A bereaved mom asked ODOT why a safety project stopped short of deadly intersection. Here’s their response

Posted by on April 30th, 2021 at 10:03 am

ODOT will spend $18 million on Lombard, but the project stops just west of the dangerous Interstate Avenue intersection.

An Oregon Department of Transportation project currently under construction on North Lombard will pump $18 million into the street. The goal of the Lombard Multimodal Safety Project is to tame this state highway and freight route that happens to run through a bustling commercial and residential corridor. ODOT plans to add buffered bike lanes, safer crossings, signal upgrades, ADA curb ramps, and more.

For north Portland resident Michelle DuBarry, it doesn’t go far enough.

The 1.4 mile project stops about 0.4 miles from North Interstate Ave, a major intersection that features two busy bus stops, a Biketown station, a school, two gas stations, a shopping center, and two MAX light rail stations.

DuBarry knows Interstate and Lombard better than anyone. In 2010 a man hit and killed her 22-month-old son while he walked in a crosswalk with her husband. Since that tragedy, DuBarry has been an outspoken advocate for safer streets.

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When a woman was hit and seriously injured in a hit-and-run collision at the same intersection last week, local activists took to Twitter to call-out ODOT for spending $800 million on a freeway expansion project a few miles away instead of spending more to make this notoriously dangerous intersection safer. ODOT defended themselves by pointing them to the Lombard project.

That response struck a nerve for DuBarry.

“Hi ODOT,” she wrote in a tweet that spread quickly among her 9,600 followers. (Content warning: Graphic crash description ahead.) “Just curious why your safety project on Lombard stops short of the intersection where Ms. Chavez was struck. It’s the same spot my toddler son was struck and killed by a driver 10 years ago… When I go through the intersection, I think of my son’s stroller pinned to a telephone poll, my husband giving him CPR with blood running down his own forehead, the sirens in the background when he called me from the ambulance. Maybe you should think of those things, too.”

ODOT’s social media staff chose not to reply to DuBarry’s tweet, so I reached out to them via email.

ODOT Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton got back to me Thursday night. After first touting the benefits of the Lombard project, which he said will, “Improve safety and travel-time predictability,” Hamilton said they simply don’t have the budget to extend the project to Interstate.

“With limited funding and many high crash corridors in Region 1 (SE Powell, OR99E, 82nd, SW Barbur, TV Hwy to name a few), ODOT assesses where to make critical safety investments based on the number and severity of crashes in locations along these corridors. Regrettably, lack of funding and competing priorities are the reason ODOT set the project limits on this project between N. Fiske and N. Boston.”

ODOT works on a two-year budget that’s worth about $4 billion. The Highway Division garners the largest chunk at $2 billion and the second largest source of spending is debt service on bonds, which ODOT is spending $555 million on in the current biennium. The Lombard Multimodal Safety Project was funded through a mix of sources, primarily the All Roads Transportation Safety (ARTS) program. The Portland region gets about $10 million per year in ARTS funding.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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El BicicleroDavid HampstenRobertaMomocmh89 Recent comment authors
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Momo
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Momo

His response is misleading. He’s correct that the current project doesn’t have enough budget to extend to Interstate Ave, but his response implies that if they had enough money, they would have extended it. But they have said many times over the years that Interstate Ave is too congested to extend a road diet all the way to that intersection. So it wouldn’t have mattered if they had the money, they still wouldn’t have extended the project to Interstate Ave.

Ed
Guest
Ed

We all know the lack of money answer is nonsense. ODOT has prioritized that money be spent on interstates and mega projects. Every road that Hamilton mentions has been purposefully neglected for decades. This is not a funding issue. It is a policy issue. The policy is to spend money elsewhere.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

From ODOT’s (and the state legislature’s) perspective, it’s also partly a funding issue – they get more federal funding for expanding roadway capacity than they get funds to improve the safety of existing roadways. Of course from our perspective as John Q. Taxpayer, it’s all policy.

Ed
Guest
Ed

True there are perverse incentives with federal funding, but there are also policy choices. 2021-24 STIP allocation was a policy choice. It went:

Fix-it: $850M
Non-highway: $158M
Safety: $147M
Enhance: $24M

The state legislature is in the process of passing a bill that will include $30 million annually in STATE funds for Rose Quarter, I-205, and Boone Bridge. That is on top of the HB 2017 money they sent ODOT’s way. None of that was mandated by the feds. These are choices.

Champs
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Champs

Scope/budget/criteria can be used as deflections to mislead without lying. Just sayin’.

David
Guest
David

This response is so infuriating and disingenuous that it deserves a response. ODOT has demonstrated with their words, actions, time, funding, and attention what matters. Hint: It’s not the safety of human beings.

If there was an overlay of where money is spent by ODOT and where people die on roadways that they own it’s likely that there would be very little overlap because most of that money goes to creating something new rather than fixing that which already exists. Between the I-5 Rose Quarter Project and I-5 Bridge Replacement Project (CRC 2.0) ODOT had to create a whole new division. Meanwhile as soon as an orphan highway is brought up all of a sudden ODOT points at the lack of funding and says “we want to but all the money is gone.”

This is also more than a failing of just ODOT. The OTC has rubber stamped everything and our state legislators and Governor have prioritized glamour projects over functional ones that would actually keep their constituents alive. At the same time ODOT has done a lot of work to frame everything as a safety project even when the roadway is actually safe (see: the highway portion of I-5 Rose Quarter project) while also ignoring the safety of those not driving (see again: I-5 Rose Quarter surface road improvements with rounded street corners for faster car/truck turning movements where people walking and biking are expected to coexist). They also know where problems exist and then decide to do nothing about them (see: Barbur Road Safety Audit) and how to fix them in a number of ways but for a lack of funding (see: 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan, though that needs to be revisited).

The culture of ODOT combined with funding incentives have created this problem over decades. We need to do more than hope that it will be fixed because waiting decades more should not be acceptable to anyone. This means contacting legislators to bring this problem to their attention in a way that is can be fixed. It means becoming single-issue voters around transportation justice and equity because this isn’t going to get fixed if it’s the 10th item on a list.

A better answer would have been “it’s just not a priority for ODOT at this time.” An honest answer would be “ODOT is not held accountable for the number of people injured or killed on our roads and we are generally not able, nor particularly interested in, moving funding around toward this end on the timelines that are requested.”

maxD
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maxD

ODOT is part of out-dated paradigm that posits support for the wealthiest and large corporations should be the primary role of government. This paradigm labels these entities as “job creators” who need to be catered to with infrastructure and tax breaks etc. Basically, this is trickle-down b.s. The paradigm that appears to making a comeback (hopefully) supports systems that work for everyone. This would prioritize the climate, equal access to transit, social and environmental justice. I think there is a very good reason to trash the Rose Quarter Project and push the Columbia Crossing to start over, and that reason is that times have begun to change. The bullshit framing of those past projects is less acceptable now than it ever was, the classist/racist decision-making by ODOT to neglect to address their safety deficiencies can no longer be ignored (I hope).

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

To be sure, what you say applies equally to any state DOT, most city and county DOTs, and of course to the Feds.

A more honest answer would be, “It’s just not a priority for the thousands of residents who elected the legislators and governor who appointed us to our jobs and who continue to pay us for our obscene salaries. They prefer we keep building more freeways so they can drive faster.”

J_R
Guest
J_R

As far as I know every project has termini. Can someone point to a project that doesn’t?

Why not extend it to Interstate? Or Albina? Or Vancouver? Or 33rd? Or 82nd? Or I-205?

 
Guest
 

But haven’t you heard, bashing ODOT is the trendy and hip thing to do these days if you’re a commenter on this blog, even if they don’t deserve it! 🙂

cmh89
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cmh89

ODOT makes it really easy to bash them. We probably wouldn’t be talking about this if ODOT hadn’t spent the last 50 years ignoring their deadly roads and instead opting to spend all their time and money building new deadly roads.

A now we have the scandal where ODOT used the excuse of deadly forest fires to extend a free-for-all old growth clear cut smorgasboard to their conservative friends in the logging businesses destroying our environment and making it more susceptible to forest fires in the future.

ODOT is such a trash agency that they can’t even limit their destruction to just their mission.

J_R
Guest
J_R

So, how many miles of new roads has ODOT built in the last 50 years?

ODOT currently has 7977 miles under their jurisdiction; in 2006 they had 8040. I can’t find older figures, but undoubtedly you have them, right?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

From Wikipedia:
By 1920, Oregon had 620 miles (998 km) of paved roads and 297.2 miles (478.3 km) of plank roads for a population of 783,389 and… By 1940, the highway division was managing more than 7,000 miles (11,300 km) of state, market and country roads in Oregon, with nearly 5,000 miles (8,000 km) being hard-surfaced.

ODOT has an excellent history guide that gives additional statistics: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/About/Documents/oregononmove_final.pdf

Apparently there was a toll on the Interstate Bridge from 1960-1966. I-5 was completed in 1966 along with the Marquam Bridge. I-205 was started in 1968. 7,644 miles of roads in State Highway System in 1967. ODOT was officially formed in 1969.

1970 statistics:
– 4,084 miles of primary highways
– 734.9 miles of interstate highways
– 4,887 miles of Federal Aid System on county roads & 3,524 of Highway System

It seems 50 years ago ODOT was managing 4,887 + 3,524 = 8,411 miles of roadways, so has the number of miles has been gradually declining over the years?

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

They shrink when washed.. Whitewash, greenwash, etc.

J_R
Guest
J_R

This seems to contradict the popular narrative on this site that ODOT has been spending most of its money on building new roads. Interesting.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Not really. ODOT has been building new roads. Last time I checked, I-205 was completed not even 40 years ago. Of course, you are taking me too literally. ODOT does most of its damage by expanding old roads and making them faster and deadlier.

If we had the data on total space managed by ODOT for the use of motor vehicles, it would no doubt be much more than it was in 1970

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I believe I-205 was completed in 1992, about 30 years ago. I-84 & I-82 in eastern Oregon were completed soon afterwards. Since then there have been no major interstates completed in Oregon, but ODOT did continue to widen roads and add lane-miles. Meanwhile, Washington, California, Arizona and many eastern states continue to expand freeways and some tollways as their population grows.

Part of the decrease in Oregon of highway length is from the annexation of county roads into the cities of Portland, Gresham, Eugene, and Salem; 102nd and 122nd for example were built by ODOT for Multnomah County, then parts of those stroads were later upgraded by the City of Portland after annexation. Sandy from 7th to 105th and most of MLK used to be ODOT highways but are now city streets. And of course there is Waterfront Park which used to be old I-5 from the 40s.

About the very good question of land owned by ODOT for highway expansion, my guess is that it reached its peak around 1990. Afterwards it became far harder for ODOT (and all other DOTs) to claim eminent domain for land condemnation (from a series of Supreme Court cases), but since they stopped building so many freeways, they didn’t need so much land. Some of the land given up is still right-of-way, but for cities and counties and not the state. Some parcels became parks, especially state parks, but also Gateway Green, Waterfront Park, and numerous highway rest stops.

I live in NC and we had a recent case of our state DOT being successfully sued into having all their condemned land that hadn’t been used in the last 30 years or more, to return it to the original owners or their heirs. The state went from having a $2.3 billion highway surplus to over $1 billion deficit overnight. They still haven’t recovered, even with all the pandemic subsidies from Biden. My guess is that all other states will soon be similarly sued.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I-205 was completed in 1983, 38 years ago. I-505 was cancelled in 1979 – it was supposed to be an outer beltway.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Unlike much of the rest of the city, ODOT has a good reputation in East Portland (and PBOT’s reputation rather sucks.)

ODOT’s Outer Powell Boulevard (US 26) started out as a “safety” (i.e. repaving) project from I-205 to 136th in 2012. It then expanded in scope to being a rebuild from 122nd to 136th in 2016, recently completed, for about $22 million. It has since become a rebuild from I-205/99th to 175th (the Portland/Gresham city line) with a total $110 million allocated by the state in 2018 (plus some city money). Now folks in inner SE are campaigning to get the project extended to the multi-lane portion from I-205 to the Ross Island bridge with additional funding, which under Biden might actually happen. As each portion gets completed by ODOT, more of the roadway will be turned over to the city for ownership and maintenance.

Something similar happened earlier on Sandy: the diagonal portion from 7th to 105th was rebuilt by ODOT to (flawed) city specs, then turned over to the city. Gradually the rest of the roadway has/is also been/being rebuilt (to 162nd, the city line), presumably the city will acquire it after.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

I guess you have to stop somewhere. But it would have been smart to address this specific intersection. It’s clearly very dangerous and proximate to the purposed Lombard improvement project. Why not extend the safety improvements to at least the I-5 overpass? Seems like that would have made more sense.

Mick O
Subscriber
Mick O

This is a VERY ODOT response. There has not been a single person involved in this that asked for the project to have no terminus. Folks are objecting objected to “where” ODOT decided to terminate. Yet, since you seem to have no basis for arguing that ODOT has chosen the most appropriate terminus, you frame the question that anyone objecting to this terminus must be against ALL termini. “Can someone point to a project that doesn’t?”

An irony is that you try to accentuate your “sick burn” by adding “Why not extend it to Interstate?” as if that was some unanswerable rhetorical flourish, when in actuality that is a question that ODOT should be answering. Why NOT make more roads safer for people not in cars, yes even as far as I-205?

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

they need to remove Lombard St/BYP 30B as a freight between HWY30/St Johns Bridge & MLK all together…

 
Guest
 

Exactly. Move the freight to Columbia where it belongs, and get it off Lombard and out of the neighborhood. It would require coordination between PBOT and ODOT to do so though, and I just can’t see PBOT being willing to do their part of the work…

Fred
Guest
Fred

All I needed to know about ODOT I learned some years ago when ODOT was doing a project in SW Portland and someone from the community asked an ODOT staffer during a public forum why ODOT couldn’t do more to preserve a footpath that locals used for recreation and transportation.

The staffer’s response: “Because we’re not required to.”

And there you have it – an agency staffed by a bunch of people who do the minimum and can’t be bothered to consider the people affected by their projects. I get it – it’s difficult to feel you are pushed around and it’s natural to want to draw the line somewhere. But ODOT, like all gov’t agencies, is really in the people-pleasing business, not the road-building business (notice I didn’t add “road-maintaining business,” since everyone knows ODOT builds roads and then leaves them to decay).

qqq
Guest
qqq

That’s similar to a response I got from an ODOT senior staff person at a meeting where ODOT was proposing closing driveways of several driveways on an ODOT road, which would reroute all the vehicles onto a small, sidewalk-less PBOT street that already struggled to accommodate the traffic it had.

I told her it would harm the residential neighborhood’s livability and the street’s safety. She replied that those were irrelevant because it was a PBOT street, not ODOT’s.

Marianne Fitzgerald
Guest
Marianne Fitzgerald

This article breaks my heart. Many of us in SW Portland might re-allocate the $2.9 million “Barbur Crossroads Safety Project” funds to make this Lombard/Interstate intersection safer for people like Michelle DuBarry. ODOT’s “Barbur Crossroads” Project 20438 “improvements” will put many more pedestrian and bicyclists at risk because it will reroute motor vehicle traffic away from the I-5 SB entrance ramp intersection toward the West Portland Town Center intersections at SW Capitol HWY/Taylors Ferry, SW 41st/SW Barbur intersection near the transit center, and SW Barbur at SW Capitol Highway. Why must we trade off motor vehicle crashes with pedestrian/bicyclist crashes? Perhaps the status quo is safer for pedestrians and bicyclists? We asked ODOT for baseline date to evaluate effectiveness of the “improvements” within one year of implementation but have not gotten any commitments from ODOT.

Roberta
Guest
Roberta

ODOT is refusing to address the interchange issues right here by closing some on or off ramps and blocking right or left turning car movements. Super easy. This really is the pinch point of congestion. Michelle Dubarry is a SHERO! Condolences to her and

SHAME on Hamilton. His continued obstinance as an ODOT communications agent causes mass global congestion constipation. RETIRE ALREADY

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I find this quote interesting:

“…ODOT assesses where to make critical safety investments based on the number and severity of crashes in locations along these corridors.”

My questions would be “How is ‘severity’ measured?”, and “How are ‘crashes’ counted?”

How many uncounted “crashes” occur, but are not reported because both parties are able to leave the scene under their own power, and don’t feel a need to report it?

Are crashes between motor vehicles considered more “severe” because there is just more combined energy, and greater property damage involved?

Honest questions, because I don’t know the answers, but also questioning whether we ask the right questions before deciding where it is “important” to improve safety.