Union residents who have mobility issues received good news from the Oregon Department of Transportation Monday night.

ODOT officials announced at a Union City Council work session that their agency will be upgrading about 150 curb ramps in Union beginning next summer. Approximately 160 curb ramps in Enterprise will also be upgraded.

“We want to make curbs as accessible as we can,” said Lisa Strader, ODOT’s Americans with Disabilities Act manager.

Curb ramps are small ramps built into the curbs of sidewalks. They are designed to make it easier for people using strollers or wheelchairs to pass between the sidewalk and the road.

While most of ODOT’s work in Union and Enterprise will be done from June to August 2020, some of the more complex curb upgrades will be done in the summer of 2021, according to Howard Postovit, an ODOT project manager. Existing curb ramps will be improved and new ones will be added where they are needed.

ODOT will be doing this work as part of the start of a statewide effort to improve curb ramps in Oregon.

“This is a pilot project,” Strader said.

What is learned during the pilot project will later be applied to the statewide curb ramp upgrade program.

The pilot project will involve not only Union and Enterprise but also Lake-view. The three cities were selected in part because they do not have mass transit.

“Cities without public transit have much more reliance on sidewalks,” said Shon Heern of the Salem engineering firm David Evans and Associates, which is doing the design work for the curb ramp pilot project.

A second reason is that all three of the cities have flat terrain like many portions of Oregon. This will allow ODOT to develop a curb ramp upgrade model it can use throughout the state, Postovit said.

The pilot project’s upgrades will be done only along the state highways, which go through Union, Enterprise and Lakeview. This means in Union the upgrades will be done on Main Street, which is also Highway 237 and Highway 203. Work will also be done on Beakman Street, which runs east out of town as part of Highway 203.

Curb upgrade work in Enterprise will be done on the portions of Highway 82 and Highway 3 passing through the city.

ODOT, after the pilot project is completed, will upgrade about 26,000 other curb ramps along Oregon’s state highways. The total will include about another 3,000 in Eastern Oregon.

ODOT is undertaking the upgrade work because of a lawsuit filed against it in February of 2016 by the Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living, a statewide organization promoting accessibility for all Oregonians who have mobility issues. Oregon Centers for Independent Living charged in its lawsuit that many curb ramps in Oregon did not meet federal standards.

The organization and ODOT settled out of court in November of 2016 after the transportation agency agreed to upgrade curb ramps on highways throughout the state. ODOT has about 13 years to do this under terms of the settlement.

The upgrades ODOT will make in Union and Enterprise include reducing the slope of some so that it is easier for those in wheelchairs to go up and down them, adding texture to some ramps so that those with vision impairments can detect them with canes or their feet, and adding color panels to make them easier to see.

Curb ramps will be added to corners that do not have them and to those that have just one. Strader explained that having two curb ramps on a corner reduces the distance people with disabilities have to travel on the street.

Paul Tappana, of David Evans and Associates, said in some cases the positions of curbs may be moved if it is determined they were inappropriately placed.

“If it is apparent that people have been driving over them, over and over, we will try to change their location,” Tappana said.

Some curb work will be done near business entrances but ODOT will make every effort not to block customers from coming into the stores.

“The alternative routes will provide as good or better access (than what was available when the work started),” Postovit said.