On Friday, June 3, the Portland Bureau of Transportation convened a meeting to hear public input on three proposed improvements projects, which would make use of Portland’s $2.4 million share of the Regional Flexible Funds budget during the 2014-2015 cycle.

Every two years, members of the Joint Policy Advisory Council on Transportation (JPACT) and Metro council decide how to spend their allotment of a federal funds for transportation projects, known locally as the Regional Flexible Funds (RFF).

Metro anticipates that of the $5.1 million designated for green economy and freight projects in 2014-15, Portland will receive approximately $2.4 million.

Since January, Metro has been working with Portland Freight Committee—a group of representatives of city offices, trade associations, citizens and freight companies—and the Port of Portland to identify potential projects.

In order to be considered, projects must meet certain guidelines, outlined by Metro, and demonstrate their potential to positively impact economic development, facilitate surface transportation, and improve air quality or relieve congestion.

At the June 3 meeting, two proposals addressed potential improvements to areas that pose significant threats to pedestrian safety, while a third introduced plans to facilitate freight traffic in an industrial zone.

One proposal, which has already received $600,000 in RFF money from a previous cycle, addresses a potential redesign of the intersection of N Portland Road and Columbia Boulevard. The current configuration of the road routes freight trucks through a residential section of St. Johns, via N Fessenden and St. Louis Avenue, resulting in a high volume of truck traffic passing by local schools, homes, and businesses.

N Portland Rd and N Columbia Way needs to be redesigned to route trucks out of residential neighborhoods.
N Portland Rd and N Columbia Way, Photo: Google Maps

According to Babs Adamski, president of the St. Johns Neighborhood Association, residents have observed trucks rolling through stop signs and blowing past the school at excessive speeds.

If the redesign for this intersection were to be approved, improvements would include the reconstruction of intersection ramps, installation of traffic signal islands, and other changes intended to accommodate a higher volume of truck traffic and heavier cargo loads.

Another proposal addressing the possibility of a “whistle-free zone” in the St. Johns/Cathedral Park area received the widest public support. Members of the Cathedral Park Neighborhood Association are in favor of the project, which would address safety concerns and reduce train whistle noise in the neighborhood.

npGreenway, an organization dedicated to the creation of a trail linking north Portland neighborhoods to downtown, also advocated for the implementation of the whistle-free zone, citing the importance of improving pedestrian safety on a section of the trail that would overlap with the train right-of-way. In an email to the Portland Freight Committee, Joe Adamski, an activist for npGreenway, explained that “implementation of the Whistle Free Zone and its accompanying physical improvements would increase mode separation of rail, freight, motorized and human powered traffic, and help minimize the possibility of conflicts and collisions.”

A third proposal, known as the “Around the Horn” project, would widen a bottleneck in the road and improve visibility on a section of Lombard that provides direct access to the port’s Terminal 4, Schnitzer Steel and other industrial properties.

N Lombard St. near N Time Oil Rd is a bottleneck for freight trucks.
N Lombard St. near N Time Oil Rd, Photo: Google Maps

Not everyone was happy to see this project on the docket; Barbara Quinn, president of the Cathedral Park Neighborhood Association and longtime advocate of the whistle-free zone, expressed her concern over the possibility of the Around the Horn project receiving funding to move into phase three of implementation before either the Columbia/Portland Project or whistle-free zone have received funding for the implementation of phase one.

In a later interview, Quinn expressed her view that freight transport-oriented projects like Around the Horn may be moving forward at the expense of the other two projects, both of which directly address pedestrian safety issues.

They’re all good projects, but what horrified me is seeing the Around the Horn Project put forward at this time. My issue is that it will be a third truck route improvement project in the area (including ongoing projects that were funded in the previous cycle), while at the same time we’ve had zero traffic calming measures.

Following the meeting, members of the Portland Freight Committee will evaluate each project and determine priorities for funding. The Freight Committee will likely present their recommendation to Metro within the next two weeks.

While no formal decisions were made at the meeting, speakers were asked to prioritize the importance of the three proposed projects.

According to Susie Lashene, a representative of the Port of Portland, speakers at the meeting were in consensus that the whistle-free zone was the most important project: “I think that, for the community, this is just a really high priority.”