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ODOT is already waffling on 82nd Avenue funding promise

Graphic shared by ODOT in a statement last Friday.

What difference does a few hundred thousand dollars make? A lot. If you want to live.

It could mean the difference between having a few more median refuge islands or flashing beacons and painted crosswalks in the middle of a dangerous, high-speed arterial. Or not having them.

In the pedestrian advocacy game, people fight for every scrap of funding, no matter how small. That’s why it’s a good idea to scrutinize funding promises made by transportation agencies. Especially when that agency is the Oregon Department of Transportation — an agency with a history of misleading public relations statements and a legacy of favoring drivers and their cars over everything else.

Last week ODOT caved to community pressure after the death of two pedestrians on 82nd Avenue and vowed to move faster improve safety. Just hours before a planned rally that would include state and local elected officials and community leaders, ODOT released a statement saying they’d spend $3.35 million to make it safer to walk and bike on 82nd.

“We plan to set aside $3.35 million to address immediate needs on 82nd,” the statement said. The funding was part of $10 million they promised to spend on pedestrian safety measures statewide.

This $3.35 million number was repeated by advocates and included in several pieces of media coverage. Some folks have rounded up to $3.5 million.

But it now appears advocates should prepare for getting less than that.

Since this “Improving Pedestrian Safety Initiative” from ODOT was unplanned, they plan to request the funds from their bosses at the Oregon Transportation Commission at their meeting today (Thursday 5/13). In the meeting materials uploaded to the OTC website yesterday, we learned a bit more about this initiative.

A memo from ODOT Director Kris Strickler to OTC members, states: “ODOT would invest $3 million to address immediate needs on 82nd Avenue.”

$3 million is $350,000 less than $3.35 million. That’s a lot of dough, enough to save a life or three.

I reached out to ODOT Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton and asked him to explain the different numbers.

Here’s what Hamilton said:

“The exact amount to be spent in each corridor has not been determined yet but we’re targeting $3m for 82nd… The final, exact costs, as always, could come in a little higher or lower depending on material and bid prices.”

In a reply to Hamilton I pointed out that “targeting $3 million” and “the final costs… could come in a little higher or lower” was much less firm language than, “We plan to set aside $3.35 million.”

Hamilton then told me, “‘Could be as much as [$3.35 million] depending on several factors’, maybe the right way to say it.”

According to advocates I spoke to before writing this story, the only right way to say this would be, “ODOT will spend $185 million to make necessary changes and transfer the road to the City of Portland.” Until that happens, none of this feels right to them at all.

UPDATE, 9:10 am: At the OTC meeting just now, ODOT Director just told OTC members the funding commitment is $3.5 million.

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