ODOT releases report on impacts of National Hwy System expansion

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
OR Active Transpo Summit-37

ODOT Federal Affairs Advisor
Travis Brouwer speaking at the
Oregon Active Transportation Summit
on Wednesday.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation has just released their National Highway System Expansion Working Group Report (PDF). The report is an attempt to clarify the impacts and concerns surrounding a major change to how local streets are managed. As we’ve been reporting on since last fall, the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, included a provision that added 632 miles of roads in Oregon into the National Highway System. Of those roads, 219 miles of them were previously managed by local agencies.

In the Portland area, several key arterials currently managed and operated by the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation — including Burnside, Broadway, Calle Cesar Chavez (39th) and others — were suddenly thrust into the portfolio of the Federal Highway Administration. This raised eyebrows and major concerns from active transportation advocates because of how this new federal oversight might limit the types of changes PBOT would be able to make on these roads. To put it mildly, PBOT and the FHWA have very different ideas about road design.

A former ODOT staffer shared with me back in November that the change could, “be a major disaster and set context-sensitive design and the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users way back.”

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The FHWA now controls some local streets: The latest on why that matters

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Broadway Bridge detour-5

NW Broadway is a federally controlled
piece of the National Highway System.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

We continue to track an interesting policy development that could have wide-ranging impacts on several local streets here in Portland. As we first shared back in September, the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, included an expansion of the National Highway System (NHS) to include “all urban and rural principal arterials.”

In Oregon, that means as of October 1st there are 600 new miles of roads that are now part of the NHS.

Locally, this means several key streets that used to be solely managed by the City of Portland are now under the purview of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). As such, the streets have an entirely new system of oversight, they must adhere to federal design, engineering, and performance standards, and so on. That gives PBOT much less leeway and independence to do innovative designs and to make changes to the streetscape without a potentially onerous process of seeking federal approval.

New information from ODOT about the implications of this policy make it clear that it’s on the issue of design standards where the NHS expansion could have the largest impact on Portland.

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ODOT scrambles with federal expansion of National Highway System

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

“We’ll make the best of it and hope we can find good ways to make this work so it doesn’t present a burden or pose unnecessary impacts on communities.”
— Travis Brouwer, ODOT Federal Affairs

Officials at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) say they are “scrambling” to comply with a provision in the new federal transportation bill (known as MAP-21) that will add 600 miles of roads in Oregon to the National Highway System (NHS). This expansion of the NHS goes into effect October 1st of this year and includes roads currently managed by both ODOT and cities.

The implications for Portland (and other cities) could be significant, because it would mean several of our local streets — including ones that are crucial for bicycling — would suddenly be required to conform with design standards laid out by the Federal Highway Administration, instead of the more flexible local and state standards used today.

Among the streets that are impacted by the new law are NW Broadway from SE Grand to Burnside, Sandy Blvd from Burnside to NE Columbia Blvd., W Burnside from I-405 to the E. Burnside/Couch couplet (to 14th), SE Calle Cesar Chavez (39th) from NE Sandy to SE Powell, and others. The map below is a screenshot from an online map created by ODOT to help explain the impacts of the changes (the layer I have showing is new NHS roads not managed by the state):

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