The "OR 99E Paving Project: S.E. Harold Street to S.E. Harrison Street" – rebuilding S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard (State Highway 99-E) "from the foundation up" – will no doubt ultimately benefit motorists who frequently use this 2.6 mile stretch of highway.
And, the salmon finding their way up Crystal Springs Creek are certain to appreciate the new wide box culvert that will replace the old rotting wood piles and crossbeams over the previous culvert under the highway, just east of Westmoreland's Union Manor.
However, just as some residents who went to the Open Houses held by Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) representatives had been fearing, traffic displaced by the first of four weekend-long northbound lane closures, from S.E. Tacoma Street northward into Sellwood and Westmorland streets, was atrocious.
During the first weekend closure, for as far as the eye (and the telephoto lens) could see, northbound traffic was backed up along S.E. Milwaukie Avenue, and on S.E. 17th as well, since only a handful of vehicles got through each green light at both intersections of Bybee Boulevard in the Westmoreland business district.
Some vehicles on Milwaukie cut over to 17th Avenue, only to encounter the same situation, and vice versa; others, perhaps unfamiliar with the neighborhood, turned west – only to discover that many streets, including S.E. 13th Avenue, don't continue northward.
"Where does ODOT expect us to drive?" seethed Maryanne Binkerton, out her car window to THE BEE, while the seemingly-never-ending line of vehicles inched forward on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue. "Once you're here, there's just nowhere to go!"
Another route had been officially suggested, however. According to information distributed, and signs posted by ODOT, the preferred northbound detour "will take northbound travelers east on OR Highway 224 to Interstate 205" – but, with no suggestion about how drivers might then return to northbound McLoughlin Boulevard. The problem recurred during the second full-weekend closure of northbound McLoughlin, July 22-23.
Asked why this "miles out of the way" route was offered, ODOT Region 1 spokesman Don Hamilton explained, "Because we're working on State highways, we are reluctant to have people travel on streets other than those that are state-owned."
About how to get back to McLoughlin Boulevard, Hamilton suggested, "Drivers may come west from Interstate 205 via S.E. Powell Boulevard (State Highway 26), or perhaps use another route." But no signage was posted about that for motorists on northbound I-205.
Full closures continue in August
As ODOT contractors continue to rebuild the highway's base and shoulders in some sections, then grind, repave, and restripe the highway, the northbound lanes of S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard will twice more be closed from 10 p.m. Friday night to 5 a.m. Monday morning:
· Friday, August 4, to Monday, August 7
· Friday, August 18, to Monday, August 21
At no time during the project is it planned that all the southbound lanes will be closed, however.
In addition to the four weekend full-northbound closures, there will be several weekends of single lane closures in both directions – with traffic shifted into various configurations from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, over the weekend of August 11 through 14.
Bicycle riders should know the both shoulders of McLoughlin Boulevard are closed throughout construction, and a fully-signed bike detour is in place along S.E. 17th Avenue. And transit users should be aware that the #19 TriMet bus stop on S.E. 23rd Avenue at Westmoreland's Union Manor WILL remain open, although there will be temporary route changes of that bus to accommodate the construction.