Saturday, July 8, 2023
By: Jonathan Bach
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in East Portland Friday, emphasized that local governments and communities should drive how federal transportation dollars are spent.
Buttigieg was in Portland to take a bus tour of 82nd Avenue but started with remarks at Portland Community College’s Southeast Campus. Oregon’s elected officials spoke before him, describing the racially diverse corridor that has logged many car crashes after going without significant improvements over the years.
State officials shifted the avenue’s ownership to the Portland Bureau of Transportation last year. Local officials have identified 82nd a critical north-south corridor, but acknowledge its state of disrepair. It needs investments – street lights, fresh pavement, and signalized pedestrian crosswalks – to make it safer, and PBOT has said it will spend federal American Rescue Plan Act money on improvements.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said $80 million of the nearly $200 million in total funding to improve 82nd Avenue came from ARPA.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who hosted Buttigieg, called nearby 82nd “seven miles of opportunity and challenge.” A bicycle advocate, Blumenauer pulled from his suit pocket some of his famous bike pins and handed them to the nation’s transportation boss.
Following the morning remarks, officials and reporters crammed onto one of TriMet’s 10 Gillig long-range battery electric buses and jostled down 82nd. The bus rolled north, and a carousel of civic leaders took turns with the mic, leaning against or holding the yellow railing as not to fall, to get a few words in before the Secretary, who sat along the front and listened more than talked.
TriMet’s JC Vannatta told passengers that Line 72 is the transit agency’s highest-ridership line, but it gets stuck in traffic and buses sometimes have to pass people waiting at stops because the vehicles are at capacity. City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who oversees PBOT, pointed out how far one must walk to find a crosswalk.
State Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Southeast Portland, said while the neighborhood is a destination where people want to gather, the community too often mourns deaths on 82nd or intersecting streets.
Standing up, Buttigieg told everyone he valued seeing all this for himself and that he looked forward to sharing Portland’s example with the White House.
“It’s exactly why I wanted to be out here on the ground,” he said.
Buttigieg wrapped up by saying he’d now have a personal interest in watching 82nd’s future unfold.