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Lawsuit Alleges Oregon Has Neglected Curb Cuts For 25 Years

An example of a curb cut

An example of a curb cut

Dylan Passmore/Flickr

A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the Oregon Department of Transportation has failed to install and improve curb cuts on key state highways for more than 20 years.

Attorneys with Disability Rights Oregon and Legal Aid Services of Oregon have filed the case on behalf of eight men and women who use wheelchairs. The plaintiffs come from cities including Roseburg, Bend, Lincoln City, Clatskanie and Portland. The Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living is also a plaintiff.

The suit describes how missing and poorly maintained ramps and curb cuts have at times left people literally stuck in traffic.

“We’re talking about people being forced to ride alongside cars whizzing past them at 45 miles an hour, sometimes out on state highways where people are going highway speeds,” said Thomas Stenson, the Disability Rights Oregon attorney on the case.

The suit focuses on highways that are also main drags in cities, such as 82nd Avenue in Portland and Highway 101 in Lincoln City. It alleges that in places where state highways without adequate ramps and curb cuts bisect towns, wheelchair users have been cut off from libraries, city halls, grocery stores and entire neighborhoods.

It further alleges Oregon has violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by repaving streets without fixing or updating curb cuts and crosswalks.

In a press release, the Oregon Department of Transportation contested those allegations and said that it has policies in place to ensure all of its work complies with the law. 

“We take compliance with federal laws and regulations, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, very seriously,” Matt Garrett, ODOT’s director, said in the release.  

The agency noted that, following advice from the Oregon Department of Justice, it has budgeted $18 million to construct and upgrade ramps as part of the next Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. That money would be spent between 2019 and 2021, according to an agency spokesman.  

Garrett also suggested ODOT was interested in reaching a settlement in the case as opposed to litigating it: “We still hope that we can sit down with (Disability Rights Oregon) and reach a mutually beneficial agreement that focuses on meeting the needs of those with disabilities rather than running up legal bills,” he wrote. 

Disability Rights Oregon spent close to a year in negotiations and mediation with ODOT over the curb cuts before the group decided to sue.

The group wants ODOT to do an assessment of repaving and construction work since 1992 and to repair missing or inadequate curb cuts and crosswalks that were not addressed during that time.

“ODOT has a multibillion dollar budget, and as recent as 2011, its budget for dealing with curb ramps was $200,000,” Stenson said. “The state’s legal obligations aren’t being met when they’re provided the dregs from the transportation budget. People with disabilities deserve better treatment.”

Similar suits have been filed in Seattle, Philadelphia and New York. Los Angeles recently settled an ADA suit and agreed to spend $1.4 billion repairing sidewalks. 

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