This spring the Portland Bureau of Transportation will spend $4 million on Northeast Cornfoot Road, but the project won’t include any bike facilities. This is despite Cornfoot being a safe alternative to NE Columbia Boulevard and a vital part of the bike network that will one day connect the Cully neighborhood to more than 20,000 jobs in the Columbia Corridor industrial area, the Portland Airport, Cascade Station shopping center and other important destinations. (We focused on this gap during Gap Week in 2016.)
The project on Cornfoot would also connect directly to a $7 million investment into protected bike lanes PBOT just completed on NE 47th Avenue. While PBOT has no plans to add bike lanes to this current project, they’ve already designed a project that would add a separated off-street path along Cornfoot. The problem? It must compete for grant funding, and even if it is selected, it wouldn’t be built until 2027.
In 2016 Portland was poised to fund a bike path along Cornfoot via a Metro Regional Flexible Funds Allocation (RFFA) grant. In that grant application, PBOT wrote,
“Although there are many jobs in the area, there is a lack of pedestrian and bicycle facilities that provide options besides an automobile to get to the jobs. The bicyclists that do use NE Cornfoot Road must ride on a road with no bike lanes and no shoulder… The intent of the project is to make it more feasible for nearby residents to use bicycle transportation for commute trips rather than drive, thereby increasing the community’s access to jobs.”
At a meeting of the Portland Freight Advisory Committee this morning, PBOT planner Zef Wagner shared they had funding all but secured for this project, but Covid and other hits to the agency’s revenue resulted in it being cut. Now they plan to try again with a grant application into Metro’s 2025-2027 RFFA process. With plans at 95% design and its previous success in 2016, PBOT seems well positioned to win the grant this time around.
Why not add bike lanes to the project breaking ground this coming spring?
PBOT says Cornfoot is just too narrow. At 26-feet wide, with no shoulder, and a high volume of large freight trucks, there’s no extra space for a bikeway unless the road is widened or turned into one-way for cars and trucks (both of which are considered non-starters).
“This is more about creating a cohesive network, from the neighborhoods all the way to the airport, and this is really the last gap in that network.”
— Zef Wagner, PBOT
The most feasible option is to build an off-street, multi-use path (MUP) for bicycle users. That would be cheaper than widening the road and would have the added benefit of separating vulnerable users from truck and car traffic.
The $4 million PBOT project that’s due to break ground in early 2022 ($2 million from House Bill 2017 and $2 million from local gas tax/Fixing our Streets program) will install a guardrail on one side of Cornfoot Road, lay down 1.1 miles of new pavement (between NE Airtrans Way to Alderwood Road), and add more streetlights.
In order to build a bike path on the north side of Cornfoot Rd that would connect the new bikeways on 47th Ave to an existing path outside the U.S. Post Office facility at Alderwood (and future paths due to be build from NE Columbia Blvd to Cornfoot), PBOT needs to find about $5 million.
The project (above) would include the multi-use path between 47th and (just west of) Alderwood, intersection improvements at 47th and Airtrans Way, as well as new pavement between 47th and Airtrans Way. At the meeting this morning, Wagner said PBOT is considering a roundabout at the Airtrans Way intersection, but haven’t yet determined between that and a traffic signal. PBOT generally prefers roundabouts because they’re safer and better for traffic flow than signals, but Freight Committee Chair Jana Jarvis made it clear she does not like them.
Former Committee Chair and FedEx project engineer Pia Welch made a comment that seemed to question the need for the project. “I’d be interested to see what your traffic analysis shows,” she said, “because I work in that area and I don’t see a lot of pedestrian and bike traffic.” Wagner said PBOT has counted some bike commuting traffic on Cornfoot, but that overall, “I think this is more about creating a cohesive network, from the neighborhoods all the way to the airport, and this is really the last gap in that network.”
Speaking of that network, the “leveraged projects” map below (from the Port of Portland in the 2016 grant application) shows how all the pieces are coming together. You can see that another path is planned from Columbia to Cornfoot along Alderwood as part of a Portland Parks and Recreation project, and there’s also an ODOT project that will build another section of path along Columbia.
While this path project is promising, it’s still not a shoe-in for RFFA funding. And even if it is funded, the 2027 construction date is discouraging and underscores the systemic problems we have in how our project funding and implementation processes fail to line up with our climate and equity goals and values.
Cornfoot Road is just one of nine projects PBOT is vetting for possible RFFA funding (see below). With an expected total amount of $22.5 million, PBOT also wants to build a protected bikeway on SE 7th Ave, improve access to transit on 148th, build better access to 82nd Ave at four greenways, build new crossings on W Burnside, create complete streets on SW Taylors Ferry Rd and Cully Blvd/57th, and add safer crossings on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Stay tuned for more on those projects as well as opportunities to weigh in and show support.