The prospects for rapid state funding of a biking-walking bridge across Interstate 405 dimmed somewhat Monday as a regional advisory committee appointed by the Oregon Department of Transportion ranked it as only the eighth off-street transportation priority for the Portland region.
Top marks went to a 19-acre, $2.6 million parking lot that would help the Ford Motor Co. export more cars to China — though only if Ford agrees to increase its exports via the Port of Portland, which it hasn’t.
As we reported last month, a $5.9 million Flanders Crossing bridge could carry 9,100 biking-walking trips a day, making it (for example) 21 times more cost-efficient per user within a few years than the defunct Columbia River Crossing freeway-rail project would have been by 2035. The City of Portland is hoping $2.9 million could come from the State of Oregon; fees from recent real estate developments would cover the rest.
The regional committee to award grants in the state’s lottery-funded Connect Oregon program identified two local biking-walking projects as higher priorities than Flanders: $700,000 to complete the Tigard Street Trail and $400,000 to complete the Waterhouse Trail in Tualatin.
Also beating out Flanders Crossing on the regional ranking were $1.4 million to enlarge the Hood River airfield for firefighting and other tasks; $8.3 million for new tracks that would speed up freight and passenger rail trains through North Portland; $1.8 million for a new transit center at Clackamas Community College; and $390,000 for a new transit center in downtown Mollolla.
You can read the project descriptions and analysis on ODOT’s website.
Flanders beat out various other bike/ped projects including trails in Milwaukie, Wilsonville, Gresham, the Naito Gap in inner Northwest Portland, the Red Electric Trail in Southwest Portland and a “bike station” for the Mount Hood Villages. Of the eight projects ranked lowest by the ODOT-appointed committee, six were biking-walking projects.
‘Backlog’ of city projects lower bridge project’s score
The middling score for the Flanders Bridge doesn’t mean the bridge plan is back on ice after a decade of delays — it could still be funded by the next step in the Connect Oregon process, coming in June.
A statewide committee of biking and walking experts ranked it their third priority statewide, after the Homestead Canal Trail in Redmond and the Tigard Street Trail. It’s now up to a final review committee that meets June 14-15 to reconcile the high ranking from the modal committee with the middling one from the regional committee.
ODOT staff said the City of Portland “has a backlog of incomplete projects for other ODOT and Metro funding.”
It’d be hard for any other project in the state to measure up to the Flanders Crossing for number of direct users. The Mollalla transit center, for example, would be expected to create 4,704 new transit-rider trips per year. A new Flanders Crossing bridge combined with a planned neighborhood greenway would be expected to carry almost twice that many trips on the average day.
ODOT’s staff analysis of the Flanders Crossing project has a lot of good things to say about it: “high quality design,” lots of local matching funds, and the facts that it creates a “critical active transportation connection” and “resolves safety issues on Glisan and Everett” by giving people biking and walking a way to get across 405 that doesn’t essentially cross a freeway onramp.
But ODOT’s staff notes also name some marks against Flanders: first, that it would sit on ODOT land and the state hasn’t yet signed off on related issues; and second, that the city “has a backlog of incomplete projects for other ODOT and Metro funding.”
Another issue is that the city’s application does not claim that a Flanders bridge would create any jobs. That stands in contrast to, for example, the Port of Portland’s application for a parking lot that could be used as a staging ground. Using its internal economic model, the Port estimated that having extra space to store cars bound for Asia would let Ford increase its auto exports, retaining 105 jobs and creating 90 new ones. But in their analysis, ODOT staff mentioned the lack of a commitment from Ford to actually scale up its exports through Portland even if the public helps underwrite the lot.
“The Nov. 16 letter from the terminal operator only states that the company is in active negotiations with Ford to increase exports through the facility,” ODOT staff writes. “Ford has other west coast options.”
Sebastian Degens, director of marine business development for the Port, said in an interview Tuesday that even if Ford doesn’t boost local jobs by signing a new, larger contract in 2017, the new parking lot could be used by other auto manufacturers.
“The auto business is booming,” Degens said.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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