Long-planned ramp, sidewalk project launches

Benny Westcott

A routine clear-day drive down Sweet Home’s Main Street offers some scenic nature vistas, but recent travelers can count on another sight.

Traffic cones. Lots of them. 

That’s because in March 2017, the Oregon Department of Transportation agreed to bring more than 12,000 curb ramp locations throughout the state into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act over a 15-year period, following a March 2017 settlement between ODOT, eight individuals with mobility and visual disabilities, the Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living (AOCIL) and Disability Rights Oregon.

As part of the settlement, ODOT also agreed to install missing curb ramps, fix substandard ones and upgrade crossing signals on the entire state highway system. 

Now it’s Sweet Home’s turn for the upgrades – specifically, the sidewalks lining Highways 20 (Main Street) and 228 (Holley Road). 

According to Sweet Home Staff Engineer Joe Graybill, the work will continue into summer and fall. 

“I don’t know if it will get finished this year or if it will stretch into next year, but it will be a long project,” he said. 

ODOT will cover costs, but the city has $200,000 budgeted in the next fiscal year to relocate city utilities in conflict with ramp project designs. City Finance Director Brandon Neish, however, said he doesn’t expect the full amount to be spent. 

So that explains most of the cones. But it turns out that the ADA-compliant curb ramp effort isn’t the only sidewalk story in town.  

After more than a decade in planning (conversations and design analysis began in 2010), completion of sidewalks along Main Street from 55th to 60th avenues is finally underway, albeit at a scope less than originally intended. ODOT’s initial 2015 proposal called for paths on both sides of Main, from 55th Avenue to Foster Reservoir. That, however, has been reduced to a sidewalk on the north side. 

The project’s scope has been limited to the area from 55th to 60th on the north side of Main, whereas the original plans would have also included 55th to Riggs Hill Road on its south side, and from 55th to the lake on the north. The improvements will consist of a 10-foot-wide multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists. 

ODOT has declined to build under the Main Street railroad trestle due to liability concerns, so its sidewalk will end before the crossing and resume after, unless the city decides to fill its gap under the bridge. The same project also includes three Main Street pedestrian crossings further west, specifically at 22nd, 40th, and 49th avenues. 

Graybill, who’s worked on the project for more than 15 years, said its costs have increased even with the reduction in scope. It’s now expected to cost more than $3.4 million, more than double the original $1.5 million estimate. However, the city’s financial commitment remains the same: about $300,000, which was paid in December. 

Costs have gone up largely because the state mandates stormwater improvements with such projects, Graybill explained. This includes expensive stormwater engineering. Pedestrian crossings also cost more due to new safety requirements. 

“They need to make ADA-accessible aprons for each side and the middle refuge. It’s darned expensive,” he said. The planned pedestrian crossings also require new lights to go in, along with the “middle refuge” that allows pedestrians to wait safely between the two directions of traffic. 

He added that the project is worth completing despite the increased cost and limited scope, noting that pedestrian crossings could save lives and prevent injuries. 

“We’ve had injuries and a death at the 49th crossing,” he said. “Those crossings are key for our community.” 

Explaining the merits of a sidewalk from 55th to 60th, Graybill said, “It’s so people don’t have to walk in the travel lanes or climb under the bridge structure.”  

But what took so long? 

“Basically it just takes a lot of time to wait for projects to happen,” he said. “It finally got into the ODOT STIP [Statewide Transportation Improvements Program] project list and is finally underway after many years. We’re just glad that it’s actually happening now.” 

Sweet Home Mayor Greg Mahler shared that sentiment. 

“I’m just happy it’s finally being completed and will be nice when finished,” he said. “I’m excited for some improvements finally being achieved at the east end of town. I only wish that ODOT could have completed this project sooner and we could have got more sidewalks completed.” 

So far, ODOT has been clearing land and removing vegetation. 

“They’re still in the process of adjusting power lines and things like that to get out of the way,” he Graybill said. 

The project entered ODOT’s engineering stage a year and a half ago. Workers from the Salem-based Emery & Sons Construction Group, as contracted by ODOT, have been clearing land and coordinating with property owners in the right-of-way.   

“Most of that work has been within the public right-of-way of the highway, but they’ve at least been talking to the property owners out there,” Graybill said, adding that the project was designed to not impact private landowners. 

About $900,000 has been spent on the project, with a targeted completion date in mid-October.