Tag Archives | sunrise corridor

$1.5 billion transportation project passes the FEIS milestone

The Sunrise Corridor’s FEIS has been approved. The price tag: $1.5 billion.
And no, I’m not talking about Milwuakie MAX.

Instead, it’s another transportation project in Clackamas County, one that involves concrete (6-8 lanes of it) rather than steel rails and overhead caternary, one whose price tag appears to be just about the same as Milwaukie MAX, which should merit some interesting compares.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Sunrise Corridor–a new 6-8 lane freeway connecting the current interchange of I-205, OR 213 (82nd Avenue) and OR 224 (Milwaukie Expressway), heading east, just north of the current OR224/212 alignment out to Rock Creek junction, and ending a short distance west of the current “center” of Damascus. The project, if built, would be the first new freeway built on the Oregon side of the Portland metro area since I-205 was completed back in the 1980s. (We’ve widened several since then, but no new ones have been built).

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project was just recently published, and the executive summary is interesting reading. (The full EIS can be downloaded from the ODOT project website; one document per chapter–the “old” project website which was hosted David Evans and Associates, the consulting firm overseeing the drafting of the EIS, appears to have vanished).

The price tag? Just south of $1.5 billion. (If this were Dead Horse Times, I’d insert the customary picture of Dr. Evil here, but portlandtransport.com is too highbrow for such cheap editorial stunts).

A billion doesn’t buy you very much any more

For the $1.5 billion, what do you get?

  • A five-mile freeway stretching from I-205 to Rock Creek Junction, 6-8 lanes in width, along with some realignment and widening of OR212 east of there.
  • Three interchanges along the route, one at I-205, one at or about SE 122nd, and one at Rock Creek, including the monstrous new interchange at I-205 shown below. (Click on the picture for a bigger version).hellinterchange.png
  • Various improvements to other approach roads and ramps in the corridor, including a new braided ramp at the current I-205/OR212 interchange, a new access road connecting 82nd Avenue to the commercial area just west of 82nd and north of 224, a new Ambler Road overcrossing of the UPRR tracks, and a network of multi-use paths.

You don’t get any transit, naturally, though I’m sure the 31E will use this new freeway if it gets built, and it’s still running. This is an ODOT project, after all.

Show me the money

The big catch–there’s always a catch, after all–is that out of that $1.5 billion, only $200 million or so has been budgeted to build the thing–$1.3 billion is not an amount you can paper over with an urban renewal district here or there. :) Out of that $200 million, $56 million is the value of land in the right-of-way already owned by various stakeholders. Metro hasn’t identified any funding for the project as of yet, though it’s included in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, in the “financially contrained scenario” (i.e. its high on the priority list). Including funds not currently budgeted, it’s estimated that over $400 million will be available in the next 20 years–still leaving a $1 billion shortfall.

Tolling has been considered for the project, though it appears to be off the radar screen as of now. (A similar conclusion to the tolling question was reached on the Newburg/Dundee Bypass).

There’s one other possible fly in the funding ointment. Currently, there are a few electoral efforts underfoot in Clackamas County to withdraw financial commitments made by county commissioners (albeit commitments which are unpopular with voters) to fund other shorter-term regional projects, namely MLR and the Sellwood Bridge. Were these referenda to be successful, and other regional stakeholders forced to come up with additional funds to complete these projects (assuming further reductions in scope couldn’t be made instead)–how might that affect regional contributions to the Sunrise Corridor? While no such deals (or threats, or however you want to spin it) have been discussed in public–generally infrastructure financing deals involve a good deal of horsetrading between different governmental entities. I hope I don’t sound like a mafia wiseguy when I make this observation (“nice freeway project ya got there…”), but I could see a scenario where Metro’s funding level for the Sunrise project (were it to get that far) to drop by $30 million or so….


The other hurdle the project will face is objections from environmentalists. Oregon’s environmental lobby is rather good at blocking or descoping roadway projects–and is far better at it than CPI and other conservative groups are at derailing transit. (Not that I’m complaining. :) And it appears there’s at least one big bright red plum for 1000 Friends and their friends to pick on this project–the “independent utility” rule for federally-funded infrastructure projects. For a project to qualify for Federal funding, it has to have “independent utility”–it can’t depend on the construction of subsequent projects for proper functioning. The FEIS claims that this condition has been met–but it’s a condition that can be challenged in court. A similar challenge helped kill off the West Eugene Parkway, and a good argument can be made the Sunrise Corridor won’t be fully effective until the “part 2” project–the so-called “Sunrise Parkway”, connecting Rock Creek to US26 west of Sandy–is built. (The Parkway is still in concept phase at this point). And there’s also the little matter of traffic on the Milwaukie Expressway–which might see additional pressure were this project built (and especially if the Parkway were also built, and zillions of skiers and freight haulers to start using this route rather than the Gresham street network to reach the Mt. Hood Highway).

There’s one more issue worth noting–development in Damascus. A major justification for the project is the urbanization of Damascus–a decade ago, planners were projecting that the Damascus area would see significant increases in population. That hasn’t happened (other than in the westernmost parts); and Damascus residents, not particularly liking the County’s (and Metro’s) plans for their community, incorporated–thus allowing themselves greater control over their land use planning. Whether or not significant development in Damascus will occur, I don’t know–but many residents there are opposed to it. But without urbanization of the area, is there still justification for an infrastructure project of this magnitude?

At any rate, it should be interesting.