Earlier this month, TriMet — in a last-ditch effort to fill the local funding gap in their $1.5 billion Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project — put in a request for a 10-year, $19 million funding commitment from the State of Oregon.
The request raised serious concerns with transportation officials around the state for a variety of reasons. Some were concerned that TriMet was muscling into one of the very rare dedicated funding sources available to non-highway projects anywhere in the state (These non-highway “Flexible Funds” are a relatively small pot of money totaling about $20 million) and that the multi-year commitment would unfairly compromise the availability of funds for other projects.
As we reported earlier this month, one source close to the process told us that “TriMet is just asking for a bailout” and that, “These scenarios set a bad precedent.”
A few weeks later, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) sent a letter to the chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission (the Governor-appointed body that decides how this money is spent) that said in part, “We strongly urge that the state look to other sources for funding this vital project.”
At a meeting of the Flexible Funds Advisory Committee on February 4th, committee members reached consensus on a plan to fund TriMet’s project. According to a staff report from that meeting (PDF), TriMet will receive a total of $4.5 million from the Flexible Funds Program to be funded over two years (split into $2.1 million this cycle and $2.4 million next cycle). Since TriMet made it clear they weren’t interested in partial funding, ODOT has found an additional $8.5 million from a mix of other sources.
Among those sources is a reallocation of Flex Funds that were previously slated for sidewalks on McLoughlin Blvd (99E). The initial list of recommended projects included $941,500 for a joint ODOT/City of Portland project that would have constructed sidewalks on both sides of McLoughlin Blvd. The project would have also improved bike lanes and add landscaping and ADA improvements around the Park Avenue light rail station. Under the agreement, TriMet would be responsible to pay for the McLoughlin sidewalk project if the light rail project came in under budget.
With this package of funds, TriMet would receive a total of about $13 million from ODOT ($4.5 million from the Flex Funds pot). TriMet officials estimate that the $1.5 billion project includes $30 million in biking and walking improvements.
The OTC is set to approve the complete list of 27 projects (PDF here) at their meeting in Salem today.
In other news, TriMet got some very good news from the Obama Administration this week when his budget proposal included $200 million in federal funds for the project.