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February 27th, 2013 WW Staff | News Stories
 

Whacking Cracks

Hales has found money to fix city streets. Residents say his plan has potholes.

news1_3917FINDING ASPHALT: Portland streets aren’t getting equal paving under a plan proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales. Southeast 136th Avenue won’t get its promised sidewalk. - IMAGE: ronitphoto.com
Jim Baker wants the City of Portland to repair the roads near his Hillsdale house. He just doesn’t like the one the city is choosing to fix.

“I’m really happy to hear they’re patching streets that don’t need it,” says Baker, a retiree who lives less than a block from curving Southwest Terwilliger Drive. 

That road is starting to wear—especially at the scenic overlooks and the bus stops.

Baker is far more concerned about his own side street, Southwest Burlingame Place. He says it hasn’t been repaved since he moved there in 1960.

“Patch the places that have holes in them,” Baker says. “We have potholes you could break off a tire in.”

Mayor Charlie Hales has made road paving his calling card and pledged to tackle the city’s backlog of road maintenance. His new interim Bureau of Transportation director, Toby Widmer, wants to shift $7.15 million to road repairs—including major grind-and-pave projects and work to seal cracks on heavy-traffic routes. 

It’s a preventive approach: Few of these projects will attack Portland’s worst streets, but Hales will get a speedy victory by increasing the percentage of city streets rated in “good” condition.

Hales says he’ll seek new tax revenue to pave smaller streets “after we show we mean it with black tar.” 

About $4.5 million will come from putting off Sellwood Bridge debts (which have to be repaid later). East Portland advocates are outraged that a $1.2 million sidewalk-building project would be scrapped. Commissioner Amanda Fritz dislikes plans to put off adding curbs for disabled access. 

WW visited five sites Hales wants to fix and the East Portland sidewalk project PBOT plans to cut. We also spoke with residents on these mean streets who often want very different fixes from what the city is promising.

“Tell him to get off the main streets and into the neighborhoods,” says Baker’s wife, Fran. “He’ll see where the real problems are.”


Some winners:

North Willamette Boulevard, between Alta and Wabash avenues.

This 3.1-mile stretch above Swan Island will doubly benefit. Part of it has been identified for quick crack-sealing fixes; other pothole-scarred stretches are on the long list of candidates for a full grind-and-pave. The road could also benefit from $300,000 to compel property owners to repair sidewalks. Our reporter tripped three times on sidewalk cracks along Willamette Boulevard. Neighborhood resident Kelly Herman says that’s common. “You have to pick up your feet when you jog, especially at night,” she says. “Biking here is really bumpy, too.”


Northeast Marine Drive is slated for crack fixes.
IMAGE: V. Kapoor

Northeast Marine Drive, west of 138th Avenue.

Deep cracks span the two lanes along the Columbia River, and potholes can accommodate a man’s size-12 shoe. Pam Bond, who is mixing banana bread batter in the kitchen of her modest house perched above the river, says she’d rather the city lower and enforce the speed limit. “People just go way too fast,” Bond says. “I’ve been to the hospital because somebody plowed into the back of me.” 


Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, between 41st and 51st avenues.

Two years ago, a sinkhole that extended to the sewer line appeared outside Otto’s Sausage Kitchen at 4138 SE Woodstock Blvd., says Otto’s owner, Gretchen Eichentopf. The city has since fixed that hole, and residents agree the street is in good repair. But across from Otto’s, Southeast 42nd Avenue is a medley of puddles and gravel. “They need to do the side streets, not the main streets,” says Eichentopf.

Southeast 42nd Avenue remains a mud hole even as nearby Southeast Woodstock Boulevard gets its cracks sealed.
IMAGE: V. Kapoor

 

One big loser:

A new sidewalk for Southeast 136th Avenue, from Powell to Holgate boulevards.

What gets cut to fill the cracks in Portland streets? A sidewalk for Elizabeth Ellis’ kids, Tony, 10, and Eliana, 6, who walk the route to school. 

“People just fly by,” Ellis says. “I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people almost been hit by a car’s side mirror or something.”

She switched her kids out of Gilbert Heights Elementary to avoid crossing 136th, which another resident describes as “busy as a freeway.” 

Along a half-mile stretch between Holgate and Powell, our reporters saw 15 kids get off a school bus and walk along speeding traffic on a shoulder as narrow as two feet and dotted with mud puddles. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been hit,” says Mary Waller, who lives off Southeast 136th Avenue. “I realize that money is tight, but their priority should be for safety, not potholes.” 

Reported by Matt Kauffman, Aaron Mesh, Michael Munkvold and Kate Schimel.

 
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