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  • 28 Nov 2014

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Our Opinion: To fix streets, city must act, not just talk

Watersheds and mass transit remain at the top of local government officials’ minds, but such fascinations shouldn’t obscure what Portland residents really care about: the potholes in their streets and lack of sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

Three Southwest Portland community meetings in the next few weeks provide a timely reminder about the importance of setting firm priorities.

The first meeting is a Southwest Watersheds Open House on April 23, which will highlight items such as the Southwest Huber Green Street Project, the Interstate 5 and 26th Avenue Terraced Rain Gardens and the Centennial Oaks project, to name a few.

Another meeting on April 29 focuses on the Southwest Corridor Project — a mass transit study that continues forward despite the recent Tigard vote putting that city on record opposing high-capacity transit.

What’s interesting about these meetings is that while there seems to be no end to the amount of money and attention allocated for planning the Southwest Corridor or ecologically friendly watershed projects, neither of these are particularly high on Portlanders’ wish lists.

Recent surveys have shown Portland residents are vastly more concerned about street maintenance and pedestrian safety than they are about rain gardens and trains.

Which brings us to the third meeting. On April 24, Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Steve Novick and Transportation Bureau Director Leah Treat will talk to residents of Southwest Portland about the best way to fund transportation maintenance, safety and other related needs.

Hales, Novick and Treat are keenly aware that Portland has a plethora of streets in disrepair. The unfortunate reality is that little money is available to address these ever-pressing needs. And while neighboring Washington County took action to find a funding mechanism to address this issue, Portland has been content just talking about it.

Discussions are fine, but this isn’t a matter of finding out what’s important to Portlanders — or at least it shouldn’t be.

In the Transportation System Improvement Priorities survey prepared for the Portland Bureau of Transportation in February, people surveyed consistently highlighted pedestrian safety and general maintenance as their biggest transportation concerns.

In fact, the survey showed that Portlanders deemed safe pedestrian and street crossings as the most critical need. Forty-two percent said it was the most important thing to spend money on now. Thirty-six percent listed street maintenance as the most important.

The 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Project prepared by DHM Research echoed those conclusions. In that survey, respondents were asked to name the most important issue that local government officials should do something about. The No. 1 answer? Road infrastructure.

Oregonians — and especially Portlanders — have made it quite clear that fixing roads and making them safer for vehicles and pedestrians alike is a top priority.

Every day that the needed maintenance is delayed only contributes to an ever-growing backlog of work to be done. What’s more, the fact that more money is needed to pay for the road improvements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The time for “what if” and “what do you think” meetings has long since passed. It’s time for the Portland City Council to display leadership, find a solution, and start getting the work done.

There’s an old political adage that says if you want to stay in office, you keep the potholes filled, the streets paved and the sidewalks maintained.

Hales, Novick and Treat should keep that in mind as they consider the extent of Portland’s long-deferred street maintenance.