PBOT begins repairing 50 miles of gravel roads, no plans to pave them

A grader smooths out a gravel road in Portland on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (KATU Photo)

At long last, the city’s infamous gravel roads are getting a face-lift as the Portland Bureau of Transportation begins grading and graveling the city's 50 miles of unpaved roads.

PBOT began the work in early November, part of its new Gravel Street Service. The city is spending $1 million per year on the program.

Crews will do the road work on a three-year cycle between November and February. They will service designated streets in different parts of the city, starting with Southeast Portland.

Many of the city’s unpaved roads are nearly unpassable. Some look like a moonscape filled with potholes.

“Years ago, it was big ruts here,” said Rhonda McFadden, who lives along a paved road in Sellwood. “People would come in, they'd get stuck, and they'd want to come in and use my phone.”

PBOT began work on the road outside McFadden’s home Wednesday. She says it’s a long time coming. McFadden has lived in the same home for 40 years.

The day before, crews fixed two roads near Angie Toops home in Woodstock.

“I have kids that go to school right across the street, so when they walk here or when it's rainy ... by the time they get here it's nasty. They're full of mud and dirt,” said Toops. “So, it will be really nice when it's smoothed out and a lot nicer for them to walk over.”

Neighbors are happy the city is stepping in, but city policy isn’t changing.

Adjacent property owners are still responsible for upkeep of the gravel roads. More than three-quarters of the households who live along the gravel roads would prefer the city take responsibility, according to one survey. While PBOT is doing this work, policy isn’t changing

The Gravel Street Service is free. Money is coming from PBOT’s general fund.

“We've known for a long time, and we've heard from Portlanders who live on those streets, that they'd love for us to do that,” said John Brady, a PBOT spokesperson.

Brady says Portland is unique in its number of gravel roads.

McFadden says she doesn’t want to see the road outside her home paved. Many others, including Toops, would prefer the city pave the gravel roads.

Brady says the city has no current plans to pave their roads. Cost is the main reason.

The city would need to pay $6.3 million to pave one mile of gravel roads. To improve all gravel roads, and the 200 miles of other roads without sidewalks, it would cost the city about $1.5 billion.

If a group of neighbors wanted to pay to pave a road near their home, it would cost about $30,000 per home, according to the city.

The value of a home along a gravel road is about $18,000 less than if it were along a paved one.

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