Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

House votes in favor of highway-centric transportation bill

Posted by on May 28th, 2009 at 8:09 am

If HB 2001 passes in its current
form, highways in Oregon would
get a major boost.
(Photo © J. Maus)

House Bill 2001 (text) passed through the Oregon House of Representatives today by a vote of 38-22 — just two votes more than it needed in order to get the required three-fifths majority.

In floor testimony prior to the vote, most lawmakers sang the bill’s praises, touting its green features while calling its $840 million in earmarked highway projects a boon for Oregon’s ailing economy. Meanwhile, environmental advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon strengthened their opposition to the bill. In a letter distributed to the House floor prior to the vote, they called HB 2001 an “embarrassment” and said it, “Substitutes pork barrel politics for the public interest.”

The bill began as Governor Kulongoski’s Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 and it was introduced today by Chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Terry Beyer (D-Springfield).

Story continues below


House speaker Dave Hunt called
HB 2001 a “defining moment” for
the legislature.
(Photo: State of Oregon)

During her opening remarks, Rep. Beyer told her colleagues that, “This is a bill about the economy and about jobs.” Beyer claimed the bill would create over 40,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

The bill raises $300 million a year for new highway projects through a variety of increased fees, including higher vehicle registration and title fees and a six-cent increase to the gas tax (to be phased in by 2011). The bill also includes a hand-picked list of $840 million in highway projects.

Despite this massive amount of spending for new highways, legislators touted the bill as a beacon of Oregon’s green transportation commitment. House Speaker Dave Hunt called the bill, “the greenest transportation package that Oregon has ever passed.”

Rep. Vicki Berger
(R-Salem) — who carried the bill onto the floor today with Rep. Beyer — said “There’s plenty of green in 2001.” She cited the bill’s green-light for a congestion pricing pilot program in Portland, a greenhouse gas reduction pilot program to be overseen by Metro, the development of a “least cost” planning model by ODOT, and others.

“But perhaps the least mentioned green part of this package,” Berger added, “is simply to lessen the gridlock that paralyzes the transportation system in this valley at least two times a day. Sitting in a car or truck, idling or slowly moving is the single most polluting thing we can do.”

Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland), who represents inner Southeast Portland, also strongly supported the bill. Despite what bike and environmental groups have called a “highway-heavy” bill, Bailey said HB 2001’s small steps toward new planning and transportation funding paradigms are a “roadmap” that steers Oregon in the “right direction”.

Rep. Bailey said HB 2001, “may
not be everything any of us
wants, but it is a good bill.”
(Photo © J. Maus)

In his testimony, it was clear that Bailey understands the perils of building too many highways. However, despite saying “We can’t simply build our way out of our transportation problems,” he threw whole-hearted support behind a bill that funds nearly $1 billion in new highway projects and gives relatively meager consideration to everything else.

How did all this happen? (I’m still trying to figure it out).

There are rumors swirling that Democrats like Bailey got behind the bill and made sure it had big earmarks for rural highway projects (like $192 million for the Newberg-Dundee Bypass) just to placate Republican lawmakers who might otherwise not support the gas tax and vehicle fee increases, or even worse, might work to get the bill referred to voters.

Here’s how The Oregonian columnist Steve Duin puts it in his column today:

“Leadership needed to keep all the Democrats on board while attracting enough Republicans to dissuade anti-tax activists … from referring the bill to voters.

The result is a bill George Will would certainly love, celebrating asphalt while providing no increase in the percentage of bicycle and pedestrian funding. And it earmarks $192 million for “phase 1” of the Newberg-Dundee bypass, clearly establishing that detour, Novick said, as “the single most important transportation priority in Oregon.””

Far from the green bill held up by lawmakers, 1000 Friends of Oregon said, “The big highway expansion projects in this bill will increase long-distance automobile commuting, leading to sprawling car-dependent development and more global warming pollution.”

“The big highway expansion projects in this bill will increase long-distance automobile commuting, leading to sprawling car-dependent development and more global warming pollution.”
— 1000 Friends of Oregon

In addition to more balanced spending on non-motorized modes, 1000 Friends of Oregon said they’d like to see more money spent on urgent road and bridge maintenance, instead of new (and what some call unneeded) highway projects like the Dundee bypass.

And now, 1000 Friends finds themselves with few friends in this battle. Stacey and other sources say lawmakers held a meeting to tell other environmental groups who had previously been signed on to oppose HB 2001 (like Environment Oregon and the Oregon Environmental Council), that their other legislative priorities would be in jeapordy if they didn’t back off. So they did.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) doesn’t have any other bills in play this session, but even with nothing to lose they’re being careful about their position on this bill. Last week, after seeing some of the bill’s initial amendments, they expressed clear “disappointment” in it. Subsequent versions improved slightly (especially some key language in the new Urban Trail Fund) and according to BTA legislative committee Chair Doug Parrow they are now, “evaluating the extent to which we will oppose it [HB 2001] or just be neutral.”

“At best, we’d be neutral… we’re not satisfied with the outcome of the bill.”
— Doug Parrow, BTA

The BTA is in a tough position. Do they join 1000 Friends (who some sources say might push to get the bill referred to voters) and risk losing political capitol by opposing a bill that’s popular with lawmakers? Or, do they stay in the background, express disappointment, but stay neutral and look toward building momentum (and goodwill) with lawmakers for next session.

Given how poorly bicycles have fared this session, the BTA has a lot of work to do between now and 2011, and getting into a messy fight against HB 2001 is fraught with political risk.

Parrow told me yesterday they’ll decide an official position in the coming days, but at this point, given what he called the “orientation of the bill being primarily about highway construction,” it leaves them little choice. “At best,” he said, “We’d be neutral… we’re not satisfied with the outcome of the bill,” said Parrow.

Parrow could point to only a few bright spots for bikes in the bill. The new Urban Trail Fund has a verbal commitment of $1 million in seed money, and while the bike/ped funding requirement (a.k.a. the “Bicycle Bill”) will not be increased from 1.0% to 1.5% like they hoped, Parrow said that the the existing 1.0% will be much larger thanks to the vast increase in highway spending.

Like others, Parrow acknowledged that there are a number of pieces of the bill that move the State in a more green transportation direction, “But the fundamental question is,” he said, “Does the earmarking of $840 million in highway expansions negate the gains made by the environmental components to the bill?”

That question seems to be at the crux of HB 2001.

Now the bill moves to the Senate.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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  • Cameron May 28, 2009 at 8:20 am

    As well as the wait and see approach has been working for the BTA recently I think a bit more bold stands are in order.

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  • Ben May 28, 2009 at 8:52 am

    In defense of the Newberg-Dundee bypass (I used to live near there, so I’ll play devil’s advocate), the Dundee bottleneck is, without exaggeration, one of the worst in the state. It’s pretty much the only way for people from McMinnville and other communities nearby to commute to the Portland metro area. It’s also one of the major routes to the coast. During peak traffic, it can take an hour to move a couple miles. Maybe it shouldn’t have such a huge priority in this bill, but it IS an important project.

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  • mmann May 28, 2009 at 8:53 am

    The writing was on the wall on this one from the moment it was sent to committee – The talking points were well orchestrated around the words “green,” “new jobs,” and “easing congestion.” Anyone opposed to the bill was assumed to be opposed to those ideas as well, and thus not to be taken seriously.

    Question: Does this mean 8.4 million (1%) will be devoted to bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure? Maybe we’d like to see the proportion increased, but that’s not chump change either.

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  • Paul May 28, 2009 at 8:55 am

    The BTA may be trying to look to their future political potency, but this is just a bad bill and should be opposed. Lovely that it is popular with lawmakers, but if I recall they are our representatives. More voices should be raised.

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  • Brian Johnson May 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

    It’s rather depressing how retarded political maneuvering can be.

    Like this bit:
    “lawmakers held a meeting to tell other environmental groups who had previously been signed on to oppose HB 2001 (like Environment Oregon and the Oregon Environmental Council), that their other legislative priorities would be in jeapordy if they didn’t back off.”

    What on earth is this about? Threats? Who do we have down there in Salem? A bunch of bullies?

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  • John Lascurettes May 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Sitting in a car or truck, idling or slowly moving is the single most polluting thing we can do.

    And so the solution is to get them out of their cars, not to get them to move faster (encouraging more people to jump in their cars and move farther away). Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

    Definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over an over and expecting a different outcome.

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  • Dan Liu May 28, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Two bright spots in what is otherwise a very disappointing highway bill are a 6-cent per gallon gas tax increase, and an almost-unfunded (I think, can someone check this?) mandate to study and pilot a congestion pricing program in downtown PDX and Eugene.

    I think my favorite project here is $24m for highway expansion from K-Falls to the Nevada state line.

    The two things that scare me the most about what happened, however, are 1) that Dave Hunt thinks he can bully 1000 Friends, and the very groups that drive the land use programs that could mitigate the damage caused by this transportation bill; and 2) that the price required by Republicans to raise any taxes is, indeed, extraordinarily high. Steve Novick is right: Aug. 22, 2010 will indeed be Newberg-Dundee Bypass Gas Tax Freedom Day. And, sadly, there is probably no other way to increase the gas tax, no matter how little.

    For Hunt to say that this is “the greenest transportation package that Oregon has ever passed” is akin to saying “abstinence prevents pregnancy”: technically true, but ignorant of context and social reality, as well as being cynical and an almost-Orwellian evacuation of language and meaning. (/cranky)

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  • Dan Liu May 28, 2009 at 10:21 am

    mmann (#3), I am not well-versed in this, and I’d love some confirmation: I believe the 1% is of city and county transportation spending, while the bulk of the $840m is state spending. The bill allocates $100m directly(ish) to cities and counties (section 10), so that suggests that walkways and bikeways across Oregon get $1m in the bill.


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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 10:36 am

    The big highway expansion projects in this bill will increase long-distance automobile commuting, leading to sprawling car-dependent development and more global warming pollution.

    Not one single thing in this statement can be proven. Not one single thing. Pure speculation without even a good historical example from which to make deductions. Read something folks, for Pete’s sake.

    The Urban Growth boundary, as it was implemented in the Willamette Valley, was a complete and utter joke that only served to make a bunch of rich Republicans richer and increase sprawl. The Urban Growth Boundary backfired something fierce. It was implemented with little to no enforcement, and as a result developers just built outside the boundary to avoid red-tape. Effectively INCREASING sprawl. Only that’s counter-intuitive isn’t it, and you folks are just looking at me like, “Duh, what?”.

    Don’t worry, you’re taking the same approach with congestion. Groups like 1000 friends… would INCREASE trip times to drop the emission of GHGEs???? You fools keep making it hard to drive, only no one is buying huh? You’re worst nightmare is coming true. Instead of getting people out of their cars, you’re only effectively mandating that they stay in them longer!

    Nothing about sitting a car in traffic at idle is good for anything. The environment, the people stuck there, nobody. Message to the clueless: It is not feasible to legislate morality. Your little growth boundaries, all your monkeying around with folks’ life-style, the anti-car stuff. This isn’t about the environment as evidenced by how bad those self-indentifying as it’s savior are messing it up. This is class-based oppression, control, and harassment.

    This bill is awesome. Includes some bike funding. Greener than anything ever. Gonna fix that mess between here and the COAST fools! Plus thousands of jobs. Ya, quick! Go protest, make sure none of that happens until your industry, that you make money from, grows. I swear sometimes.

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  • mmann May 28, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Dan (#8),

    from Oregon.gov
    “ORS 366.514, aka the bike bill, was passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1971. It requires the inclusion of facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists wherever a road, street or highway is built or rebuilt. It applies to ODOT, cities and counties. It also requires ODOT, cities and counties to spend reasonable amounts of their share of the state highway fund on facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists. These facilities must be located within the right-of-way of public roads, streets or highways open to motor vehicle traffic. The funds cannot be spent on trails in parks or other areas outside of a road, street or highway right-of-way.”

    Looks like it DOES include ODOT as well as city/county. Wish our current reps in Salem had the guts and foresight of those who passed the Bike Bill in 1971.

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  • Dillon May 28, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Here ya go Vance.

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  • Zaphod May 28, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Vance… If you make it easier for people to drive, they’ll drive more. Having people sit in their cars idling is a drag. Hopefully this wasted time will cause them to wake up and find another way to get to their destination. And I mean destination in the broader more philosophical sense.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) May 28, 2009 at 11:02 am

    RE: the bike bill and the 1% funding.

    ODOT is required to spend a minimum of 1% of money spent on new state highway projects on bike and pedestrian improvements.

    BTA has worked this session to tell lawmakers that although it’s called the “bike bill”, something like 2/3 of the cash is actually spent on pedestrian projects.

    Also, mmann, you are right… $8.4 is a good chunk of change… but the question is … at what cost to the health of our state in general?

    a pyrrhic victory perhaps.

    Also, just FYI, over the last 23 years, ODOT has spent an average of 1.2% on bike/ped projects, that’s $3.5 million per year.

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  • ScottG May 28, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Vance: Have you seen the recent Road to the Future documentary on transportation and sprawl? You can watch it online here:


    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

    There is a clear example in there of how building increased highway capacity in the Denver area directly led to sprawl and increased congestion, btw.

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  • wsbob May 28, 2009 at 11:09 am

    ” “But perhaps the least mentioned green part of this package,” Berger added, “is simply to lessen the gridlock that paralyzes the transportation system in this valley at least two times a day. Sitting in a car or truck, idling or slowly moving is the single most polluting thing we can do.” ” editor maus

    Ms. Berger, that sounds so attractive, but it’s just not believable. People in cars will rapidly fill up any new highway capacity that’s built.

    I can’t say I understand very well how this money will affect the travel through the present highway, road and street system. Re; the Newberg-Dundee bypass; if that project would lessen the traffic burden on those two towns, that might be the only good thing to come out it. Downtown Newberg’s livability is largely ruined by having to be the gut.

    I believe I’ve read things though, that indicate the bypass would be an ugly, threatening gash through the countryside and natural areas. Everybody in the state, probably us metro area people more than other Oregon residents, need those areas unblemished, as a refuge from the tension of living in a heavily developed area.

    Maintaining infrastructure the state presently has that’s balanced towards motor vehicle use is an appropriate course of action…there would be a lot of well needed jobs in doing that. These foolish dreams of ‘build it bigger and we’ll be spending less time stalled and idled on the freeway’, is not.

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  • matt picio May 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Wow, Vance – you have no idea what you’re talking about. I usually respect your opinions, but the anti-UGB rant has me stymied.

    Go live in Detroit for a while and tell me that the UGB increases sprawl compared to the alternative. Or Atlanta, or Dallas-Fort Worth.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Zaphod #12

    Vance… If you make it easier for people to drive, they’ll drive more. Having people sit in their cars idling is a drag. Hopefully this wasted time will cause them to wake up and find another way to get to their destination. And I mean destination in the broader more philosophical sense.

    I know Zaphod. See, that’s precisely where I break ranks. I’m a big fan of the personal automobile. Love ’em. Very empowering tool. Very important technology. They’re going to drag the third-world, kicking and screaming apparently, into the 21st century. Cars are not going to go anywhere.

    Plus, there’s millions of miles of infrastructure in existence built specifically with them in mind. Plus, they won’t always burn fossil fuels, or emit GHGs. Plus recycling technology will lend more of a helping hand as time progresses. Plus…

    Man, cars aren’t going anywhere. Even if America ditches them, what about the 6 billion other people on the planet?

    You say quality of life improves without them, with no proof. I say quality of life diminishes without them, with no proof. This conundrum outlines one of the inherent problems one encounters trying to write laws dictating to people how they are going to live their lives.

    Cars aren’t hurting you any more than a co-gen plant, plastics manufacturer, freight-trains, jumbo jet, container ship, etc.. Why must you pick on the car? Right, ’cause we can’t practice the finer points of your Judeo-Christian/Exostentionalist philosophy/belief system, huh? We can’t all rub elbows and be all humany together, huh? Man, you can’t make people behave that way. You shouldn’t be trying to make people behave any way. ESPECIALLY when there is a filthy rich corporate America burning the joint down with impunity.

    Go kick the crap out of the big polluters – and leave poor folks and their cars alone. If you must, revisit the issue AFTER you line out the folks who can afford it. Also this, I’m arguing in favor of maintaining the status-quo, and you’all are arguing about changing it. My way takes 0 net energy to produce, while you’alls only requires more resources, more spending, more governmental encroachment on people’s personal lives.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 11:38 am

    matt picio #16

    No, no matt. ‘Counterintuitive’, friend. I love me some UGBs. Love ’em. I’m a local always whining about population expansion, I love, love, love, UGBs. What I don’t love is that the liberals who give us this kind of stuff, can’t seem to protect us from the repubs that turn around and fleece us with it. Liberal law-makers, and Conservative business owners is a horrible combo.

    Neil Goldschmidt, and a handful of his cronies from California made 60 million dollars from developing outside of the UGB here in P-town. 60 mill. If that’s the profit margin, what was the principal investment? Seriously hundreds of millions of retail dollars worth of development occurred outside of the UGB. Tax Incremental Financing incentives for TODs contributed to this situation too (Both awesome concepts BTW, don’t get me wrong). You could borrow money with a tax-break, and when what you built with it almost immediately won’t sell, you could go to court, recover your investment, then have your TIF deal outside the UGB by way of recompense.

    A UGB penned in stone and blood would be pretty kool. However, there’s many-a-slip-twixt-a-cup-and-a-lip, and just establishing it with no real enforcement policy effectively castrates it.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Dillon #11 – Say I think that link is busted, my man. I did try to take a look though.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Scott G #14 – I’m responding without having visited your link. I’ll check that out later. Look, you argue that expanding infrastructure lures people into the burbs. I argue that people want to live in the burbs, and that demand is met with a supply of infrastructure. I certainly can’t back that up, I don’t read minds and people rarely tell the truth. This is an important distinction though, IMO.

    I’d rather people were always kool, easy going, and a myriad other things. I’d like it if we could all live in close quarters and get along. Alas, I simply don’t feel it’s my place to even consider how other people live, well outside of murdering me, or robbing me and stuff. I personally will endure sprawl, while making my own more sustainable choices, in the hopes that my lifestyle’s success may win people over sans the brow-beating.

    Folks like privacy and security and stuff. Not their fault. Certainly nothing new. The city’s crowded and dirty, there will always be folks who don’t want to live in them. As such, we’ve built an amazing system over hundreds of years.

    I like to think of it as a diet. It took us centuries to put this weight on, it’s perfectly feasible to predict it will take that amount of time for a healthy turn around.

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  • wsbob May 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I hope someone will work to refer this spending to the voters. Can’t remember what the finally accepted vehicle registration increase amount was, but initially Kulongoski wanted about a hundred bucks more…most people are getting poorer, not richer.

    Vance makes some regressive statements and all hell breaks loose. Highway induced sprawl happens. That should be readily apparent to anyone with their eyes open. The real world is not the GM Futurerama from the 1939 World’s Fair.

    Spending all this money on systems that continue forcing people to stay in their cars as they try to go some place. Then when a bike lane is provided, so often it’s a weenie-width, guaranteed to be dirty, glass and rock strewn nightmare. With that kind of operational thinking on the part of our legislators, we’re going to be, borrowing from Rep Viki Berger’s statement..: “…Sitting in a car or truck, idling or slowly moving…” for a long time to come.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 11:58 am

    matt picio #16 – This too… I lived in Denver from 02-04. Worked at Speedy. Denver traffic is some of the worst in the U.S.. LA numbers only these folks are smashed, armed to the teeth, and think a red-light means hurry.

    Worst sprawl I’ve witnessed in the contiguous U.S.. People owe it to themselves to visit Denver just to see how not to do it. Oh, gorgeous downtown and inner-city hoods though. For the rich Liberals that is. ‘Cause they gotta ride their bike to work.

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  • Vance Longwell May 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Seriously wsbob #21 – Precisely man. This is a well-intentioned crew. I’ve seen some really promising economic theory surfacing lately. Real exciting, Utopian-like sort of stuff. Heck I haven’t owned a car, a HUGE sacrifice for me, in over two decades. Seriously, I’m a huge contributor to the Portland cycling community BEFORE a lot of you folks even showed up.

    I feel I AM the choir. Only thing is the conductor appears to be whacked out of their mind on spoiled soymilk. I think it is important to remember some of the worst villains in human history have been motivated by the best of intentions.

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  • Jeff Bernards May 28, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    The legislators have no courage to do what is right. At some point Democracy & Capitalism have failed us. Special interest run the country an example is climate change legislation, there is none unless it’s to take effect in 2020.
    The following is a letter I had today in the Oregonian:
    Allow local gas taxes
    Raising the gas tax only six cents doesn’t raise the billions that are needed to fix the state, county and city road repair backlog (“Legislators support new taxes for roads,” May 23).

    State legislators are tying local governments hands by not allowing them to raise a local gas tax to fund the amount required to repair our roads.

    I don’t want schools and social programs cut to subsidize driving. Driving is not free. If you drive, the gas tax is the most equitable way to pay for roads. If you don’t want to pay it, cut down your driving.

    The Legislature raised cigarette taxes and smoking has gone down. We need to do the same with gasoline, not only to raise needed road repair funds, but to tackle a large portion of carbon emissions.

    Southeast Portland

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  • Brad May 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    My cursory glance at these projects doesn’t lead me to believe that there will be more sprawl and more cars. I suppose a handful of people might move to Dundee or Newberg in a few years as the commute to Portland or Salem is reduced from 75 minutes to an hour. The highway outside of K-Falls? Better for trucking and interstate trade but I doubt that it will cause hordes to move there with their vehicles. Oregon has virtually no jobs to offer, no emerging industries (just talk and photo opps from Governor K and Mayor Sam), and a housing market that will continue declining into late 2010. Where is incentive for these untold millions to move here necessitating massive new subdivisions?

    I really think that the overall sentiment here is anti-car and no one is looking at the whole picture. They just see that bikes will only get their customary 1% and start firing away with the same old arguments about “second class” this and “sustainable” that while seeking the validation of like minded others. This is an OREGON bill and not a PORTLAND BIKE UTOPIA bill. Does LaGrande need light rail? A Bend streetcar? A Medford to Ashland elevated tramway? Traffic calmed bike boulevards in Coos Bay? Be realistic!

    This bill is pork laden and not perfect by any means. Do you really want a voter referendum on this? I’ll bet you that it wouldn’t pass due to the additional taxes. What purpose would that serve? It just means that infrastructure would degrade for another two years and then the next legislature would be forced to spend and tax more without any voter input. The legislature is actually showing a bit of courage for a change.

    I also believe that a statewide referendum on 1.5% for bikes would fail by an even larger margin. In fact, I don’t even think it would garner a majority in Multnomah or Lane counties. Be thankful that the 1% was left intact. It could have easily been cut to placate rural Republicans and get them to grudgingly accept the gas tax increase. We’ll just have to fight harder in 2011.

    The bike lobby is not powerful…yet. We simply don’t have the numbers, effective statewide representation (BTA is too Portland centric), nor are we mainstream enough to be persuasive. Like nearly all social-political movements in America, when the face of bicycling becomes middle class Moms then it has a good chance of succeeding. Let’s be honest, no one takes our ragtag collective of health nuts, transportation wonks, greens, fetishists, and hipsters seriously as a political force. Why should they? We don’t produce enough votes or control enough wealth to swing an election outside of two or three Portland house districts.

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  • Jammers May 28, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    This is important information for us voters to consider. Thank you for the detailed article.

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  • jim May 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    For decades we have ben increasing our population like mad, some places 10 fold easy. We haven’t ben adding any new roads to handle all these new people that we welcomed with open arms. Unless you can get a lot of people to move out of state we need these improvements

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