When the Port of Portland revealed its newest bike trail, a nearly half-mile stretch of blacktop connecting the Marine Drive trail to the airport bike path, we were ready to don spandex and helmet, brave blustery December weather and crank out a victory lap. After all, we like safer cycling as much as the next Portlander, and the trail eliminated the need for bikers to share busy Airport Way with hurried drivers hell-bent on catching their departing 757s. But when we learned of the $750,000 price tag that came with our new addition, we quickly unloosed our ankle straps and cried foul: At $355 per foot, just what, exactly, was our newest trail paved with? Platinum?
“It seems a little high, but not excessively so,” assures Greg Jones, a manager in the city’s Office of Transportation. Such projects are expensive, Port of Portland spokesperson Steve Johnson explains. Not only do you have labor and materials costs—for example, the traffic signal that went in as part of the trail cost $100,000—but when you’re working on public roads, you’ve got the added expense of hiring flaggers to prevent idiots from plowing into construction crews. (Of course, he didn’t call them idiots.) Plus, says Johnson, this particular trail occasionally crosses an officially designated “environmental zone” (the Columbia River levee), which means the Port had to use pricey, porous asphalt to absorb rainwater and keep our Columbia clean.
On the upside, the project actually came in under budget—the Port had allotted $800,000 for the path. Which means we’re halfway to another stoplight already. Or, perhaps, a couple of highly coveted Vanilla bicycles for the few, the proud, the brave: bike commuters.