In a parallel universe, Foster Road is lined with street trees and ornamental lighting. Pedestrians don’t have to wait for car after to car to speed past them before a break provides a safe moment to cross; crosswalks would be lit, traffic would be slowed, and you would have fewer lanes to cross. Bike lanes would combine with the new pedestrian-friendly atmosphere to bring more and more people out of their cars and linger along the corridor instead of speeding by. Getting the kids to school in the morning is no longer a question of whether the rush-hour commuters will stop to allow safe passage.
Alas, that vision adopted by the city in 2014, which was more than a decade after a previous plan for Foster had been drafted and adopted, has yet to come to fruition. And, likely, there will be another year that lapses before any sign of activity on the project.
Welcome to “Foster Streetscape Delays Redux.”
We’ll spare you most of the details, but here’s the somewhat brief rundown on why we won’t see traffic and safety improvements to Foster until mid-2018 at the earliest:
As we shared in September when design/engineering was at 60%, PBOT still anticipated construction for the Foster Streetscape Plan to commence this spring. In other words, sometime between now and June. Fast forward to this last February, when that timeline shifted due to an influx of funding from the Fix Our Streets campaign, which allowed PBOT to incorporate a much-needed repaving of Foster (from SE 82nd to 90th) into the project. And as we explained a couple months ago, that wrinkle, albeit a positive development, forced planners to split the project into two: an eastern portion and a western. The eastern portion was designated to go first, which is what ultimately pushed the spring 2017 start date (for the west) to spring 2018.
All of the above (detailed more in February post) still holds true. Sort of. The repaving project in Lents initially sparked concerns that the use of federal funds for the project—I believe we have $3.25 million from the feds for the Foster Streetscape—would trigger a series of environmental requirements that would make the project less feasible. Most of those requirements centered on stormwater treatment, such as the need for bioswales, etc. The splitting of the projects, in effect, was somewhat of a run-around of those requirements, as the federal funds would have been parceled out to the western stretch, leaving the feds out of the eastern half of the project.
As it turns out, though, the feds saw the splitting of the project as a “run-around” too, which prompted PBOT to bring the separate projects back into one. As such, there will still be some environmental requirements, and we’ll now see a few bioswales added to the design. Rich Newlands, project manager for PBOT, attended Monday’s Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association meeting to articulate all these changes. While many more details were offered to describe the process PBOT has gone through, the main changes that result are: design/engineering will be prolonged to reflect new stormwater treatment requirements, with said design/engineering expected to hit 100% in July; subsequent delay in when the project goes to bid, expected to be at the end of fall; construction would start no earlier than March 2018. The only change to the physical project will be the addition of bioswales—one is expected to be constructed at SE 51st, where a mixed-use project is planned for development at the former Busy Bee lot; across the street from that project by Diane’s; one more at SE 54th.
In regards to the updated timeline, Newlands did acknowledge that a March 2018 construction start does not necessarily mean we’ll see movement along the western stretch of Foster at that time. The actual timeline for construction phasing will be determined by the contractor who wins the bid for the project. It is unknown if both ends of Foster would be worked on simultaneously, or one before the other. Newlands offered, too, that re-engineering the timing of traffic lights at SE Holgate and SE 72nd will require a few months of lead time, which realistically means the western stretch of Foster wouldn’t see much activity during the first few months of construction.
All of this is to say that, yes, the Foster Streetscape Plan is still a go in the eyes of PBOT. The timeline has become a bit a wishy-washy, though, and the most realistic and earliest start to construction will be sometime around summer next year. Hopefully this will be the last time we have to provide an update before construction actually starts.
For those in the neighborhood who have been working to advocate for this project for 15+ years, we’d like to give you a shout-out. Ditto for those who have joined at some point along the way. Hopefully all the advocacy creates a safe and beautiful Foster.