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17th Avenue overpass over Powell opens early

by: RITA A. LEONARD - THE BEE was there as the first vehicles used the new S.E. 17th Avenue overpass to access westbound Powell Boulevard on August 30. Note the solar-power (square) pedestrian crosswalk lights, as well as the new MAX tracks crossing 17th in the foreground.Fourteen months after it was closed and demolished, causing fourteen months of traffic detours and construction delays, a new commuter overpass from S.E. 17th Avenue to westbound Powell Boulevard finally opened slightly ahead of schedule -- on Friday evening, August 30.

Shortly afterward, TriMet returned Bus 17 (Holgate/Broadway) and Bus 70 (12th/N.E. 33rd) once again over the span, easing traffic along S.E. Center Street and on Milwaukie Avenue through the Brooklyn neighborhood.

The bridge was removed, and then rebuilt, to accommodate the new light rail line that will go over Powell at the same location.

Trimet's PMLR crews restored the S.E. 17th Avenue pedestrian crosswalks and bike path, as well as installed associated lighting and signage, to allow bike and pedestrian traffic to resume across the overpass corridor as well.

In addition, the north side pedestrian and bicycle underpass paralleling Powell under the new overpass and light rail bridge also re-opened, affording better access and visibility for users by eliminating cramped corners. Preparations for mural artwork along the walls of the underpass are now underway.

This new public art will consist of recycled bike and skateboard parts arranged to resemble the skeletal remains of prehistoric “Velosaurs” in a series of concrete bas-relief panels embedded in the retaining walls. The imaginative dinosaurs are meant to represent the extensive excavation work done during the project. Additional striping for bike lanes, solar-powered pedestrian crosswalk lighting, and installation of new signage, will add more complexity to the Brooklyn overpass project.

Commuters were slow to enjoy the benefits of the unexpected early opening of the overpass, due to Labor Day holiday plans. However, as students returned to classrooms and S.E. Holgate Boulevard commuters discovered the new northbound access to Powell Boulevard, traffic in the area began to return to normal.

Meantime, pedestrians who had had to use the inconvenient walkway overpasses at S.E. 16th and Brooklyn Street and S.E. 18th at Lafayette Street, were relieved to be able to access Cleveland High School, Clinton Street, and the S.E. 21st at Powell business district with a straight access along the new north side pedestrian underpass on Powell, streamlining passage to and from the Brooklyn neighborhood.