“[The OTC showed a] cautious willingness to consider the possibility that local bike, pedestrian and transit projects might just be as “shovel ready” as ODOT’s existing list.”
— Bob Stacey, 1000 Friends of Oregon
The Governor-appointed Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) was set to make a decision on how Oregon would spend it’s federal economic stimulus money this week. However, after hearing concerns from Metro and a new coalition calling themselves Transportation for Oregon’s Future, the OTC has decided to delay their decision until Friday of next week.
That information comes from Bob Stacey, executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon. Stacey was in Salem for the OTC meeting on Wednesday. Joining Stacey was Metro councilor Rex Burkholder. Also at the meeting was Karl Rohde from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Both Stacey and Burkholder have written letters expressing their concerns that the OTC and the Oregon Department of Transportation were hurrying into approval of a project list that leaned too far in favor of highway paving projects — at the exclusion of more multi-modal projects.
According to Stacey, the OTC also delayed their decisions because of at least one lawmaker who agreed that the state should “take time to hear additional perspectives”. Stacey says Senator Bruce Starr — who is also the vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Commission — wants to hold a legislative hearing on how the stimulus money should be distributed.
The key factor in these project decisions appears to be whether or not they are “shovel ready”. In an email to me yesterday, Stacey characterized the OTC’s delay as reflecting a “cautious willingness to consider the possibility that local bike, pedestrian and transit projects might just be as “shovel ready” as ODOT’s existing list.”
At the crux of that “cautious willingness” is the promise from Stacey that a list of $20 million in bike projects has been compiled by the BTA and ODOT. Unfortunately, Stacey was unable to produce that list when OTC Chair Gail Achterman asked him about it at Wednesday’s meeting. Now, the BTA and ODOT’s bike coordinator Sheila Lyons are putting that list together and plan to forward it to the OTC in advance of Friday’s meeting.
I spoke with Karl Rohde (government affairs director for the BTA) yesterday to get his sense of where this conversation is headed. He thinks the OTC is “interested in knowing more about these projects (the bike/ped/transit ones) so they can make a decision based on some solid facts.”
Rohde confirmed that the $20 million list Stacey referred to is a “rough list” compiled by ODOT’s Pat Fisher (she manages their Transportation Enhancements program) and bike/ped program manager Sheila Lyons. The list contains bike and ped projects that have been applied for in the past but have never been funded.
In preparation for Friday’s meeting, Stacey says he’s emailed the general managers from Oregon’s three largest transit agencies (TriMet, Lane Transit, and Salem’s Cherriots) to submit their projects directly to the OTC. Stacey is also hitting the web and the streets to get the public involved. He’ll be sending email alerts (with assistance from Onward Oregon) and he plans to start a postcard signing campaign at transit stops and cycling hot spots this coming week.