City explores Capitol Highway options

Construction is slated to begin in 2019, following a two-year design process

A map of the area of SW Capitol Highway. (Google Maps)
A map of the area of SW Capitol Highway. (Google Maps)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Over the past 20 years, the city of Portland has proposed three different improvement plans for a mile-long stretch of Southwest Capitol Highway. So far, no changes have come to pass.

Looking north on Southwest Capitol Highway, this draft cross-section concept sketch shows a delineated multi-use path on the west side of the road north of Southwest Alice Street. (PBOT)
Looking north on Southwest Capitol Highway, this draft cross-section concept sketch shows a delineated multi-use path on the west side of the road north of Southwest Alice Street. (PBOT)

But for Multnomah resident Chris Lyons and the other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who experience the road’s problems daily, the latest plan might just bring the solutions they’ve been waiting for.

The current improvement plan, estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million, would add bike lanes, sidewalks and storm water abatement along Southwest Capitol Highway between Taylors Ferry Road and Garden Home Road.

Construction is slated to begin in 2019, following a two-year design process.

“I have a couple of young kids. I’d love to be able to safely push their stroller into (Multnomah) Village or go on a bike ride in the Village,” Lyons says. But to do so would require walking or biking along the hazardous stretch of highway, which currently has no sidewalks or bike lanes.

“It’s just becoming incredibly dangerous for people who want to get out of their cars and use it,” he says.

Lyons has advocated for Capitol Highway improvement efforts since he moved a block away from the road three years ago. He’s now the Multnomah Neighborhood Association transportation chair and the leader of a neighborhood subcommittee dedicated to Capitol Highway.

Progress stalled

While Lyons didn’t live in the area when the two previous plans were proposed, he’s familiar with the road’s history.

The 1996 Capitol Highway Plan focused on the entire stretch of Southwest Capitol Highway from Southwest Barbur Boulevard near Hillsdale to Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus. The plan was broken into 21 distinct projects, which included adding bike lanes and sidewalks to the “Garden Home segment” between Southwest Taylors Ferry Road and Southwest Garden Home Road.

But Steve Szigethy, a Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) capital project manager, says the city ultimately prioritized other projects in the plan — such as the addition of sidewalks, bike lanes and intersection realignments in Multnomah Village and streetscape improvements in Hillsdale. The Garden Home segment was left unimproved.

In 2011, the city put together the SW Capitol Highway Plan Refinement Report, a federally funded planning effort to complete preliminary engineering plans for the Garden Home segment, with detailed design of sidewalks, bike lanes, intersection realignments, retaining walls and slopes, storm water facilities, tree preservation, tree planting and more. At the time, planners estimated that the resulting plan would cost $17.1 million to carry out, Szigethy says. Once again, the project didn’t move forward, this time because PBOT didn’t have adequate funds. He says a more recent calculation, updated with 2016 costs, estimates that the same project would cost $23.9 million today.

The current plan, known as the Capitol Highway Corridor Stormwater Concept Design, is the largest improvement project funded by the city’s “Fixing Our Streets” gas tax, which voters approved in May. PBOT and the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) partnered to develop lower-cost approaches and new storm water treatment options for the Garden Home segment.

Making tradeoffs

While the 1996 and 2011 improvement plans didn’t pan out, Szigethy says the efforts weren’t all for naught.

“The previous planning projects are still quite valuable,” he said via email. “We are developing concepts based on that work, such as the priority for east-side sidewalks and the preference for a downhill bike lanes vs. uphill separated bike lane. We’ve been verifying and revisiting these design elements with the community over the past several months.”

That said, Szigethy adds that the current plan will involve “tradeoffs,” since the city doesn’t have $17 million to $24 million available to build a standard roadway in that area, complete with sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. Southwest Portland is a particularly challenging and expensive area for roadway improvements, he says, because of the need for storm water abatement to combat the area’s tight clay soils.

Draft cross-section concept sketches of the roadway options, available on the city’s Fixing Our Streets program website, show a separate sidewalk and bike lane along the entire east side of the road — from Southwest Garden Home Road to Taylors Ferry Road.

On the west side of the road, the sketches show a sidewalk that would run for about a quarter-mile from Southwest Alice Street to Southwest Taylors Ferry Road. The rest of the road’s west side, from Southwest Garden Home Road to Southwest Alice Street, includes a delineated multi-use path to be shared between walkers and cyclists.

Szigethy planned to accept comments on the draft cross-section concepts by phone and email through the end of November.

The project is already partially funded, with about $3.3 million dedicated to it from the Fixing Our Streets program and additional funding coming from the city’s transportation and storm water system development charges.

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