Fence abruptly closes access to Willamette Park path at Nevada St

UPDATE: ODOT says they didn’t install the fence. Portland Parks says ODOT did. We’ll get it sorted ASAP.

The Oregon Department of Transportation Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau (PP&R) has erected a fence across an entrance into Willamette Park. Jeff Mapes, an employee of nearby Oregon Public Broadcasting, encountered a crew putting the finishing touches on the fence this morning. “Very annoying,” he shared in a tweet this morning.

Based on a series of Twitter responses to Mapes, it appears PP&R has also been caught off guard by the new fence. “We did not close the path nor install the fence; it is an ODOT endeavor that is impacting access to our park,” the agency’s Public Information Officer Mark Ross wrote. The fence is just a few yards from a railroad crossing that’s under the jurisdiction of ODOT’s Rail Division. “It has been a usable crossing and was just now fenced off. Not a good look,” Parks commented on Twitter on this morning. “It is a complicated endeavor and a hassle for commuters and park visitors!” (Note: As you can read in updates below, Ross got his initial information from a Parks project manager and has since learned that Parks did indeed erect the fence.)

The path section in question is a carfree entrance into the park that’s right outside the OPB headquarters on Nevada Street (see map below), just one block east of SW Macadam Avenue. For years it was an unimproved and relatively sketchy crossing (I’ve used it several times to get to OPB studios) with big bumps and cracked pavement. It was repaved a few years ago in advance of the Portland Water Bureau’s Hannah Mason Pump Station project, which the City of Portland opened back in June. Another factor that has recently brought more attention to this crossing is PP&R’s Willamette Park redevelopment project.

The three entrances to the park. The fence has closed the middle entrance (Nevada St.).

In a statement provided via email a few minutes ago, PP&R Media Relations Manager Mark Ross said the fence was required by ODOT Rail. Ross says due to the impact it will have on park visitors, PP&R is, “working quickly to craft and put up signs to direct people to use the other park entrances, on SW Miles St. or SW Nebraska St.” The Nebraska St entrance is about 1/3 of a mile north and Miles is about one-tenth of a mile south.

Using those other entrances, Mapes said on Twitter this morning, “Means riding on Macadam or sidewalk for a ways. Both less safe than riding over tracks that are seldom used.”

View of Nevada Street entrance into Willamette Park. The new fence is just on the other side of those trees.

Why did ODOT erect the fence? We’re still waiting to hear from them directly; but Ross said it’s because the current crossing doesn’t meet federal railroad crossing requirements.

This seems to be a case where the path and its users have gotten tangled up in miles of bureauratic red tape. In addition to PP&R and ODOT Rail, the Portland Water Bureau and the Trolley Consortium (a Metro-led group that must sign-off on any changes to the design of the crossing) all involved in the design, permitting and funding.

Ross says the fence could be up for several months. “We anticipate the permitting to take much of the winter and possibly into spring before we can begin the necessary improvements. Once we have permits and a legal Crossing Order, we will look to make the needed improvements. Note that a contractor and funding have not been secured yet for this work, so a definitive schedule is not known yet. We continue to work on that with the PWB [Portland Water Bureau].”

While we understand the bureaucratic, multi-jurisdictional complexity here, it’s very unfortunate that ODOT decided to erect a fence over a path and did so without warning and without a plan for detour signage for users. The fence, which is black and has no reflectors or signs giving prior warning that it exists, is also a safety hazard. Paul Souders shared on Twitter just now that, “I (almost literally) ran into this fence this morning.”

We’re in contact with ODOT’s communications person but have yet to receive a detailed response. We’ll update this story when we do.

UPDATE I: ODOT Public Information Officer Don Hamilton says ODOT didn’t do it. Here’s his email:

Let me address ODOT’s role in this.

1) We strongly encouraged the City of Portland to put up a fence there after certain safety elements at that crossing had been removed.

2) ODOT did not put up that fence.

UPDATE II: Acccording to Pacific Fence Co., it was Portland Parks and Rec who ordered the installation of the fence. There seems to have been a miscommunication. We will get it ironed out ASAP.

UPDATE III: Here’s the latest statement we’ve received from Portland Parks (and it was forwarded from ODOT’s Don Hamilton as well so he is in agreement with it (emphasis mine):

“Construction barricades had been installed at this park entrance since last autumn (in the neighborhood of September/October 2017), and the entrance closure has been noted on our website since that time. The closure is due to infrastructure improvements yet to be completed, part of the Portland Water Bureau’s work regarding the new Hannah Mason Pump Station. Those construction barriers were repeatedly being moved, and so the ODOT Railroad Authority strongly encouraged either a temporary fence to be installed, or for the City to immediately close/remove the path. In the interest of safety and expediency, Portland Parks & Recreation had a contractor install the temporary fence today (Monday, January 8) to comply. Noting the impact the fence has to park visitors, PP&R is working quickly to craft and put up signs to direct people to use the other park entrances, on SW Miles St. or SW Nebraska St.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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