County Does the Right (Ramp) Thing

Reported in yesterday’s O, Multnomah County will reconfigure a ramp from the Hawthorne Bridge to create a parcel on which to build a new courthouse.

The ugly alternative was to grab the parcel being planned for a new office building.

22 responses to “County Does the Right (Ramp) Thing”

  1. For those who are curious, here is a link to a Google Map satellite image of the properties in question: The Justice Center on the left, the parking lot in the middle, and the bridge ramp property on the right.

    – Bob R.

  2. Another site that would not cost the county any money should be considered.

    A courthouse could be constructed on the half-block site that the county already owns on the eastside, west of Water Avenue between the bridge ramps. The site is only five minutes away from the jail by paddy wagon and has the potential for excellent access by public transit.

    This site is well situated for pedestrian and vehicle access to downtown and the eastside if an elevated street connection were built between the Hawthorne and Madison viaducts at or near Water Avenue. Pedestrian crossings and vehicular traffic could be controlled with signals.

    If the Yellow Max Line extension to Milwaukie were through-routed on the eastside between OMSI and the Rose Quarter along Water Avenue, the courthouse could be served by MAX and the 600 buses a day that cross the Hawthorne Bridge at a covered bi-level transfer station. If the proposed eastside streetcar line were routed by OMSI and then up the Water Avenue Ramp to the Hawthorne Bridge, it could also serve the courthouse.

    A high-rise courthouse at this site could become a significant eastside landmark. Perhaps the upper floors could be rented or sold as office condominiums to legal firms, offsetting some of the cost of construction.

  3. Huh. So, why is this the right thing to do? What will the new alignment of the ramp be? How will that impact bicycle egress from the Hawthorne Bridge? How many mature trees will need to be removed to make this plan work? Did the county consider putting the building on top and around the ramp, rather than moving the ramp?

    I’m skeptical. :-)

  4. Garlynn –

    I’m not one of those extra-paranoid homeland security uber alles types, but I for one would not want a heavily-trafficked automobile ramp passing right through the guts of a major courthouse.

    Regarding the potential removal of mature trees, shifting the ramp would generally allow for the planting of an equal number of trees in the newly-exposed areas. City law requires projects such as these to replace (somewhere in the city) at least as much trunk diameter as is removed.

    Bicycle egress remains a question to be answered, but I don’t see them getting away unnoticed on this topic as the Hawthorne is the #1 bicycle bridge.

    – Bob R.

  5. Bob-

    Thanks for the photoshop image. You’ve confirmed what I suspected — that this project might actually be the best thing to happen to the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge since the removal of Harbor Drive. Namely, it will finally deal with the junky remains of the Harbor Drive ramp off the bridge, by re-using that ROW to provide real estate for the new ramps.

    I think you’ve addressed my questions in a satisfactory way. Now, just one final concern:

    That the new ramp be trolley-ready, as the rest of the bridge has already been upgraded to allow for the simple future addition of streetcar service, it wouldn’t do for this new ramp to accidentally preclude that option.


  6. I think it is important that any courthouse be very close to the current site due to the need of having to transport in custody defendants from the Justice Center. I think an east side courthouse would be a non starter from a transportation viewpoint and also there are a lot of attorneys who have their offices downtown so they can be close to the courthouse.

  7. The photoshop ramp has lost some of the left “third lane” that is heavily used in the morning by people turning left (south) onto First. Keeping that, or even expanding it, needs to be a priority as bridge traffic backs up enough already there now.

    And with the loss of that well used parking lot, can we anticipate underground public parking to replace it?

  8. Frank –

    I don’t know if the county plans to make underground parking a feature of the courthouse. However, there is a large, underutilized parking structure one block south. One floor of a parking structure gives about 3/4 as many spaces as a surface lot. The current surface lot is where the commercial building is to be located, so it is up to them to decide what sort of parking to provide.

    The current courthouse has no parking, so any additional parking that is provided by the county will be a net gain.

    Regarding the special left turn lane, I did not draw one, but I am not a city or county planner, and I have no idea if they will include such a lane or not. I doubt that they will, if a large building is to be constructed there.

    My omission of the ramp comes from a personal bias: I have had several near misses there both as a pedestrian (a victim to inattentive drivers) and as a driver (a victim to inattentive pedestrians). If a courthouse is to be located there, it means a large percentage of the pedestrians in that area will be unfamiliar with daily life in downtown or in that block, so unsafe conditions should be minimized.

    – Bob R.

  9. Frank – Upon rereading your post I see that you were speaking of the third lane, rather than the turning ramp itself. Yes, I would agree that the third lane should be extended (but it should terminate at a standard intersection, not a special ramp.)

    – Bob R.

  10. I am happy to see that the county is not unnecessarily impeding private development when another option exists. And Bob’s image looks very nice.

    In addition, I have been thinking about another, simpler and cheaper way to replace the Hawthorne ramp: simply send traffic down a widened Madison Street ramp and have it use 1st to get over to Main. The Madison (eastbound/on) ramp has extra width and the third southbound lane on 1st (which starts right there at Main) could be converted to one of the north (west) bound lanes. The downside is that it would be slower and longer for traffic.

  11. First off, Bob’s photoshop rending is just for discussion purposes, so thanks again Bob for putting that together! I think it obviously would need to have a through bike lane, two through traffic lanes and a left turn lane with a long enough queue to get turning cars out of the way of buses and cars trying to get past the 1st street intersection.

    On another point, which is more architectural than transportation-related:

    This building will be extremely visible to everybody entering downtown from the East Side. It will, as such, act as the gateway piece for downtown. It should make a statement — of the grand civicness of a courthouse, of the quirky nature of Portland, of sustainability, of something. Exactly what is up to the architect, I presume, but I’m just putting this out there — it should not be a drab building. It should stand out, and welcome bridge-crossers into downtown.

  12. It seems to me as a total waste of public funds to spend 10.7 million dollars to move this Hawthorne Bridge ramp when just down the street at SW 3rd and Oak, PDC has proposed giving property away FREE to a private developer property it claims has a negative value. A wise use of the 3rd and Oak property, that has been identified as “not worth even one dollar” would be keeping it in the public domain by giving it to Multnomah County so a 26 story county courthouse can be built at the location instead of lining yet another wealthy developer’s pockets with public subsidies and proceeding with proposed 26 story residential tower project.

  13. Terry –

    Here’s why I view the $10.7 million as a good long-term investment – the location choice is defined by the desire for an inmate transport tunnel.

    Many inmates are now bussed to the courthouse (from several locations) and then transferred to the holding area via a sidewalk-level elevator. These transfers require extra staff (drivers, sidewalk security) over and above what it takes to walk someone down a secure tunnel.

    Furthermore, the current transfer system exposes pedestrians to inconvenience (this is a heavily used sidewalk that can be partially shut down during transfers), motorists to inconvenience (transport vehicles block the through auto lane on the mall), and to a limited extent the public is exposed to a degree of risk whenever inmates are transported on the surface.

    Transporting prisoners from 3rd and Oak as you suggest would certainly require busing, as would any location not within a couple of blocks distance from the jail.

    If the new building can eliminate the equivalent staff hours of three full-time staff persons and one vehicle from the motor pool, for example, we could be saving around $120,000+ a year in transport costs. There’s $3.6 million of the $10.7 million right there.

    Further, there is a lot of movement of law enforcement and court staff during the day between the Justice Center building, the current County Courthouse, and the Federal Courthouse, not to mention access by members of the public and the numerous lawyers who serve multiple clients in the area. Today, these people may simply walk from building to building in less than 5 minutes. To locate the new courthouse out of the area would require transportation (whether it be transit or automobile) of all these people around downtown Portland, plus the cost of wasted time involved. I don’t have anywhere near enough data to calculate that, but can we agree that over 30 years it could be worth a couple million more?

    Finally, the reconstruction of the Hawthorne approach means that it will be brought up to current seismic standards, beyond any temporary retrofits that have already been done. This will have to be done sooner or later.

    I think the long-term savings, PLUS the benefits to the public and staff of having all these functions within walking distance, justify the expense.

    – Bob R.

  14. furthermore, on the 10.7 million dollars being spent, a quick look at the adjacent property via portland maps shows that they are paying $487,017.97 in property tax on an assessed value of $24,185,590.00. the new tower is estimated to cost about $100 million, and the land alone is worth ~$10 million. i can only guess how much property tax they will be paying…

    by opening up another city block on the river, the city is creating the opportunity for much more revenue than the amount of the initial investment.

  15. Peter the new tower is estimated to cost about $100 million, and the land alone is worth ~$10 million. i can only guess how much property tax they will be paying…
    JK: The probable amount of tax that REACHES THE CITY AND COUNTY COFFERS is easily calculated: the tax on the value of the raw land. (That area is right next to the “Downtown Waterfront” urban renewal area and the boundries will probably be changed to capture the tax in the UR district.)


  16. jim,

    you say that the urban renewal area boundries will probably be changed in this situation. now, not that i would put it past the pdc to do something like this, but humor me: do you have some evidence that this is in the plans, has this sort of thing happened before to retroactively redraw a UR district, or is this just part of your portland-turning-to-hell fever dream?


  17. by opening up another city block on the river, the city is creating the opportunity for much more revenue than the amount of the initial investment.

    If you’re talking about the block for the County Courthouse, that block will be tax-free…

    And, yeah, the Central Eastside Industrial District Urban Renewal bounday has been changed –expanded– to include the Washington-Monroe HS site…I move, incidentally, that I support. It’s where we’ve been promised some day (some day) to have a neighborhood community center.

    But the point is the rules include expanding boundaries.


  18. If you’re talking about the block for the County Courthouse, that block will be tax-free…

    i’m talking about the block for the tower. the county was considering seizing the adjacent lot where the office tower will be built, meaning no tower, and no revenue on that lot. now there will be no revenue on a lot where there was already no revenue.

    thanks for the info on CEID expansion.

  19. I believe the county is counting on some PDC/URA funds to make the courthouse project pencil out; small boundary changes can be made by City Council without much trouble. Seems to me it would be a worthwhile use of PDC/URA resources.

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