soon as possible. The requested $650,000 would cover PBOT project development and design costs through June 30, 2018. Combined with the secured $1.5 million in state funding, the total budget of $2,150,000 will also provide budget to add more comprehensive safety, access and structural improvements to the project scope. This project advances citywide goals including Vision Zero (eliminating traffic deaths) and Transportation System Plan mode share goals for walking and biking.

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This is just east of the school and crossing in the first photo. Notice the poor sightlines due to the curve, all the large semis (it’s an ODOT-controlled freight route), and speeds of 45-50 mph.

Specific elements of the project that are under consideration include: a traffic signal and a manually activated hybrid signal at the intersection of N. Columbia Blvd. and N. Midway Ave.; the modification or removal of the existing carfree bridge that connects to George Middle School; prohibiting auto users from accessing local streets and/or restricting their turning movements; and upgrades to sidewalks and curb ramps.

Kotek also promised that speed reader boards are due to hit this section of Columbia next month and that PBOT plans to make a speed limit reduction request with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

If these funds are approved PBOT would start on the project this summer. After outreach, design and engineering work is done, construction would start in fall of next year.

Given the tragic crash history at this location and demonstrated public demand for changes, this project deserves to be funded. Furthering its cause is the fact that there’s a higher percentage of people of color in the immediate vicinity and median household incomes are $50,495 — that’s $4,500 below the rest of the city.

You can help push this project forward by supporting it through the budget process. Public hearings will start in April and the final budget is approved in June. Stay tuned. If you’d like to remind Mayor Wheeler or Commissioner Saltzman about it now, you can email them at mayorwheeler@portlandoregon.gov and dan@portlandoregon.gov.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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