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

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:

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.”

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.

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