Construction is underway on the Outer Division Safety Project, a $7.5 million slate of infrastructure improvements along what has long been one of the most dangerous transportation corridors in the city. The project builds upon a 20-year relationship between the City of Portland and Raimore Construction – a locally owned firm that has committed to granting 100 percent of required project subcontracts to Business Inclusion and Diversity-certified firms.
Raimore’s selection in the request for proposal process was a result not only of their significant capacity and expertise, but also their proven commitment to equity in construction.
"Working with the City helps us continue what our true values are – and that is embracing diversity, bringing in people from the community,” said Ashley Henry, a project manager for Raimore overseeing the Outer Division Safety Project. “If you see our workforce, we’re over 50 percent minority and women, our management staff is 70 percent minority. We truly make it a point to do these things.”
Raimore’s success may be a model for future progress in the City’s long-term efforts to build equity into the procurement process. In 2012, the City took a big step forward by establishing the Prime Contractor Development Program based on the principle that by providing development opportunities and educational programs, the City would empower businesses owned by people of color, women and new entrepreneurs to grow and develop. Yet, a 2015 audit found continued evidence of minority and gender disparity in City contracting.
In response, the City adopted several new programs including the Community Equity and Inclusion Plan, a Community Benefits Agreement for public improvement contracts, and the Community Opportunities & Enhancements Program to further increase diversity and equity in contracting. These programs provide opportunities for minorities and women in the workforce as well as for disadvantaged, minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses. These programs are contributing to the City's goals to improve equity in contracting, though many City and community leaders agree there is still much work to be done.
"Increasing diversity within who receives contracts from the City of Portland is a goal I’ve championed for decades, which is why I am so honored to be the Transportation Commissioner overseeing PBOT’s role in the Outer Division Safety Project that contracted with the Black owned Raimore Construction,” said Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “I know Raimore will utilize their expertise to ensure this investment creates a safer East Portland for all modes of transportation while creating living wage jobs for our community.”
Raimore was one of the first companies to graduate from the City’s Prime Contractor Development Program and they have spent the last 10 years making strategic steps to expand on their technical expertise, provide a safe environment for skilled workers from a variety of backgrounds, and increase career opportunities and wages.
“We’re talking about a very sophisticated firm that’s able to complete very complex tasks across the entire spectrum of construction,” said Chief Procurement Officer Biko Taylor, with Portland’s Office of Management and Finance. “One of the very best. From a capability perspective, they’re one of the finest firms we have in this region.”
Raimore’s approach to capacity-building aligns with the City’s goals to make the procurement process more equitable — stewarding precious taxpayer funding toward creating economic development, anti-poverty and wealth-building opportunities for people of color, women and people of indigenous backgrounds.
Taylor said the City is working to standardize equity practices across the organization. “We think that would be conducive to building a healthier, more viable, vibrant Portland,” he said. Taylor's office is also exploring ways to simplify the administrative process for qualified small businesses to achieve certification with the Oregon Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity.
On both the municipal level and in the day-to-day operation of Raimore’s Outer Division Safety Project site, success comes down to ensuring workers’ safety and contributing to their long-term wealth.
“It looks like firms hiring women to execute that work, retaining women, creating a safe space for women in the workforce,” Taylor said. “It looks like firms hiring apprentices of color, training apprentices of color, retaining apprentices of color and providing growth opportunities by paying those apprentices of color.”
Walking along the Outer Division Safety Project worksite, it’s easy to see the sort of camaraderie that’s only developed when an employer actively retains skilled workers and makes sure everyone feels safe and valued in the organization.
“The people are great; the environment is great. Everything is detailed, thorough, easy to work with, efficient,” said Raimore field engineer Ivan Rodriguez during a tour of the improvements in progress. “I don’t think there’s anything more you can ask for from a contractor's perspective, at least.”
Sitting inside Raimore’s on-site office, Ashley Henry spoke to the enjoyment of a job that’s always changing, and how their firm has continued to grow year after year.
“Here at Raimore, everyone treats everyone as family,” she says. “We try to identify the issues beforehand and work together to come up with a collective solution. That’s a big part of our success.”
Construction on the Outer Division Safety Project will be completed in early 2022. Its impact will be reinforced by a broad expansion of Trimet’s public transportation options along the corridor, plus Oregon Department of Transportation-led improvements to the Interstate 205 interchange.
Together, these projects are investing tens of millions of dollars into a vital transportation thoroughfare to ensure safe, unfettered access between East Portland and downtown.
Prior to these improvements, the corridor along Southeast Division Street between 80th and 174th avenues ranked first in people killed or injured while walking, first for people killed or seriously injured driving motor vehicles, and second for people killed or injured while cycling. In the last decade alone, 20 people have died and 107 have been seriously injured while moving along Southeast Division.
“That is a very clear, unfortunate, heartbreaking reality of this street,” said Hannah Schafer, the interim director of communications and public involvement for the Portland Bureau of Transportation overseeing capital projects. “It was time for us to make those investments to improve safety for everyone, whether they’re walking, using a wheelchair, driving or cycling.”
Raimore Construction and their subcontracted partners are adding new pedestrian crossings, improving signals and street lighting, raising center medians to prevent left-turn crashes, and installing one of the longest protected bike lanes in all of Portland.
“Crashes are not accidents; they are not inevitable. We can prevent them, and we should not accept the premise that crashes are just something that are part of our lives,” Schafer added. “We should be doing whatever we can to prevent the loss of lives on our streets. That is what drives us every day.”
The Outer Division Safety Project is a prime example of skilled tradespeople bringing their respective expertise to a large-scale City project. Traffic signal scientists, concrete finishers, line painters and community outreach experts all came together in a way that showcased their unique talents and strengths.
“We couldn’t have the city that we have without their work,” Schafer said. “It really does take a whole city of skilled people to make these projects happen.”
Photos and contributions to this article by Nicolas Mendez