“A disproportionate share of… dollars available for transportation projects… are being allocated to… bicycle, pedestrian, and commuter infrastructure while critical freight-related projects go unfunded.”
— From a BEST coalition document
This freight activism has raised eyebrows because it’s coming from what I’ve recently learned is the state’s first privately-funded, professionally represented coalition whose sole purpose is to make the case for freight infrastructure and to remedy what they see as a “disproportionate share of funding” going to biking and walking projects.
Here’s a reset of the issue…
Metro needs to allocate about $20 million in federal “regional flexible funds” and the committee that doles them out, the 17 Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) — which consists of local elected officials (including Mayor Sam Adams), citizen advocates, and three Metro Councilors — will vote next week (July 8) on a set of parameters on how to divide up the cash. In the last two funding cycles, active transportation has won big, garnering $39.8 million out of $44.9 million allocated. Meanwhile, just $3.7 million has gone to freight projects.
Active transportation advocates want to maintain these historical funding levels, but freight advocates say their projects aren’t getting a fair share. A coalition called BEST, which stands for Building the Economy through Sustainable Transportation sent a letter to JPACT proposing a 75/25 freight/active transportation funding split.
I’ve came across a document outlining BEST’s mission, their “business case” for freight projects, their objectives, and how they are funded (PDF here).
Here’s their mission statement:
“Facilitating economic growth, highway safety and reduced environmental impacts by ensuring an adequate infrastructure for the efficient movement of freight in the Portland Metro region.”
Why do they feel there’s a need for a new freight coalition? Here’s an excerpt from their “Business case”:
“A disproportionate share of local, state and federal dollars available for transportation infrastructure projects in the Portland metropolitan area are being allocated to projects supporting bicycle, pedestrian and commuter infrastructure while critical freight-related projects go unfunded.”
BEST has already succeeded in positioning their projects as being “green.” The official category description of their projects being used by Metro is “Green Economy/Freight Initiatives” and the group’s literature is full of phrases touting freight projects that will “advance a green economy,” provide a “more sustainable transportation infrastructure” and “reduced environmental impacts.”
The principle reasons behind BEST’s claim of being “green” is that investment in freight projects will reduce trip time, would allow them to deliver “green economy” products more efficiently, and would reduce the environmental footprint of the supply chain. One of the things BEST will focus on to achieve these “green” objectives is “development of large projects to relieve freight bottlenecks.”
“Groups that advocate for active transportation will likely be mobilizing their own stakeholders to impact this funding decision and we need the freight community to do the same.”
— From an email sent to freight stakeholders by a consultant working for the BEST coalition
Read a more complete outline of BEST’s definition of a “green economy” here (PDF).
To be a voting member of the BEST coalition, there are four tiers of membership with dues based on the size of the company. Large companies (annual revenue greater than $1 billion) can join at $7,500 to $10,000 a year, medium sized companies (revenue between $500 million and $1 billion) can get a vote for $5,000 per year and small companies (revenue less than $500 million) can join for $2,500 a year. Trade associations can get a vote for $5,000 per year.
For a new advocacy group, BEST has started out with a bang. A consultant with the PR firm hired to manage the campaign wrote in an email to freight stakeholders on June 10th that their letter to JPACT “was very well-received by both Metro and JPACT members.”
That email also included an appeal to match the efforts of active transportation advocates:
“This is our opportunity to impact an important funding allocation decision at the regional level and I urge you all to help BEST push for increased funding for freight infrastructure improvements. Groups that advocate for active transportation will likely be mobilizing their own stakeholders to impact this funding decision and we need the freight community to do the same.”
Active transportation advocates have reason to care about this new coalition. From the professional PR firm that’s creating its messages to its backing by many powerful regional corporations and pro-business interests*. Its emergence also comes at a time when the economy and job growth are extremely politically viable.
It’s also important to note that active transportation advocates lack a true counterpart to this group. Metro has an internal Active Transportation Partnership which has been very effective in ramping up lobbying and project readiness efforts. But, given that they’re an official Metro entity, they’ve got to carefully balance their involvement. There’s also a host of other non-profits advocating for active transportation (the BTA being out in front the most), but they are a diverse group that has no single, unifying voice — and they certainly cannot match the PR and public policy messaging experience of Hubbell Communications.
JPACT will vote on how to split up the flexible fund allocation at their meeting on July 8th.
*Here is the list of signatories on a letter from BEST to JPACT dated June 8th:
- Bill Wyatt, Executive Director, Port of Portland
- Bernie Bottomly, Vice President, Government Relations & Economic Development, Portland Business Alliance
- Bob Russell, President, Oregon Trucking Associations
- Mike Salsgiver, Executive Director, Associated General Contractors – Oregon-Columbia Chapter
- Deanna Palm, President, Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce
- Trey Chanter, South Metro Business Alliance
- John Mohlis, Executive Secretary Treasurer, Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council
- Jeff Stone, Director of Government Relations, Oregon Association of Nurseries
- Martyn L. Shaddix, Director of US Distribution, Columbia Sportswear USA Corp.
- Joshua L. Collins, Chief Executive Officer, Blount International
- Greg Miller, Oregon Public Affairs Manager, Weyerhaeuser
- Melinda Merrill, Director of Public Affairs, Fred Meyer Stores
- Tom Zelenka, Public Affairs Manager, Schnitzer Steel
- Brett Hinsley, Business Manager, Cement Masons Local 555
- Linda Pearce, Executive Vice President & CFO, Warn Industries
- Tom Deschenne, Associate Vice President, Norris, Beggs & Simpson
- Susan Wilson, Director of Public Affairs, The Greenbrier Companies