According to the US Census, Portland’s 82nd Avenue travels through the most racially diverse neighborhood in the state. It’s home to Portland Community College’s southeast campus, growing neighborhoods like the Jade District, and the 72 bus line, one of TriMet’s busiest routes.
But as the communities around 82nd grow and change, the road itself is stuck in a state of disrepair, unable to meet the eclectic needs of an area poised to be the future of Portland. A new bill in the Oregon State Legislature aims to change 82nd’s fate—and lead the way for similar roads around the state.
Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer is one of the chief sponsors of House Bill 2846, which tackles a thorny issue with a dry name: jurisdictional transfer.
82nd is one of many roads in the greater Portland area that is owned and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), rather than by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). The state owns 82nd and other streets like it because they’ve been designated as state highways, rather than as city roads.
That designation used to make sense: Before Interstate 205 was built in the early 1980s, 82nd was the only throughway from Northeast Portland through Southeast Portland and down to Clackamas County.
“ODOT’s job is to get people from here to there quickly, from Point A to Point B. That is in conflict with what the community wants.”
But calling 82nd a state highway is now seen by many as outdated and detrimental. Because 82nd covers a relatively small slice of ODOT’s state-wide jurisdiction, maintaining it is among the agency’s lowest priorities. If the street were to be transferred to PBO, however; it would be one of the bureau’s most bustling and important streets. Hence the need for a jurisdictional transfer of 82nd from ODOT to PBOT.
“ODOT’s job is to get people from here to there quickly, from Point A to Point B,” said Keny-Guyer, whose district encompasses a big swath of 82nd. “That is in conflict with what the community wants. They want to slow down the traffic, and make it safer for pedestrians.”
At a planning session last year, ODOT and PBOT both indicated they were open to a transfer of 82nd. But it'll take more than that agreement to fix this issue.
The street is in a serious state of disrepair—fixing the asphalt along 82nd alone would cost about $150 million, Keny-Guyer said, and that is the bare minimum of improvements the road needs—and PBOT can’t shoulder that cost itself. Some work would need to be done before the transfer took place; but again, roads like 82nd are one of ODOT’s last priorities, meaning it isn’t likely to commit a big chunk of money to the street before passing it off to another agency.
It’s a Catch-22 that Keny-Guyer knows well. When she joined the Oregon House of Representatives in 2011, she wasn’t convinced jurisdictional transfer was the right option for 82nd.
“We originally thought, jurisdictional transfer’s so expensive, it takes so long,” she said. “Let’s just really push ODOT to make the kind of changes that will align with the vision of the community.”
But as Keny-Guyer soon found out, the vision the communities around 82nd had for it differed greatly from ODOT’s policies. As a state highway, 82nd has to have wide lanes. Safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes aren’t priorities. This stood in contrast to the ideas put forth by the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition, an all-volunteer group led by Brian Wong. The coalition envisions a future 82nd that would be friendlier to pedestrians and bikers, and would serve as a community hub for the unique neighborhoods that surround it.
The coalition worked closely with the City of Portland to put together a study of 82nd’s barriers to development last year. The study concluded that 82nd would need considerable investment and sweeping zoning changes to make the progress envisioned by Wong and others possible. The City of Portland is free to make some zoning changes to 82nd now, but it wouldn’t have the funds or authority to give it narrower lanes or better sidewalks until after the jurisdictional transfer.
“It just shows the complexity facing 82nd Avenue,” Wong said about the study. “It’s not just the road—there are all those zoning changes that need to go along with it.”
That’s where HB 2864 comes in. If the bill passes, ODOT will ask each Oregon region to identify and study its own versions of 82nd—roads that have an outdated "state highway" classification—and come up with cost estimates for getting them into better shape before they’re transferred to city or county ownership. It would also establish a fund to take care of those improvements.
Keny-Guyer initially planned to submit legislation tailored to 82nd. But once she saw a map of all the similar roads across Oregon, she realized she had an opportunity to lead on the issue.
“There’s places all over the state that are struggling with the same issue we had—a road that was originally a highway may no longer serve that function, and development may have grown up around it,” she said. “It should be transferred, but why would any city want to take it on if there’s been deferred maintenance on it?”
“It just shows the complexity facing 82nd Avenue. It’s not just the road—there are all those zoning changes that need to go along with it.”
Keny-Guyer has been working with the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition on this issue for years now. Wong said he’s supportive of a wide-focus bill like HB 2864.
“I would love to have something specific to 82nd Avenue,” he said. “If you’re someone who is just working on one thing, who wouldn’t want that? But if you look at it logically and rationally, and looking at where Oregon is, there are several roads within Oregon that are under the same circumstances, or will be in a couple years as communities grow.”
The 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition plans to have lobbying days in Salem for the bill, and will include groups like OPAL and APANO in those efforts. Wong said he’s “optimistic it will pass through.”
Keny-Guyer acknowledges that finding funding for the jurisdictional transfers will be the “biggest barrier” to passing her legislation, which also lists Democrat Senators Michael Dembrow and Shemia Fagan as chief sponsors. Representative Ron Noble, a Washington County Republican, is co-sponsoring the bill.
Bringing every state road like 82nd up to par for transfer could easily take a decade or more. But when she testified in front of the house's transportation committee last year about this issue, she was heartened by the positive response she got from her colleagues across party and city lines.
“There’s a reason why we haven’t dealt with [roads like 82nd] for a long time,” Keny-Guyer said. “It’s expensive, and people aren’t really sure what to do with them. But we have to grapple with this issue.”