By Nick Christensen and Craig Beebe
Reporting from Clackamas
Every day, 1,000 people go to work at the massive Fred Meyer distribution center in Clackamas, building and sorting and packaging products sold throughout the Northwest.
Every week, 3,000 trucks leave that center, heading out to deliver goods to that Portland-based retailer's dozens of stores.
Starting Friday, their trips will be shorter – as will trips for every commuter on the busy "Sunrise Corridor" southeast of Portland.
The $130 million Sunrise Expressway project opens July 1, bypassing congested Highway 212 through the Clackamas industrial area on a 4-lane, median-separated, 50 mph expressway, the first highway built in greater Portland in nearly 30 years.
At the project's ribbon cutting Thursday, Fred Meyer regional logistics manager Mike French said the company will save $500,000 a year bypassing delays on Highway 212. Those savings, French said, will be passed along to consumers.
The 2-mile long bypass takes cars and trucks past an Oregon National Guard camp and over Union Pacific's West Coast mainline, connecting with the Milwaukie Expressway and Interstate 205 south of the Clackamas mall.
A new parallel bike path will allow people to bike to jobs in the industrial area without using narrow bike lanes on busy Highway 212. Other roads in the area were rebuilt or reconfigured to improve access for employees, truckers and residents.
The Sunrise was one of dozens of major Oregon transportation projects that had no funding source a decade ago. The Sellwood Bridge, the Newberg-Dundee Bypass and others were languishing until a gas tax was approved by the 2009 Legislature.
Seeking another transportation funding boost in the 2017 Legislature, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state is again faced with aging transportation infrastructure and "mind-numbing" traffic as the population and economy continue to grow.
"Unless we act now, congestion and infrastructure challenges will only get worse," Brown said at a ceremony with local dignitaries and business leaders. "I believe we need to act now to renew our investments in transportation for a stronger economy in every single part of the state."
Metro kicked in $8.2 million for the Sunrise projects through its regional flexible funds program. The conceptual project has been in Metro's long-term transportation plans for years, but the agreements to get the project done were relatively recent.
"These kinds of things don't get done unless you've got everyone on the same page," said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen.
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said the project will help support further job growth in the area.
"It's a great example of how joint planning, collaboration and shared vision can lead to great improvements for the residents and businesses of Clackamas County," Savas said.
Part of that collaboration, said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, was a region-wide lobbying effort, advocating for the Sunrise corridor in both Salem and Washington, D.C.
"For years, Metro led the JPACT trips back to D.C. to lobby for this project," Collette said. "Metro's been in it from the beginning of the project. Commissioners come and go, councilors come and go, but there has been regional cooperation around this project for this whole time."
Dirksen agreed, noting that the region is now turning to addressing other key freeway bottlenecks like Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter, along with expanding transit and biking and walking options for residents.
"If it isn't prioritized by the region," Dirksen said, "it doesn't get done."