The ODOT Files: Regional electeds lambaste the agency for ‘lack of stewardship’ on 82nd Ave

The ODOT Files is an occasional series that shares strange-but-true stories about how our state transportation agency is falling down on the job.

How bad have things gotten at the Oregon Department of Transportation? How about a letter admonishing the agency signed by every major elected office holder in the Portland region?

How do ODOT officials sleep at night?
(Photo: John Mulvey)

We just came across a letter (PDF) sent to Metro Council and the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) yesterday. It shares “serious concern” about ODOT’s lack of significant progress to improve the myriad problems that plague 82nd Avenue.

Here’s the full text of the letter (emphases mine) whose signatories include: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler; Portland City Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Chloe Eudaly; Oregon State Senators Michael Dembrow and Rod Monroe; Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson; and Oregon State Representatives Barbara Smith Warner, Alissa Keny-Guyer, and Jeff Reardon:

Dear Metro Council and the Oregon Transportation Commission,

The purpose of this letter is to express our serious concern that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has not included a transformational project for 82nd Avenue in the 2018 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). It is essential that a project that envisions and funds a full upgrade to City standards and facilitates a transfer of ownership be added to the RTP to ensure that 82nd Avenue meets current needs, meets our Vision Zero goals, and supports a jurisdictional transfer of 82nd Avenue to the City of Portland.

Every five years, the region creates a vision for our transportation system for the next twenty years with our highest priorities. A failure to include this project in the RTP, and follow-up with immediate funding for planning and design, could result in this critical improvement being delayed for decades. For people walking in Portland, 82nd Avenue is the most dangerous street, with 140 pedestrian collisions in a ten-year period, including seven pedestrian deaths and 25 serious injuries. In addition, 82nd Avenue is the sixth most dangerous street for bicyclists and twelfth most dangerous street for people in motor vehicles.

The City of Portland wrote to the Area Commission on Transportation (ACT) to request that this project be included in the constrained RTP. It is our understanding that ODOT has not responded to this request and has not included 82nd Avenue in the 2018 RTP.

The lack of stewardship and prioritization of state highways routed as urban arterials are why they are often called “orphaned highways.” These roads, including 82nd Avenue, are some of our most important and dangerous streets. 82nd Avenue is a critical transit route, with Line 72 having the fifth highest ridership in the TriMet system, more than either the MAX Yellow Line and MAX Orange Line. Many of these riders get on and off along 82nd Avenue. We urge the Department to add 82nd Avenue to years 1-10 of the constrained 2018 RTP and prioritize funding for planning and project development to ensure the project can be delivered as soon as possible.


As we better understand how historically marginalized communities are unfairly impacted by the dangerous streets in East Portland, this is one of the biggest equity issues facing the region. East Portland is home to roughly 20 percent of the City of Portland, including 13 neighborhoods and more than 150,000 Portlanders. East Portland is more racially and ethnically diverse compared to the city as a whole, with over a third of the population identifying as something other than “white.” Due to a larger stock of affordable housing, among other factors, this part of the City has seen significant population increase as compared to Portland overall. Between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. censuses, 44 percent of citywide population increase can be attributed to growth in East Portland. The need to serve this vibrant, diverse and expanding community in a better, smarter and safer way is urgent.

We understand that the 2018 RTP is quickly moving toward completion. Therefore, we request that you respond back to this letter as soon as possible and add this project. In addition, we would like to offer our assistance in making sure that there is significant funding for the required planning and project development to ensure that this project can move forward as soon as possible.

This is an astonishing level of official acrimony leveled at ODOT that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in the past 13 years. And notice it wasn’t addressed to ODOT staff or even ODOT Director Matt Garrett. It went above them to the OTC — the governor-appointed body who holds ODOT’s policy, personnel and funding pursestrings. Mayor Wheeler and other electeds aren’t just doing this on their own accord. They’re being hounded and pressured by local activists to make streets like 82nd safer; but their hands are tied. ODOT not only owns and manages many of our most deadly arterials — they have also repeatedly demonstrated a lack of willingness to manage them properly.

From PBOT’s Vision Zero plan. Look at what tops the charts.

And it’s not as though 82nd isn’t on ODOT’s radar. They just wrapped up a lengthy planning process called the 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan. I never got around to posting about it, but I noted from afar how local activists were unimpressed by it. One of the people on the committee, John Mulvey, shared his frustration at the lack of significant projects that emerged from the plan.

“ODOT was never serious about making 82nd Avenue safer for pedestrians,” Mulvey shared via email today. “They were responding to growing safety concerns from the community and local legislators, and they were willing to waste two-and-a-half years of the community’s time in order to make it look like they were doing something without really doing something.”

Now it appears the frustration with ODOT’s unwillingness to move forward into the modern era of street design and management goes well beyond activists, well-meaning citizen advocates, and crazy bloggers like me.

Your move, ODOT. Or should I say, your move OTC Chair Tammy Baney? Or Governor Kate Brown? Is anyone listening? How long are you going to let this agency run amok?

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

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