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Advocates still very concerned about Kulongoski’s transportation bill

Posted by on May 26th, 2009 at 11:23 am

It’s the morning after for Governor Kulongoski’s big transportation bill and a coalition of concerned advocates are trying to rally opposition. Last Friday, a special joint committee polished off final amendments and sent House Bill 2001 to the House and Senate Floors for a vote that will likely happen this week.

After seeing those amendments, leaders from statewide advocacy groups including Environment Oregon, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Oregon Environmental Council and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, re-stated their strong opposition to the bill.

The BTA has focused their lobbying efforts on a new Urban Trail Fund. They made some headway in making that fund perform better for bike projects, but that fight pales in importance to the broader implications of the bill.

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With over $900 million in earmarks for new highway projects and $300 million dedicated annually to building new highways, Oregon is on the verge of a passing a transportation bill that makes paltry consideration of anything but new roads for cars. (The new money flowing into the Highway Trust Fund to pay for these projects will come from increases on vehicle registration fees and a six-cent increase to the gas tax.)

Highway spending in the bill heavily favors rural Oregon towns. A county-by-county analysis of the bill by economist Joe Cortright found that it spends over $2,000 per Yamhill County resident, while it spends just $75 per person in Multnomah County (where Portland is located).

It’s unclear at this point whether opposition to this massive investment in new highways will have enough impact to significantly change the bill. 1000 Friends of Oregon and their leader Bob Stacey, with special guest Steve Novick, has scheduled a press conference on the steps of the Capitol this morning, but it might be too little too late.

On Saturday, The Oregonian dedicated prime editorial space to support HB 2001. They called it “crucial” and “overdue”, citing a four-year old study by the Portland Business Alliance that congestion in our region was costing our economy precious time. The Oregonian goes on to reference opposition to the bill:

“Not everyone sees it that way. Environmentalists and the bicycle lobby are lining up against the bill because it tilts so heavily — we would use the word “necessarily” — toward motor vehicles.”

Actually, the reasons for opposition to the bill are much more nuanced than that editorial might lead some to believe. The coalition wants statewide greenhouse gas emission provisions (currently only Portland can set them), they want to increase to the minimum bike/pedestrian spending level from its current rate of 1% to 1.5%., and they also want the Oregon Transportation Commission to vet the highway project list through a more rigorous and transparent selection process (instead of hammering it out behind-the-scenes among a small group of legislators).

At the hearing on Friday, only one non-lobbyist showed up. It was Portlander Jeff Mandel (we’ve profiled his handmade shoes and saddles in the past). Mandel was shocked that he was the only citizen in the room. “There wasn’t even anyone from Salem there.”

Mandel told lawmakers that he could barely make it down to Salem because there was no other option than a car.

According to an article on the hearing in the Daily Journal of Commerce, here’s how Rep. Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach) responded to Mandel’s calls for better land-use planning and more spending on transit and bikeways:

Rep. Deborah Boone… said most of the people pushing for bike paths and public transit seem to be coming from Portland. And Portland, she pointed out, is not the entire state. Once outside the Portland metro area, said Boone, Oregon is very rural.

“There’s a much bigger area to think about when you’re asking us to make these changes,” Boone said

So goes the discussion so far: The new highways and the bill itself are being lauded by the state’s lawmakers and major power brokers (business/political groups and construction companies) as a jobs creation tool that will somehow magically solve congestion problems and create thriving rural communities that will be served by new highways. Meanwhile, rational opposition to the bill is marginalized as nothing more than whining by anti-car “environmentalists” the “bicycle lobby”, and righteous Portlanders.

And to think, this highway-centric bill is coming out of a Democrat controlled legislature, a fact that led many bike and environmental advocates to be hopeful at the start of the session.

If you’re looking for bright spots in HB 2001, you’ll have to look very hard:

— The Urban Trail Fund is a nice gesture and could have some potential, but it currently lacks a clear (and significant) revenue source.

— The OTC recently ruled to dedicate $24 million of federal flexible funds per year to non-highway projects (out of a $38 million pot, all of which was originally intended for non-highway). That $24 million pot will be spread three ways — between bike, ped, and transit projects.

— There’s also the existing “Bicycle Bill” mandate that requires a minimum of 1% of all new highway projects be spent on bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

— Connect Oregon, a $100 million pot ot State Lottery money that is spend on transportation could have been a nice source for non-motorized projects. However, current language in HB 2001 lists every conceivable transportation mode except non-motorized as being eligible for the funds. Bike advocates had testified in support of adding “non-motorized” into the language but the BTA decided to not pursue this in favor of going for a dedicated fund (the Urban Trail Fund being the result) instead.

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27 Comments
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    Matt Picio May 26, 2009 at 11:58 am

    To be honest, I have to say that if a large portion of this money went to repaving existing rural roads and creating paved shoulders, I’d be all for it – as a ride leader and the founder of a bicycle touring organization, the lack of a decent road surface and lack of separation from 55mph+ motorized traffic are major issues.

    Heck, if this helped Highways 6, 8 and 26 out to the coast and 26 up and over Mt. Hood that’d be a great start.

    I highly doubt, however that much if any of this money will be spent with rural road safety in mind.

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    Hart May 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Steve Novick for Governor of Oregon.

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    beth h May 26, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I’m with Matt on this one. Make rural roads better and safer, and perhaps more people — including bike riders — would feel comfortable using them. (Anyone notice the terrible crash this weekend on Hwy 6 near Gales Creek in Forest Grove? Significant stretches of Hwy 6 are frankly a MESS and badly in need of re-grading, better signage and perhaps re-engineering to avoid cluster[bleep] intersections with surface streets.)

    It’s unrealistic to expect the State legislature to keep urban Portland’s interests constantly at the top of the transportation list when there are dozens of rural roads throughout the state that are badly in need of upgrading and repair — and money is tighter than ever. I think we should remember to give thanks for what the legislature HAS given us, even as we ask for more.

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    Brad May 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Rural Oregon is relishing it’s first real opportunity to say, “F*** You Portland!”. No one saw this coming during the past decade of “PDX Mania” while the rest of Oregon whithered?

    I agree with Matt. I’d rather see this money go to improve rural roads and to create jobs in parts of the state where unemployment is approaching 20% rather than be spent on more dubious bike commuting projects for Portland residents.

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    Joel Batterman May 26, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    It should be noted that at present, most of the 1% allocation under the so-called “Bicycle Bill” goes to basic pedestrian facilities. Thanks to the BTA’s Doug Parrow for pointing that out. I’m not sure how we can consider it a “bright spot” that the bill retains the same minimal bike-ped allocation that Oregon’s had for thirty-nine years.

    Matt, many of the specific projects that the bill will fund are actually written into the legislation. This is somewhat unusual, I think. At least one of the proposed interchange projects costs more than Portland has spent on bike infrastructure over the past fifteen or twenty years. This may not be the most recent version of the bill:
    http://www.leg.state.or.us/comm/commsrvs/HB2001A17amendments.pdf

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    DJ Hurricane May 26, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Again, I hope people now see what they are really getting with Gov K and many of the other Democrats we voted into office.

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    @Brad/4

    “I’d rather see this money go to improve rural roads … than be spent on … bike commuting projects.”

    That’s a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Why can’t just a small percentage of that money (1%?) go to bike-related projects? They’re a hell of a lot cheaper than highway projects.

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    They sneer at us and our silly “liberal” ideals, but they’ll sure take our (tax) money. You’d think we weren’t paying our way, when actually the reverse would be more true.

    According to http://www.ers.usda.gov/stateFacts/OR.HTM, about 78% of Oregonians live in urban areas.

    Urban areas will always subsidize rural areas, and that’s fair to some extent because of farming and recreation and what not, but $75/$2000 seems a bit skewed.

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    ScottG May 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Is it just me or have we been losing too many battles in the state legislature lately? I’m talking about the Idaho Stop, vehicular homicide law, and now the state budget. Has this been because the “Portland area” legislators are too far outnumbered, or are they fading in their support of our cause?

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    The jobs argument for this is just silly. Government spending on just about anything will create jobs, and there’s evidence to suggest that alternative transportation projects will create *more* jobs and a healthier economy.

    “Job creation” is a red herring.

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    Hart May 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Is it just me or have we been losing too many battles in the state legislature lately?

    We killed the bicycle registration bill.

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    mmann May 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Hart (#11),

    You’re right about cyclist mobilizing against bike registration. But I also think it bears remembering that the sword cuts both ways. Behind Rep. Boone’s words about the Portland-centric way of thinking is the tit-for-tat that takes place in Salem. Because of the rudeness and intolerance expressed by some of those who opposed the bike registration (the idea was bad, but the name-calling and juvenile insinuations were unnecessary) many of those in the legislature have soured on giving “the cycling lobby” anything they ask for, reasonable or not. A lesson learned, I hope.

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    Brad May 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Peter,

    Why should 1% go to bike projects? If that 1% can be quantified to provide a benefit on par with other transportation spending then fine. I don’t anyone has really made that case.

    Try convincing a legislator from Jackson or Malhuer counties that seperated cycle tracks and bike boulevards in Portland are more important to his constituents than family wage paving jobs and better roads to get agricultural goods to market. Creating jobs is a red herring? Go have a talk with some folks in Crook County living on $800 a month unemployment and food stamps about how more bike paths in Portland is better for them than paving County Road XYZ to Prineville. I bet they would love to make $15-20/hr. spreading asphalt for the next year or two.

    The legislature in Salem represents the needs and wants of the entire state. In typical Portland elitist fashion, we conveniently forget or just don’t care that people are suffering outside of the tri-county area. Who gives a damn when we need more media validation that Portland is the coolest / hippest / greenest / bikeyest / whateverest city in America? To hell with farmers and small towns!

    Portland – We’re spoiled children with an insatible appetite for attention.

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    Hart May 26, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    But what fun would legislating be if it weren’t for name calling?

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    @Brad/13

    The case for alternative transportation (including, but not limitied to, cycling) and livable communities has been made over and over. You’ll have to convince yourself because it probably won’t happen as a result of this blog discussion.

    I didn’t say anything about specific types of alt transportation projects. I agree that some are more worthwhile than others, but there’s more than just “bike paths”, and Portland isn’t the only urban area in the state, AND rural areas can benefit from more transportation options just as much as urban areas.

    About the jobs, why the negative spin? I meant that it was a red herring in terms of pushing these specific projects. You’re trying to make it sound like I am (or some imagined “we” is) not sympathetic toward folks on hard times. I could argue that I’m *more* concerned because I care about healthy, sustainable economic planning that creates jobs and stability for generations. Instead, you want a quick “fix” that doesn’t fix much of anything?

    By the way, in my experience, people that live in Portland love farmers and small towns, and they aren’t particularly elitist. You’re painting the wrong picture, or maybe projecting.

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    Kt May 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Brad, #13 and Matt, #1, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Or off my fingers, since I’m typing.

    Wake up and smell the roasting coffee beans, people. Portland is NOT the state of Oregon! The rest of the state doesn’t want what you want!

    (I too would love it if the rural roads were better paved with a paved shoulder.)

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    Matt Picio May 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Joel (#5) – I realize that, but the specifics of how the projects are implemented probably aren’t addressed in the bill (and normally I would say they shouldn’t be). What I’m saying is that if the bill stipulated that all of those projects had to have fully paved shoulders 8′ or greater in width, I’d support it, even though it’s completely highway-related. Those shoulders, especially in rural areas, allow a place for pedestrians to walk in absence of dedicated infrastructure, allow cyclists to travel in relative safety when the difference in speeds exceeds 30mph (especially on hills), and allows motorists to safely change a tire or pull off the road in emergencies, or to switch drivers when one is tired. Everyone would benefit from that.

    There should be a minimum level of service on all new road projects, simply because the cost of ROW acquisition and paving is so high – we can’t afford (literally) to fix the major problems later.

    Paved shoulders would be far more beneficial in the rural part of the state than any amount of bike-specific infrastructure.

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    @Kt/16

    Um, why has this discussion turned into an Us vs. Them, Portland vs. the rest of the state kind of thing?

    I, too, think certain rural roads need some attention. I also think that a small chunk of this money could go to other-than-roads transportation projects–in Portland or elsewhere.

    Where’s the argument?

    PS There’s lots of different kinds of people in Portland, many of whom need jobs. Not everyone is a Stumptown-coffee swilling, fixie-riding uber-hipster. There’s lots of “normal” people here, too. 😉

    PPS At a basic level, I do believe that most of us want the same things.

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    Hart May 26, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Riding fixed is normal.

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    Peter Noone May 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    @Hart: That’s what the quotes were for.

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    007 May 27, 2009 at 10:20 am

    #16
    And rural Oregonians wouldn’t be able to live in the beautiful countryside if it weren’t for us Portland taxpayers. Hey, I’d love to live out in the country or the woods and have someone else support me financially. I know I could live a lot cheaper than some of them. Sometimes one’s lifestyle is not sustainable.

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    weastsider May 27, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    #21!

    Wow, Brad, et al. I think ya just got spanked by 007.

    Before you talk smack about latte sipping Portland elitists maybe you should pull the creamy tax teat outta yer mouth.

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    bike militia May 27, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Does anyone know if Teddy K was able to get his huge pile of money to keep planning the 12-lane freeway from the Couv into N. Portland, aka the CRC, back into this bill?

    Last I heard it had been yanked..but knowing what little I do about our spineless state reps, I’m guessing its back in.

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    Peter W May 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    So, the rest of Oregon doesn’t want to pay for bike infrastructure ‘cuz bikes can’t transport them over long distances.

    Maybe the bike, ped., and environmental lobbies need to get together with the train lobby (does it even exist?!) and advocate for some high speed long distance trains.

    Not that trains could serve rural areas directly, but they could get some of the passenger cars off roads that serve rural areas as well as cross state transportation needs.

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    Kt May 28, 2009 at 10:13 am

    No, PeterN, you’ve misunderstood me.

    I never said anything about fixies or Stumptown-swilling.

    I merely pointed out what a lot of people on this site, being Portland-centric, have not understood: rural Oregon is nothing like Portland, and the people “out there” don’t want the same things as the people within the urban growth boundaries.

    It’s not Us vs Them, unless you’re looking at this as an Urban needs vs Rural needs. Which, I guess, any transportation bill is going to be anyway, as our Elected Folks in Salem have to juggle the needs of the many (the rest of the state) against the needs of the few (Portland Metro area).

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    Peter Noone May 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

    @Kt/25 Multnomah County is 19% of the state. Washington County is 14%. Clackamas is 10%. That adds up to 53% (give or take 1% for rounding). Not exactly “the few”, even if some of these folks don’t exactly consider themselves part of Portland Metro.

    Source:

    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/41/41051.html

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    beth h May 29, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    1. Sadly, there has been an urban-rural divide for DECADES. This is nothing new and it won’t be solved by us-and-them arguments. Nor will be solved by denial of the financial realities of urban dollars helping to support rural towns. Density of population also means density of monies.

    2. The car-bike divide has been around for less time, and yet gets more press in Portland simply because Portland has become known as “Bike City, USA”. But Portland’s bike-centric fame will NOT get more people across the country to get out of their cars. Only rising gas prices will do that in the short-term, as was seen in 2007-8. In the long term, it will be the downslide from peak Oil, something that will not realistically happen to full effect for many of us in our lifetime.

    At this point, we should be looking at ways to bridge gaps between seemingly disparate communities, not widen them. If this bill helps the discussion along then so be it.

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