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Press Release: Commissioner Hardesty to Introduce Emergency Ordinance at Council to Establish New School Zones, Make Safety Improvements on Southeast Powell and Beyond

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A fatal crash on Tuesday, October 4 at SE 26th Avenue and Powell Blvd shook Portland, leading to widespread community outcry and calls for safety improvements - including jurisdictional transfer of Powell Boulevard from the state to the City of Portland.

The crash killed Sarah Pliner, a well-respected local chef, adjacent to Cleveland High School. It happened at an intersection where PBOT and ODOT had a history of public disagreements about traffic safety. The situation led ODOT Director Kris Strickler to issue a statement on October 10, saying, "this road cannot, and should not, function as a traditional highway anymore.”

“I want to hold ODOT to their word and am optimistic we can work together as partners to make the streets around all Portland schools safer and start transforming Southeast Powell Boulevard,” said Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “However, PBOT will not wait to act. I'm hopeful my colleagues will join me in approving this resolution, so we can start making the intersection at SE 26th and Powell safer starting tomorrow, with additional improvements throughout the year."

Powell Blvd is a high crash corridor where 17 people have died in traffic crashes since 2017. For years, PBOT has advocated for more safety improvements throughout this and other state-owned high crash corridors, and the resolution calls for ODOT to partner with PBOT on those improvements.

One part of the proposal will be authorized by a resolution from Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.  

Today’s resolution:

  • Directs PBOT to install a school zone on SE 26th Avenue and requests ODOT create a school zone on SE Powell Blvd in both areas adjacent to Cleveland High School.
  • Asks ODOT to install school zones at all schools on state-owned highways in Portland.
  • Directs PBOT to pursue school zone installation at any street adjacent to a high school where the speed limit is higher than 20 mph, whether it’s a city street or state-owned highway.
  • Directs PBOT to propose additional safety improvements on other parts of SE 26th Avenue, Inner Powell and other busy state-owned streets. The bureau would use safety improvements called for in ODOT's Blueprint for Urban Design, which the state agency does not apply consistently in the Portland area.
  • Directs PBOT to study the city's freight routes and street classifications that may be leading large trucks to use SE 26th Avenue instead of streets that are wider and more appropriate.
  • Directs PBOT to work with ODOT to develop a thorough cost estimate for the improvements needed to bring Powell up to city standards for safety and maintenance, from SE 9th Avenue to I-205. Without an understanding of the true cost of transfer and a commitment to fund the full cost, a transfer will not make the road safer.
  • With a realistic cost estimate and adequate funding, these improvements could lead to a transfer of Powell to city control, using the recent transfer of 82nd Avenue as a model.

If approved by Council today, PBOT plans to install the school zone signage on 26th Ave this Thursday morning. PBOT is optimistic ODOT will move quickly to install a school zone on Powell as well.

On Thursday, October 20th, Oregon State Senator Kathleen Taylor and State Representatives Rob Nosse and Karin Power will host a community forum focused on solutions for improving safety on SE Powell Blvd, specifically the intersection at Cleveland High School. The public forum will be at 6pm Thursday, Oct. 20 in the Cleveland High School auditorium.  

PBOT will be making additional announcements at the forum, and additional information about safety is expected from ODOT, TriMet and Portland Public Schools. Commissioner Hardesty will be in attendance.