The thought of our regional public transit agency advocating for urban freeway expansions — including one in Portland’s central city — does not sit well with many transportation reform activists.
After TriMet GM Neil McFarlane told an audience last month that “It would be nice to make some progress on” three freeway “bottlenecks” in order to “keep our region moving,” volunteers with BikeLoudPDX decided it was time to speak out.
The plucky group is planning to attend the upcoming TriMet board meeting. They want to tell the people who appointed McFarlane that some Portlanders don’t think he should promote a billion dollars of regional transportation funds just to make driving easier.
“It is completely inappropriate for the head of TriMet to advocate for scarce transportation funds to be directed to highway widening,” wrote BikeLoudPDX leader Jessica Engelman in an email about the event. That email has led to an official event being promoted by the group. Here’s more from the event description:
TriMet’s General Manager, Neil McFarlane, went on record in February advocating for state transportation funding to prioritize four big projects, three of which are interstate-widening projects (I-5 & I-84 at Rose Quarter, I-217, and I-205) and would cost nearly one billion dollars.
It is completely inappropriate for the head of TriMet to advocate for scarce state transportation funds to be directed to highway widening.
As the General Manager of TriMet is appointed by its board, BikeLoudPDX members and our allies are showing up en-masse to the next TriMet board meeting (which also includes 45 minutes for public testimony) to testify that highway widening is generally bad policy, that we want TriMet to advocate for active transportation funding, and that we want a TriMet General Manager who shares these values.”
Unlike past freeway expansion proposals, the powerful political snowball that has formed behind these three widening projects hasn’t faced any organized opposition. The only pushback so far has come from an unlikely place: the Portland Planning Commission. A proposal from Commissioner Chris Smith to remove the I-5/Rose Quarter expansion project from the Transportation System Plan (which would have put the City of Portland in the awkward position of having to explain to regional leaders why it shouldn’t be a priority — or have to put it back into the TSP and give the public an opportunity to debate the issue at City Council) was narrowly voted down 4-6 earlier this month.
The TriMet board meeting is scheduled for this coming Wednesday (3/22) at 9:00 am. BikeLoud encourages people to sign up and speak during the public testimony portion of the meeting (first 45 minutes).