Portland City Commissioner and Mayor-elect Sam Adams hasn’t forgotten about the $24 million, 110-mile bicycle boulevard he tried to get funding for in his Safe, Sound and Green Streets proposal. That plan died back in July (after a swirl of political gamesmanship), but Adams now hopes funding for the bike boulevards will be included (along with $820 million in other projects) in a federal economic stimulus plan being worked on in Congress.
There is growing momentum for a public-works-based stimulus bill that would use transportation infrastructure projects as a catalyst for job creation and economic growth. President-elect Obama has voiced support for such an idea, as has House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who was in Portland last month and spoke about it with Congressman Earl Blumenauer.
The City of Portland has identified eight categories of high-priority projects that total $847 million, and if fully funded, would produce an estimated 8,850 jobs.
According to sources close to the effort, the stimulus package will prioritize “shovel-ready” projects that are ready to begin immediately. One such project is Portland’s bike boulevard network. PDOT feels it qualifies as “shovel-ready” because it has been vetted by PDOT planners and the community (via a series of open houses during the Safe, Sound and Green Streets process).
This morning, the City of Portland and Senator Ron Wyden’s office held a press conference downtown to present their multi-agency proposal. Representatives from ODOT (Jason Tell), Multnomah County (Ted Wheeler), Metro, and others were on hand.
According to Shoshanah Oppenheim, transportation policy adviser for Adams, the agencies have put together a “coordinated, comprehensive package of very direct requests so that the Senators are prepared when they go back to Washington.”
Mayor-elect Adams spoke at the press conference and said that the City of Portland has identified eight categories of high-priority projects that total $847 million, and if fully funded, would produce an estimated 8,850 jobs.
Among the projects on the list (I’m still waiting on a detailed breakdown) are streetcar expansion, $65 million for paving and safety improvements, bridge repair, and the bike boulevard network.
Oppenheim told me via phone this morning that the eight paving projects would include Columbia Blvd., Cully Blvd., Hawthorne Blvd., Madison Ave., Front Ave., and others.
Speaking at the press conference this morning (according to a copy of his talking points I’ve received from his office), Adams stressed the importance of these paving projects, saying their are “critical to our transportation system” and that they could “break ground as soon as it is funded”.
Adams stressed that Madison is a “critical link to the Hawthorne Bridge for thousands of cyclists and vehicles” as well as a key bus route.
“If funded,” said Adams, “these projects could start in 4-6 months, producing more than 312 construction jobs that, in turn, hint at a revitalizing economy.”
The City of Portland has also requested that the money is doled out by local municipalities (instead of by the US DOT or ODOT). At the press conference this morning, Adams said that this would allow PDOT to “spend the money quickly, leverage multiple sources of funding effectively and gauge the pulse of community needs most accurately.”
Not surprisingly, Congressman Earl Blumenauer is spearheading much of this effort on Capitol Hill. I spoke to Blumenauer’s Advisor for Livable Communities Meeky Blizzard this morning. Blizzard said that the plan would not provide funding for specific projects (careful to avoid any semblance to “earmarks”), but rather that their office is working to shape the definition of the type of projects that are most likely to be funded.
Blizzard said there’s a concern both in Portland and in other parts of the country that the infrastructure plan “isn’t just all asphalt-related…that we’re thinking more broadly about the projects and about stimulating a green economy.” (That’s political-speak for not just building more highways).
Blizzard said Congress is set to take up the issue on November 17th and that it remains to be seen how much Blumenauer and other advocates for a new direction in transportation infrastructure can get through the current congress and a possible Bush veto.
But with the economy in crisis, this plan might get going before the Obama administration — and a more receptive majority — is in power.
Blumenauer’s chief of staff James Koski told me this morning that Congressional leadership hasn’t released many details of their efforts because they wanted to “see the lay of the land after the election.”
Koski says even with the current, lame-duck Congress he’s hopeful that the new plan — with a green infrastructure component — will find the support it needs to pass.
“There’s such a great need for this stimulus sooner rather than later. And, I think the election has shown the direction we’re headed and I think it’s easier now to reach a compromise.”
The funding seems imminent at this point, now the battle front has shifted to creating a definition for the types of projects that will be eligible. Language will be paramount in these negotiations. Will the wording of the bill make bike boulevards and transit projects an obvious choice for funding? Or will the plan favor highway-widening projects? How will re-paving and maintenance projects fare?
This plan is still in its formative stages, but it seems clear that money will be coming down the pike soon. How it’s spent, and what it’s spent on are the big questions.