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East Portland state rep wants ’emergency interventions’ on 82nd Avenue

Oregon House Representative Khanh Pham is “frustrated and heartbroken” about the two fatal pedestrian crashes on Northeast 82nd Avenue in the past two weeks. Rep. Pham, a new legislator known for assembling a “new progressive majority” to pass the Portland Clean Energy Fund and her years of work as an east Portland community activist, took to Twitter today to make her opinions known.

“We must implement emergency and long-term interventions to save lives on this dangerous road,” Rep. Pham wrote. “Will be having conversations with local and state leaders about this.”

One of those state leaders could be House Speaker Tina Kotek. Rep. Pham’s district includes parts of 82nd Avenue south of where the recent tragedies happened. The Cully neighborhood where Anthony Tolliver and Stephen Looser were struck and killed this month are in Rep. Kotek’s district (and are just a few blocks away from the district represented by Barbara Smith Warner, the wife of Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Chris Warner).

Kotek’s Chief of Staff Lindsey O’Brien responded to our request for comment by saying, “Speaker Kotek is interested in working with Rep. Pham to address the safety issues on 82nd Avenue. Safety upgrades and overall livability improvements to this state highway are long overdue.”

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Rep. Pham laid out three specific actions she wants to take:

1) ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] needs to lower the speed limit while we make safety improvements
2) Accelerate progress on safety improvements along 82nd Avenue
3) Transfer roads like 82nd Avenue to local control by passing HB 2477

ODOT has the legal authority to implement an emergency speed reduction and they are considering taking that step.

Oregon revised statute 810.180(9) states, “A road authority may establish an emergency speed on any highway under the jurisdiction of the road authority that is different from the existing speed on the highway.” The Portland Bureau of Transportation used this law twice in recent years to lower speed limits on SE Stark and Division after a spate of crashes and pressure from safety advocates.

ODOT reduced the speed limit on Tualatin-Valley Highway in Washington County due to safety concerns last year. Safety advocate and lawyer Scott Kocher asked ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer today if he’d consider doing the same on 82nd. The current speed limit is set at 35 mph.

“My traffic staff is already in the process of considering temporary speed reductions for areas on 82nd as you suggest,” Windsheimer replied. He also said new flashing beacons are coming to two intersections (NE Pacific and SE Mitchell) this summer in advance of $21 million in more projects between SE Foster and NE Thompson in 2022. A federal grant being applied for by PBOT and ODOT would add even more investment in the corridor.

82nd and Alberta.

One barrier to progress on 82nd is that it’s a local street that acts like a major highway because it’s under ODOT control. There have been many efforts over the years to transfer ownership of the street to PBOT. House Bill 2744 is the latest attempt and it’s still very much alive in the current legislative session.

“We are working hard to get these projects out as quickly as possible and we understand the urgency.”
— Rian Windsheimer, ODOT Region 1

HB 2744 had a public hearing in March but has yet to receive a vote from the Joint Transportation Committee. The frustrating thing about the jurisdictional transfer discussion is that both agencies seem to want it, yet the myriad administrative and financial steps required before it can happen have made it difficult to move forward. This bill would hasten progress.

In testimony in support of the bill, Rep. Pham told fellow lawmakers how safety on 82nd is personal to her:

“I live two blocks away from 82nd avenue, one of the deadliest and under-maintained streets in Portland. An elementary school and large high school are located right on the highway, and I hear from my constituents about their fears that the next news headline of a pedestrian death will feature their loved one. These urban arterials should be connecting forces for a neighborhood, not something that structurally divides and shepherds death.”

Rep. Pham says she’ll keep pressing lawmakers to make 82nd safer.

For their part, ODOT has heard loud-and-clear for years that conditions on 82nd are unacceptable. “We are working hard to get these projects out as quickly as possible,” Windsheimer wrote in his email today. “And we understand the urgency.”

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