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State eyes $131 million per year in new active transportation and safety funding


State Senator Lee Beyer during his presentation to the Joint Committee yesterday.

After months of speculation, legislators are finally sharing proposals that will eventually make up the statewide transportation funding bill.

Yesterday during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization, State Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) laid out a proposal that would raise an additional $131 million a year for bicycling, walking, transit and street safety projects statewide.

Sen. Beyer, who led the workgroup and is co-chair of the committee, broke up the proposal into four sections: transit, safe routes to school, safety projects, and off-highway paths.

Here’s how it all breaks down.

Transit – $107 million a year

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

To increase the frequency, quality, and reach of the state’s 42 urban, rural and intercity transit systems, legislators want to create a Statewide Transit Improvement Fund. The fund would raise just over $107 million a year via a new employee payroll tax of one-tenth of one percent ($0.001).

The State of Oregon currently spends about $28 million a year on transit — which amounts to just 3.6 percent of the total spent statewide (local and federal sources make up 79 percent of the total). This significant increase would bump up the state’s share of transit funding to just over 15 percent. The new funds would be in addition to existing funds, meaning the state would have $135 million for transit each year. The proposal calls for allocating the money via a formula based on population. No local matching funds would be required to use this money.

There has been concerns aired in committee meetings and from advocates about how the new payroll tax would impact low-wage earners. Yesterday Sen. Beyer said they took that into account when making their proposal. He estimates the new tax would amount to 39-cents per week for someone who works 40-hours a week and makes the minimum wage of $9.75 per hour. “We asked Lane Transit District what it would take to expand service for frequency and reach and they said they’d have to raise fares and additional $2.40. This seems like a better way to do it,” Beyer said.

Drew Hagedorn of the Oregon Transit Association testified yesterday that the new fund would, “Raise the bar” and “could be transformational” for transit statewide.

Read the details of the transit proposal here.

Safe Routes to School – $15 million per year

With $15 million a year, Sen. Beyer said his workgroup estimates they’ll be able to “Complete the safe routes within a quarter-mile of all elementary and middle schools in 10 years.” There are about 1,000 elementary and middle public schools in Oregon. With federal, state, and local funds, cities in Oregon currently spend about $40 million per year on safe routes to school projects. This new funding would bump up the annual investment to $55 million per year.

When Beyer proclaimed the funds would essentially “complete” a safe walking and biking network around schools in 10 years, committee member Representative John Lively (D-Springfield) reminded him that a wider radius is needed. “With all due respect senator, not all of us agree that ‘completing’ a safe routes to school network is a quarter-mile [around the school] since the transportation standars are that kids have to walk one mile in order to get there.” Lively was referring to Oregon state law that says school buses are only provided for students who live at least one-mile away from school. “While I appreciate what you say we can get done in 10 years,” Lively added, “That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve created a true network of safe routes to school.”

“Representative,” Sen Beyer replied. “You’re right. This is what we can do. We can obviously do more if we’re willing to spend more.”

ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer testified to the committee about the safe routes proposal. About the quarter-mile policy, he said, “Let’s at least get those close-in areas because that’s where the higher volume roads are.” “What we’d anticipate,” he continued, “Is that after we finish the quarter-mile in 10 years, we’d get to the next quarter-mile in the next 10 years, and so on.”

And advocates will ask them to do that. We’ve already heard concerns from safe routes advocates that they want to expand the radius of eligible projects to at least one mile around schools. Gerik Kransky, policy director for The Street Trust, said he’s also working with legislators to include specific provisions that the package would fund projects at Title 1 schools — where at least 40 percent of students are low-income and recieve free or reduced lunch.

“We’re going to push on that,” Kransky shared today. “We think the low-income communities are where these improvements are most needed.”

Another sticking point is that the proposal would only fund infrastructure. Safe routes to school experts says infrastructure alone won’t move the needle and that education and outreach are imperative. Kari Schlosshauer, the Pacific Northwest regional policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, says her group is lobbying legislators to make sure the funding package includes money for programs. As we reported earlier this month, safe routes advocates have introduced House Bill 3230 as a way to influence future negotiations. Provisions in that bill would fund programs in addition to infrastructure.

Unlike the transit funding proposal, this safe routes money would require a 40 percent local match for larger cities. Projects would compete in a grant program administered by the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Read details of the safe routes proposal here.

All Roads Transportation Safety program – $10 million per year

New funding for safety projects would go through ODOT’s existing All Roads Transportation Safety (ARTS) program to the tune of an additional $10 million per year. This program takes a data-driven approach to fixing danger spots for all road users — not just people on bike and on foot. It’s currently funded at $35 million per year.

The proposal on the table would use money from the state highway trust fund with the promise to “Address the 450 most dangerous safety issues on the state highway system within 10 years.”

Brouwer said ODOT operates under the assumption that every $1 million invested in safety saves one life — so we can expect a reduction of at least 10 fatalities over last year’s record number of 492 deaths if this proposal goes forward. In addition to biking and walking projects, this money would be spent on two motor-vehicle-specific categories (as defined by ODOT): “roadway departure crashes” and “crashes at intersections”.

— Read details of the safety proposal here.

Off-highway paths – $4 million per year

To “provide safe routes for bicycle and pedestrian commuters off the road network,” the proposal would raise $4 million in new revenue. That would be in addition to the $5 million (or so) the state currently doles out annually for path projects (through ConnectOregon and federal funding). The new funds would require a 50 percent local match and the OTC would need to draft project selection guidelines.

The state will look at two sources to raise this money: a new bicycle excise tax and a State Lottery funding program run by Oregon Parks and Recreation.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that they ought to pay their fair share,” Sen. Beyer said during his testimony yesterday in reference to the bike tax. “This doesn’t quite get there but we have a proposal for bicycle tax that raises about $2 million a year.”

Based on numbers shared by the State of Oregon, the tax would be about 4.5 percent on the purchase of a new bike. That equates to about $22 on a $500 bike.

Kransky with The Street Trust said they don’t support a bike tax, “But we’re going to wait and see the entire package before we commit to anything.”

— Read details of the path proposal here.

Proposal is likely to change

Keep in mind that this proposal is still considered to be “just concepts” at this point. Now the real horse-trading and sausage-making begins.

Also of note: this $131 million proposal is nearly identical to the amount for transit, biking and walking that was recommended in May 2016 by the Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel. It’s also $30 million lower than the $161 million that a coalition of transportation and environmental groups — including The Street Trust — are pushing for.

The number that comes forward for other categories like seismic upgrades, freeway expansion projects, rails/freight, and maintenance and preservation will likely dwarf the amount from the bike/walk/transit/safety workgroup. The challenge for legislators is to propose a large enough package to get the votes they need; but not so large that it seems greedy or impossible. Our hunch is that the total proposal will be around $850 million to $1 billion.

From here the Joint Committee will continue to hear presentations from other workgroups (the “congestion relief” report is due on Monday 3/27). Then they have a meeting to discuss how exactly they’ll raise the revenue.

Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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