Good news, bad news….
First the good: the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project has found a $3 million injection of additional funding.
The bad: mo’ money, mo’ problems.
Rich Newlands, project manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), presented to the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association last night a status update for the much anticipated traffic and streetscape changes planned for Foster Road. With years of planning and community outreach, the Streetscape Plan for Foster was adopted by the city in 2014, nearly 12 years after an earlier iteration of the plan had been hatched and also adopted. The new, refreshed plan actually had funding behind it in 2014, though, and the latest version took into account the city’s stated goal of prioritizing alternate modes of transportation—in other words, finally making Foster safe for pedestrians and bikers.
With money in the bank—both from the Portland Development Commission (PDC) and federal funding—and a new commitment from the city, it seemed like we were on the fast track for much needed traffic safety improvements and beautification. And while that may still be the case, it won’t be as fast as some folks had hoped. And at the very least, what was once supposed to be an early 2017 start date for construction is now looking toward the end of 2017 if all goes according to plan.
In PBOT’s defense, the delay does not appear to be a lack of political will or budget constraints. In fact, it appears as if the aforementioned $3 million of extra funding may be the sticking point for a timely completion of the project. As part of the Fix Our Streets campaign that passed Measure 26-173 in May, the City of Portland found itself $64 million richer for traffic safety and transportation projects. Foster was one of the winning recipients of that measure, hence the extra $3 million.
But there’s a catch, and this is where the delay comes in. That $3 million is specifically for repaving a stretch of Foster that runs east from SE 82nd. Good news, yes. But according to Newlands, incorporating that project into the overall Foster Streetscape Plan would in essence “federalize” the re-paving project, which would trigger federal mandates for environmental considerations and stormwater management. That would then raise costs and create more of a mess. So to avoid “federalizing” the re-pavement project in Lents by wrapping all streetscape improvements together, and also then allowing the same contractor to manage the entire project, the plan is simply being split into two: an eastern segment and a western. This also then splits the federal money from the $3 million recently awarded to Lents by devoting it just to the western stretch—east of 82nd, then, will get $3 million to go along with PDC’s contribution to the project ($2 million), and the western stretch of Foster will be simply be paid for with the federal funding ($3.25 million, I believe).
We know this may all sound very confusing. But the short version is this: more funding is available to improve a wider stretch of Foster. That money is essentially being split into two parts, which will fund two components of a larger Foster improvement project.
So about the delay.
With a new wrinkle added to the design and engineering, a new timeline also comes with it. Of the two segments, the eastern stretch will be constructed first. Newlands estimates that portion of the project will commence in late spring of 2017. Further estimates suggest the western stretch would start construction five months later, which Newlands said would land around November or December of 2017. If we encounter no more delays, and a six-month time frame for construction of the western segment holds true, we’re looking at completion sometime around late spring of 2018.
Let’s just hope Euro Classic Furniture gives up their fight and we don’t have to endure another year and a half of hideous poster pimping.
One more update from Mr. Newlands:
What was once thought of as an unfortunate and shortsighted design flaw by not connecting Foster’s bike lanes to the north/south 50’s bikeway—original plans had Foster’s bike lane (going west) ending at SE 54th and then zig-zagging through the neighborhood to connect to the SE 52nd bike route—has now been rectified with a new plan to run Foster’s bike lanes to SE 52nd. The original plan left a gap in the Foster bike lanes in exchange for maintaining on-street parking between SE 54th and SE 52nd. But after more analyses, PBOT has determined they do not need start their transition from a four-lane road to three as far east as they had once thought. That transition will start earlier in the new design, as opposed to at SE 54th where originally planned. In addition, left turns will now be restricted from SE 52nd (from the north or south), which will give more roadway to play with at this intersection. The result: a 50’s bikeway that will someday connect to a nearly 40-block stretch of Foster that spans several different neighborhoods and reaches many key transportation points—Springwater Corridor and the Foster MAX stop to name a couple.
So there you have it, folks. Foster is still in line for big changes. It just might take a little bit longer than expected.