Oregon’s transportation agency will have to spend millions in the years to come to make it easier and safer for disabled people to cross state highways under a settlement announced Thursday.
Disability advocates cried foul a few years ago when Oregon Department of Transportation crews redid Highway 101 through Lincoln City.
They didn’t install curb ramps, said Kathy Wilde, legal director for Disability Rights Oregon.
“People were outraged and the city had been yelling and asking ODOT to fix it, and ODOT had basically been turning a blind eye,” Wilde said.
Wilde said investigations soon found ODOT routinely ignored its obligation under the Americans with Disabilities’ Act to cut ramps into sidewalks to help disabled people cross streets. Wilde learned of an elderly woman in Clatskanie who couldn’t safely reach the post office because of similar problems with the main street there.
Disability Rights Oregon along with several plaintiffs and the Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living sued ODOT over the violations last February.
The two sides reached a settlement that Wilde finds more than satisfactory.
“I feel like we got more through the settlement than we could’ve gotten through litigation,” Wilde said.
ODOT agreed to spend $5 million right away on the highest-priority curb problems. There’s an additional $18 million in the agency’s spending plan to continue the work, starting in 2018.
ODOT faces specific timelines under the agreement: 30 percent of curb ramps by 2022, 75 percent by 2027 and having all the problems addressed by 2032. Wilde said her group would love to have the ramps completed sooner, but she thought ODOT was moving as quickly as it could.
Other improvements — like audio signals to help visually impaired pedestrians — are part of the agreement, too. ODOT also agreed to bring in an accessibility expert to help guide future work, and the agency intends to accommodate accessibility at active highway work sites.
“It’s a difficult but doable undertaking,” said Matthew Garrett, director of the agency in a written statement. “But with this agreement, we as a Department commit to making our transportation system even more accessible for all Oregonians.”
The agreement directly affects state highways under ODOT’s control. But Wilde said if ODOT receives complaints about streets that aren’t under their supervision, the agreement instructs the agency to direct the complainant to the city or county responsible for the road or sidewalk.