Commission, Gail Achterman, is in
the driver’s seat on how our state
spends its federal stimulus money.
(Photos © J. Maus)
The OTC is a five member panel that is housed within the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and appointed by the Governor. They meet once a month and their job is to establish statewide transportation policies and manage the transportation network.
As the OTC solidifies their final, $350 million project list, some agencies are encouraging them to take a deep breath and re-think their priorities.
“…the approach the state is taking in developing a stimulus project list has focused primarily on getting projects completed quickly, rather than on making the best investments possible…”
Rex Burkholder, Metro councilor and chair of JPACT
Yesterday, Metro councilor and chair of the Portland metro region’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT), Rex Burkholder, sent a letter (download it below) to the OTC chair Gail Achterman. In that letter, Burkholder expressed concerns that the OTC and ODOT are headed down the wrong path.
From the letter:
“Our region is concerned that the approach the state is taking in developing a stimulus project list has focused primarily on getting projects completed quickly, rather than on making the best investments possible and ensuring an equitable distribution of funds.”
Also in the letter, Burkholder wrote that the list ODOT has developed “appears to be unnecessarily focused on delivering projects within the shortest timeframes.” That’s problematic, he explains, because only half of the federal stimulus funds for transportation must go to these “shovel ready” projects.
I reached Burkholder by phone about the letter yesterday. He said Metro is asking the OTC to “reconsider their own list”. Burkholder said ODOT developed their list when they thought they would have only 75 days to spend the money. But now, according to Burkholder, those restrictions have changed and he hopes ODOT will follow suit.
“We’re saying to them, don’t rush it…here are some other criteria to think about and here’s how to leverage other actions and some money coming along down the road.”
Burkholder says he is afraid ODOT will cave to pressure from groups like the Association of General Contractors (“because they’re broke” he said) to “put the money on the street tomorrow”.
To get more bang out of the state’s buck, Burkholder outlines several things he wants ODOT to do with their project funding plan:
1. Coordinate with local governments to maximize the impact of state and local funds.
2. Be flexible in developing and adopting the state’s project list given possibility of longer
3. Consider focusing investments in metropolitan areas where the economic impacts will
4. Ensure that investments the state makes with stimulus funds have significant short and
long term economic impacts.
5. Maximize the use of stimulus funds to leverage other federal, state, and local funding.
Burkholder said OTC chair Achterman is likely to be receptive to his ideas.
near the I-5 freeway in Portland.
Burkholder isn’t the only one who hopes ODOT will listen and act on their recommendations for how to spend stimulus cash. A group calling themselves Transportation for Oregon’s Future also wants to influence the project list.
That group — which is headed by Bob Stacey of the 1000 Friends of Oregon and lists the Coalition for a Livable Future and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance among its members — penned a letter to Governor Kulongoski earlier this week (download it below). In that letter, Stacey wrote:
We urge you to direct your Department of Transportation to allocate the maximum possible amount of this federal funding to the long list of cost-effective, job creating, and community serving bike, walking, and transit capital projects that are eligible for this money.
Both Burkholder and Stacey are in Salem for the meeting today. Stay tuned for an update and more coverage on this story.
— Download the letter from Rex Burkholder to the OTC (132kb, PDF)
— Download the letter from Transportation for Oregon’s Future to the Governor (192kb, PDF).