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Metro votes against maintaining 75/25 funding split for Active Transportation

Posted by on October 11th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

“… In a deep recession, people who are struggling — in addition to buses and bike paths — also need access to a job.”
— Ann Lininger, Clackamas County Commissioner

A 17-member Metro committee made up of mayors, commissioners, and transportation agency leaders around the region voted this morning to do away with a 75/25 federal funding allocation split that was hailed by active transportation advocates when it was established in 2010. At their meeting, Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) voted instead to adopt a new policy direction that will have projects of all types — including massive highway expansion projects — competing against each other.

At issue is how best to dole out an additional $38 million ($37.78 to be exact) that is unspoken for out of a $147 million pot of federal grant funds administered through the federal Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) for the years 2016-18. (Note: Of this $147 million, JPACT has already decided to allocate: $48 million to transit bond payments, $26 million to Metro planning and regional programs, $26 million to “Active Transportation and Complete Streets” projects and $8.7 million to “Green Economy and Freight” projects).

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), backed by Mayor Sam Adams and a host of local environmental and social justice organizations, had waged a campaign to maintain the 75/25 split (known as Option 1) with this remaining $38 million; but that option didn’t muster much support at all around the JPACT table. The option favored by most of the JPACT membership going into this morning is known as Option 3, which would establish a set of new policies for handing out the funds. This new policy would focus on “Regional Economic Opportunity” and would bring in a new set of criteria that includes things like access to industrial lands, private sector investment interest, safety, and so on.

In citizen testimony prior to committee discussion, founding member of the Latino Network and Portland State University instructor Cynthia Gomez said she supported Option 1’s strong equity and environmental justice provisions: “Our community seeks transportation and environmental justice,” she said, “Show us you are part of our community, that you represent our interests.” Gomez also urged Metro to review their public participation process so that, “all voices are heard.”

Community activist, Occupy Portland participant, and former hunger striker Cameron Whitten also testified. He said that supporting Option 1 and making more investments in bicycling and walking, “make our community more versatile and resilient.” (He also noted to me prior to his testimony that he was the only black person in the entire room.)

ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell speaking
to BTA’s Gerik Kransky after the meeting.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Once official committee discussion got underway, ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell was first to speak. Tell put forth his proposal (a version of Option 3) to earmark three projects to the tune of $27 million. Tell wants $9 million each for three major highway expansion projects that are already far along in the planning stages: the Sunrise Corridor (total cost $1.5 billion), the Brookwood/Helvetia Interchange project (total cost $45 million), and the Troutdale Interchange project (total cost $30 million). As for the remaining $11 million, Tell said it could go toward a 75/25 split (in favor of Active Transportation project), but that he “would be open” to where it goes.

Tell argued that Metro and the region have a responsibility to fund those three projects because they’ve already gone through a federal vetting process (they were selected by JPACT as TIGER stimulus grant applicants). “The goal was that these three projects,” Tell said this morning, “were to be funded with new money… Now, new money has shown up… So we have to make a decision… We have made these projects priorities… Let’s go ahead and get these built.”

(Chart: Metro)

Portland Mayor Sam Adams didn’t like that Tell had brought a pre-selected list of projects to the table. “How is your proposal,” he asked Tell, “not cherry-picking projects?” Adams continued: “There’s always a good debate and discussion around this table, but to just say that TIGER is it and we’re going to fund TIGER and we’re not going to go through the normal process and we’re going to earmark those projects… That makes us like a lot of the regions around the country that are not as thoughtful in their approach as we are.”

In a somewhat terse exchange that followed, Adams maintained that ODOT’s projects need to go through the Metro process, and that the federal (TIGER) process isn’t adequate. “It strikes me as earmarking… How is this not earmarking?”

TriMet GM Neil McFarlane called Tell’s insistence on earmarking projects a “slippery slope”. McFarlane also accused JPACT of not doing enough to fund projects that improve safety for the “most vulnerable users of our system”. “I honestly don’t think the recommendations in front of us put our money where our mouth is in terms of safety, particularly for bicyclists and those trying to access our transit system.”

As discussion continued, it was clear that Option 3 would win the day. Clackamas County Commissioner Ann Lininger said the region is still “struggling to come out of a deep recession” and that, while she believes in “conservation values” and “environmental justice values.” “But you know you,” she continued, “people who are struggling — in addition to buses and bike paths — also need access to a job.”

Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers said voting for Option 3 is a matter of “regional equity”. While he said his county “isn’t against bike and ped” his primary mission is job creation. Rogers warned JPACT members of voter outcry if they were seen to be voting against jobs. “We have to bring jobs… If you want to tell your constituents that we just turned away jobs [he estimates the three ODOT projects will bring a total of 2,500 jobs to the region], it will be interesting to talk about in campaigns.”

Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder also criticized ODOT’s attempt to earmark projects, but he added that he’s in support of Option 3 because it “opens doors to things I’m interested in.”

At this point — with even Mayor Adams not fighting for Option 1 — it was clear that Option 3 would win the day.

As for ODOT representative Tell, he realized his project earmarks were unpopular, so he agreed to give up on them. But his urgency around the Sunrise project wasn’t clear. He urged the committee to “expedite” their work so that he could have “some level of confidence” that he’d get funding. At one point, seemingly annoyed by Tell’s incessant cheerleading for his project, JPACT Chair Carlotta Collette stepped in said, “Jason, I don’t think this is an opportunity to write you a check.”

In the end, JPACT adopted a motion to move forward with Option 3 without any specific projects named and with a more fleshed-out set of criteria and with a commitment to “expedite” a vote of confidence in the Sunrise project.

After the meeting, the BTA’s lead advocacy staffer Gerik Kransky said he “Wasn’t surprised” at the outcome. He said he’s concerned that the committee committed to an “expedited process” for ODOT’s projects because he fears that could mean they scuttle key equity and environmental justice review processes. He’s also generally perturbed by what he referred to as ODOT getting “Sweetheart deals for pet projects.”

——

Now the work begins.

JPACT will start a process to select projects that will compete for the $38 million. If Option 1 would have passed, active transportation projects would have been guaranteed $28.5 million. Now they are assured nothing (out of this $38 million pot). This decision follows similar trends in both federal and state funding policy, which is to do away with dedicated bicycle-specific pots of funding and instead open-up the process to finding which projects align most successfully with our shared values (at least that’s the idea).

For the first time since I can remember, bicycle-oriented projects will get the chance to go toe-to-toe with major highway expansion projects. How will they compete? A lot of that depends on what criteria are used to judge the projects. Will safety of vulnerable road users get as much weight as access to industrial lands? Can a project that includes “Diamond” quality bike access also make a strong case for jobs?

So far, JPACT members seem to assume that projects with a strong bike access component are only for urban areas and cannot make a strong jobs and economic development case. That is far from the truth. Perhaps through this process we’ll be able to explode those myths and come up with some great projects.

Stay tuned.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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davemess
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davemess

Is that the same Roy Rogers who that fancy new street way out of Beaverton off of Scholl’s Ferry is named for?

I love how EVERYTHING gets rerouted to being about jobs.

9watts
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9watts

Tell wants $9 million each for three major highway expansion projects.

What is this, the sixties?

peejay
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peejay

When people look back at this time from the future, they will wonder how stupid humanity is sometimes. That’s my optimistic outlook. A more realistic one might be: there’ll be nobody left to look back.

Matt
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Matt

Great reporting Jonathan! Thanks for keeping us informed.

Andrew K
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Andrew K

What a bunch of short sighted fools.

I am so sick of tired of the argument always being about having just one or the other. We can have “green” projects OR we can have jobs. We can have bike lanes OR we can have jobs. We can have walk-able streets OR we can have jobs.

Why does the “OR” part need to be there? Don’t they realize that all of the things I listed above create jobs? Don’t they realize that when people ride bikes they have A LOT more money to spend (i.e. creating jobs) in the community? When you have a neighborhood that is livable, peaceful, and efficient jobs will come! When you create a neighborhood that is desirable property values go up and business is enticed to serve that neighborhood. Why do our leaders keep making decisions based on a false choice?

It’s really not that hard to grasp.

Rol
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Rol

How is a bike facility not “access to a job?”

And, how does ANY project “bring jobs” that aren’t purely temporary? Once it’s built, everyone goes home!

Allan
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Allan

FYI-
This is money for 2016-18 so many of the projects applying for these funds haven’t made it out of the idea stage.

They are designing the criteria for projects now so that as people apply for grants they will be able to make things match. These changes don’t have to be bad for bikes, they just aren’t guaranteed to be good. If cycling is as great as we all think it is then the projects we want should compete well against these criteria.

Elliot
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Elliot

Jonathan, please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m trying to figure out exactly what Option 3 means.

Option 3 was essentially to hit the reset button, and come up with a new formula for evaluating project funding, correct? And rather than have money set aside in two different pots based on mode (like the previous 75/25 split), all projects will compete head to head for all the money, based on a set of criteria focused on “Regional Economic Opportunity”.

You list some example criteria (“like access to industrial lands, private sector investment interest, safety, and so on”) but this makes it sound like maybe the list of criteria wasn’t completely set. Did JPACT also decide to flesh out these funding decision-making criteria more at a later date?

Elliot
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Elliot

Also, this Metro news article titled “JPACT sticks with funding formula for additional $38 million in transportation funds” seems to imply that a portion of funding will continue to use the 75/25 split, and another pot will be open to full competition based on “Regional Economic Oppportunity”. And the BTA blog referenced a pot of $98 million. Sorry if everyone else gets it and I don’t but now I’m really confused.

Nathan Jones
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Nathan Jones

Another great article from Bike Portland but occupy and bike swarm HAVE NO LEADERS, some may be more active than others but there are no leaders. Sorry but this is the second time I’ve seen people being called leaders here and this is a leaderless movement.

Spiffy
Guest

since sudies show that “Regional Economic Opportunity” is best stimulated with bicycling projects I look forward to their new focus on bicycles…

Lenny Anderson
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Lenny Anderson

The primary obstacle to moving freight in the peak hours is folks driving alone to their jobs. Any project that improves job access via bike or transit increases transportation options for those drive alone commuters. Help two people make the change to biking or transit, and you just created room on the existing roads for one semi tractor-trailer. Sooner or later regional pols will learn this lesson that we have taken to heart on Swan Island where one in four employees does not drive alone.
Freeing up roadway space for freight and reducing the demand for free parking on valuable industrial land is our ticket to job expansion. Building more roads gets you nothing, but more of the same.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

” … the Sunrise Corridor (total cost $1.5 billion) … ”

OK, so how is this the first time I’ve heard about this? The $4 billion CRC boondoggle gets mega-attention (justifiably) — no doubt in part because it includes significant mass transit and active transportation components.

Now here we have a NEW FREEWAY being planned in the metro area (only a couple miles long), costing nearly half as much as the CRC, and twice as much as the MAX Orange Line (to Milwaukie) which is located in the same county and has generated a firestorm of controversy. Let’s get some healthy public debate going on about the Sunrise Corridor!

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

Same Roy Rodgers,” kemo sabe!

resopmok
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resopmok

I think that was a misquote at the top of the page. It should read “In a deep recession, those who are struggling need access to buses and bike paths so they can get to and from their jobs.”

I mean seriously, what is a paltry $38 million going to accomplish for non-active transport in a day when traffic signals alone cost $1 million each? Politicians are getting so greedy now they sweep the crumbs off the floor and serve them back to their patrons!

How about we identify the 38 most dangerous crosswalks in the city and install a signal at each one so that the struggling don’t get hit while job hunting? Somebody needs to slap a bit of reality into whoever is on this Metro commission.

Pete
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Pete

“bicycle-oriented projects will get the chance to go toe-to-toe with major highway expansion projects. How will they compete?”

“Rogers warned JPACT members of voter outcry if they were seen to be voting against jobs.”

I think you have your answer. The process seems not unlike how we voted for class president back in high school: perception.

Tourbiker
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Tourbiker

Should be interesting,… when the USA manages to effectively create
a self inflicted oil embargo on itself with only the 1% able to buy gas.
I’ve been saying for years…learn from Cuba.

007
Guest
007

Multnomah County should pull out of Metro. Or, simply abolish it.

Ted Buehler
Guest

So, uh, it’s nice to get those Sharrows on the Oregon City Bridge, but when they cut bike infrastructure funding so they can go around dropping $45 million apiece into a bunch of suburban freeway ramp reconfigurations, I have trouble seeing how the region is actually going to reinvent its transportation system in favor of bikes…

Ted Buehler