Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Proposal looks to “realign” $7.15 million in PBOT budget for paving, maintenance

Posted by on February 20th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Toby Widmer

PBOT Interim Director Toby Widmer
at a City Council budget work session today.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

With the ink on the paving audit barely dry, Mayor Charlie Hales’ interim director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Toby Widmer, made a sweeping budget proposal during a City Council budget work session at City Hall today. They call it the PBOT Resource Realignment.

Widmer announced a $7.15 million proposal that would “realign” funds in the existing budget in order to do more paving and maintenance. The proposal includes:

  • $4.5 million is savings from debt service on Sellwood Bridge bonds (this money was originally slated for the City’s general fund, Hales is attempting to keep it all for PBOT);
  • $1.2 million from a sidewalk project slated for SE 136th Ave;
  • $950,000 from the Downtown Marketing Initiative program;
  • $500,000 from the City’s ADA curb ramp program.

UPDATE: Here’s a PBOT graphic Widmer passed out at today’s Council work session:

– Click to enlarge –

Of the $7.15 million in this “realignment”, Widmer said they would spend $1.5 $5.15 million on contract paving, which is the most expensive type of paving work and it’s done via contract with private construction firms (versus in-house crews). Another $1.5 million would go toward street preservation which Widmer said would be used for in-house maintenance work such as crack-sealing, and grind-and-pave projects.

Prior to sharing the proposal, Widmer shared stats about the poor state of PBOT roads. “Only 53% are in fair or better condition… 47% of local street are in poor or very poor condition.” He said their hope with the $7.5 million is to keep streets in the fair/better category and “reach down into that poor category and drag some of those streets out of it into the fair category.”

When it comes to an overall strategy to address the maintenance backlog, Widmer passed out a map of PBOT’s “Streets of Citywide Significance.” Interestingly, that map and prioritization concept was developed by former PBOT Director Tom Miller back in December 2011. Today, Widmer said such a plan of attack would, “Allow us to maximize the dollars we do have and put the dollars in the right places in the right time to help make this thing work as well as it can with the limited funds we have.”

Widmer, who director the City’s bureau of maintenance 11 years ago prior to being named to his current position by Mayor Hales, described the streets of citywide significance map by saying “This is where we can get the biggest bang for our buck… These streets have the most value to the overall system.”

Katie Larsell

East Portland advocate Katie Larsell.

The most controversial cut is likely to be the $1.2 million from a sidewalk project already slated for SE 136th Avenue. The project in question is part of East Portland in Motion a five-year project implementation strategy adopted by City Council in April 2012.

Opposition to the sidewalk cut came quickly and strongly from a member of the City’s own budget advisory committee. Seated across the table from Mayor Hales and Director Widmer was Katie Larsell, a citizen member of the committee. After Widmer finished with his presentation, she spoke up:

“I state a protest to the sidewalk cuts. We advocated long and hard for those sidewalks. These sidewalks are not hot tubs (to use an analogy), they’re for people to walk on and this is a neighborhood that doesn’t have the infrastructure the rest of Portland takes for granted. I want to state unequivocally that I’m against that [proposal].

How many schools would that sidewalk connect to? How many children walk down that street?”

We’ve since confirmed that Portland-based non-profit Oregon Walks was not made aware of this proposal prior to it being made public today.

Hales made many campaign promises to “get back to basics” and do more for street maintenance and paving. The proposal unveiled today is our first look at how he might go about making good on those promises.

Please note: This story was updated several times after it was originally posted. Also, initial versions stated that Mayor Hales was behind this proposal. Technically, this proposal is the PBOT proposal and it was crafted by interim director Widmer. Hales currently oversees the bureau and worked with Widmer on the proposal, but we’re still teasing out just how much the Mayor’s hands were on it. Stay tuned for a follow up.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Champs February 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    $7.5M in roads spending, a bold proclamation from the mayor’s office.

    …and still not a peep about the freeway expansion that will cost 1000 times more.

    Recommended Thumb up 16

  • J-R February 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    A freeway is part of the State system and responsibility. This proposal is for paving of Portland streets. Different owners.

    All agencies are short on money because gas tax rates have not kept pace with inflation. Oregon gas tax, which is shared with cities and counties has gone up by 25% since 1993 while construction costs have gone up by almost 70%. The shortage of money has nothing to do with fuel economy. The fleet fuel economy has been stagnant for 25 years as we opt for more horsepower and buy more trucks and SUBs.

    Increase the gas tax and we won’t have to make these choices between paving and wheelchair ramps and sidewalks.

    Gas has gone up by $0.45 in the last month. Why can’t we increase the tax by 1 cent per year going back to 1993?

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • Champs February 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Decisions and spending are being made at the state and federal level, but even at no direct cost to the city, this stuff matters.

      CRC will level parts of Hayden Island.

      Nudging the choke point a few inches south will only draw more through traffic onto city streets, congestion/pollution in North Portland, and necessitate billions more in freeway expansion.

      If that’s not a city concern, I don’t know what is.

      Recommended Thumb up 15

      • J_R February 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm

        Champs says “CRC will level parts of Hayden Island.”

        Not really. The CRC proposal for the Hayden Island interchange was designed to accommodate a tripling of the amount of development on Hayden Island as specified in the City of Portland’s adopted Hayden Island Plan.

        Scale back on the planned development on Hayden Island and there won’t be a need for such a big interchange.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mikeybikey February 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Axing sidewalks doesn’t sound like “back to basics” to me. Sounds more like the failed status quo.

    Recommended Thumb up 25

    • Chris I February 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      For a lot of people, “basics” = 2-lane country road with smooth pavement, no shoulders, and no sidewalk. Perfect for driving your F-150 to and from your house and 2 acre grass farm.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Nick Falbo February 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Go Katie!

    Hales himself has used the poor livability of 122nd & Division as an example of where the city has failed its citizens. Cutting planned sidewalks on 136th is the type of action that maintains those conditions in east Portland.

    Recommended Thumb up 32

  • steph routh, Oregon Walks February 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    This was, indeed, a surprise to us. It sounds as though a lot of members of the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee were surprised and concerned. Obviously, we are following up and will be working to get basic needs for walking met.

    Recommended Thumb up 20

  • Hart Noecker February 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    As the saying goes: Fish swim, birds fly, people walk.

    What part of ‘back to basics’ does Uncle Charlie not understand?

    Recommended Thumb up 16

  • Ted Buehler February 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    From the Portland 1998 Pedestrian Master Plan:
    “Some of you will remember a land use case in Southwest Portland where City Council considered whether to require a sidewalk. The applicant said, ‘No one walks here.’ We countered with the requirement that maybe if we built a sidewalk they would walk. We required it, and now, lo and behold, any hour of the day, any day of the week you can see people walking on SW Vermont Street.”
    – Charlie Hales,
    April 22, 1998

    p. 5

    Recommended Thumb up 28

  • Zef Wagner February 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I agree with Hales’ general approach to putting more priority into paving significant roads, but the sidewalk project should not be cut because East Portland badly needs these kinds of projects to catch up after a lack of investment in the past.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • gl. February 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    thank you, katie! also, i suspect the powellhurst-gilbert neighborhood association won’t be thrilled with this, either.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • gl. February 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    also, curb cuts should not be optional. shame on you, charlie hales.

    Recommended Thumb up 11

    • 9watts February 20, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      If curb cuts are something Charlie can so easily scrap, how about free parking in the public right of way?

      Recommended Thumb up 9

  • GlowBoy February 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Cutting a sidewalk project, in a part of town that has desperately substandard pedestrian facilities, is just shameful. I do support maintaining our streets (cyclists don’t like potholes and broken pavement either), but this isn’t the proper way to fund it. What Charlie Hales said back in 1998 (thanks for that, Ted) is still applicable today.

    Also, as someone who rides (and drives) all over town, I find it quite a stretch to claim that “47% of local street are in poor or very poor condition.” The fraction of streets in poor — or worse — condition isn’t insignificant, but it’s nowhere near half.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Esther February 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Tip: for people who want to email PBOT staff, you can reach anyone at the city by firstname.lastname@portlandoregon.gov
    There is no contact info for the interim Director on the front page of PBOT.

    FWIW, I emailed Mayor Hales and PBOT Interim Director Widmer to express my opposition to reallocating funds from ADA-compliant improvements downtown. I got an auto reply from Director Widmer that he is out of the office until the 8th.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Burk February 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for following this Jonathan!

    One thing I would love to know more about is WHY our roads seem to fall apart so quickly. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has seen a quick pothole patch decay into an even bigger pothole over the course of a year. With the moderate weather in PDX it sure seems the roads should hold up better than they do.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • 9watts February 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    HAHAHAHAHA Now we get to see what (who) counts!
    This is what the ugly side of automobility looks like: devil take the hindmost.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    There is a bad stretch of street up here in NE I drive on regularly; very uneven, cracked pavement, the works, and “it works!”…it makes me slow way down to below 20 mph. Out in Multnomah we called pot holes on our street “God’s own speed bumps;” cheap and random. All this talk of street maintenance is way overdone I am sorry to say; “life mainentance” should be COP’s first priority whether its PBOT or PBB.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • dwainedibbly February 20, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    I’m guessing that 136th was NOT a Hales stronghold in the election. Waiting to see what he cuts from the West Hills….

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • eli bishop February 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm

      i voted for him, sadly. is this a dagger I see before me? and it’s only february!

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • q`Tzal February 20, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Devil’s advocate:
    I won’t argue against the inequity of these cuts, that is like trying to prove my “ouchy” is worse than yours.
    Quite simply: these roads in disrepair will not be allowed by the majority of the general public to degrade to dirt and rubble.
    Knowing that, we can say that the city is committed to repairing them at some point.
    From there we can just get down to the real issue of WHEN the worst of our roads are repaired.
    From my understanding it is less expensive to repair a road than rip up and replace it; at some point of decay the cost of road surface rehabilitation crosses the relatively cheap price point of “fixing” and settles firmly in “rip out and rebuild”.

    Now none of us want more automobiles but the simple fact of the matter is that NO CITY will intentionally allow the confines of said city to revert to the pre-urbanized state. Even Detroit with their epic vacancies (whole neighborhoods emptied) due to massive unemployment post 2008 are turning off streetlights, eliminating EMS services, public transit and everything else they can think of but they are not allowing their roads to go to dust.

    Like it or not: roads are the single most expensive investment all cities make in their infrastructure. Allowing them to collapse in to costly disrepair is the most definitive sign of a failing city and society.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • 9watts February 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm

      “will not be allowed by the majority of the general public to degrade to dirt and rubble.”

      until they do.

      I agree that smooth pavement seems to enjoy very high approval ratings, but many folks are also adamant that the horse rings be put back into the curbs when the maintenance crews replace them. We’re used to this and we can get unused to it again. It is just hard to conceive from where we stand today that the time will come.

      If the CRC is built (don’t count on it) then our interest payments will be many times higher than the funds being re-appropriated to this task for thirty or probably far more years to come. Hm. What is the public saying about that? Where’s the money going to come from then?

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • q`Tzal February 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm

        The Roman Empire agrees with you posthumously.

        I liken this problem to a paraphrased quote from one of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcasts about Democracy and elections: it doesn’t produce the best leaders, it just usually prevents the worst from coming to power. Just because we vote for the lesser of two evils doesn’t mean that the one who won isn’t a freakish waste of carbon.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kevin Wagoner February 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Groan…I didn’t vote for Hales because I was afraid he wouldn’t help make walking and cycling safer. Groan, this stinks.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Hugh Johnson February 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Portland really deserves this. We seem to elect the same type of people over and over again.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Ted Buehler February 21, 2013 at 1:07 am

    “Some of you will remember a budget issue in at PBOT where City Council had to decide if they were going to repave the roads or simply enable people to get around without their cars. The mayor said “No one walks here, let’s slash funding for sidewalks and bust out the asphalt equipment.” The citizens countered that maybe if the roads fell apart that people wouldn’t drive as much. We build sidewalks and bikeways instead, and lo and behold, any hour of the day, any day of the week, you can see people happily biking and walking around their 15 minute neighborhoods.”
    – Some Future Leader
    April 22, 2018

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • jd February 21, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I hope the media keeps an eye on how these contracts are awarded. I can’t remember Hales’ work background and I don’t know anything about the interim PBOT director, but when the audit came back with a diagnosis of “Ooooo, this is gonna cost a lot!” I began to suspect that someone in the process stands to benefit from extra-expensive road paving projects. I believe that many Portland roads need work, but there’s prioritizing and then there’s dumping money all in one direction.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • oliver February 21, 2013 at 9:33 am

      “someone in the process stands to benefit…”

      Yep. Premium pricing = higher margins….funnel that to private contractors, and someone’s getting a new boat.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Elliot February 21, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Let’s not also forget the proposal takes money away from people in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, etc. who need curb ramps to use what sidewalks we already have.

    Will the PBA be content to have nearly $1M cut from the Downtown Marketing Initiative?

    Is Toby Widmer trying to break the record for number of feathers ruffled by a department budget proposal?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • q`Tzal February 21, 2013 at 7:53 am

    How much money will the city lose in ADA lawsuit payouts and litigation costs when curb cuts are eliminated?
    I understand the need to reduce expenses but going up against the ADA requirements is like painting a big bullseye on the city budget; a big bullseye that’s screaming “SUE ME! SUE ME AND WIN BIG!”

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Kevin Wagoner February 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    We can’t afford a million to make it safer to walk but we can somehow afford a few billion for a bridge.

    Recommended Thumb up 1