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Governor Brown’s line-item veto could erase $2 million needed for SW Capitol Highway project

The state funding would have helped connect an existing PBOT project on Capitol Highway between Huber and Taylors Ferry Road through a complicated set of intersections known as “West Portland Crossroads.”

With one swipe of her pen, Oregon Governor Kate Brown can take away the final piece of funding for a southwest Portland transportation project that’s been a dream for neighborhood advocates for over 20 years.

Graphic: PBOT

The Governor’s office announced yesterday that Brown intends to veto four line-item appropriations in House Bill 5006. One of those four is the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Southwest Capitol Highway project. (The other three are in the souther Oregon district of House Rep. Sal Esquivel and The Oregonian is reporting they are part of political gamesmanship between he and Brown.)

The project, which would bring updates to a one-mile stretch of Capitol Highway between Multnomah Village and Taylors Ferry Road, has been identified as a top neighborhood priority since 1996. As we reported last fall, PBOT estimates the total cost to be upwards of $12 million. Once completed, the project would add a continuous sidewalk and protected bike lane on the east side of Capitol Highway and a multi-use path on the west side. It would also include updated crossings, better bus stops, and other elements. In their most recent update, PBOT said construction on the project was on track to begin in 2019.

Most of the funding is already in-hand thanks to $3.3 million from the Fix Our Streets program (the single largest allocation citywide) and another $6-7 million from system development charges (most of the cost of the project is for stormwater management upgrades). House Bill 5006 allocated $2,050,587 for the project which would have been used to supplement local funding for a segment of Capitol Highway between Taylors Ferry Road and Huber St (a complicated set of intersections known as the “West Portland Crossroads”). The bill reconciled leftover pieces of the state budget for the 2017-2019 biennium and listed millions in appropriations for a variety of programs and projects. It passed the Oregon House and Senate early last month with overwhelming support.

On July 11th, Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. volunteer advocate Marianne Fitzgerald and Multonomah Neighborhood Association Highway Subcommittee Chair Chris Lyons wrote a letter of thanks to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland City Council. “We are extremely pleased that City of Portland advocated for this project in its State Legislative Agenda and that the 2017 Oregon Legislature appropriated $2,050,587 to supplement local funding in HB 5006… It is a critical safety project for our community.”

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But yesterday they had to follow-up that email with this one:

“You can imagine how extremely disappointed we in the community are that Governor Brown has proposed to line item veto the SW Capitol Highway project.

This is an extremely important project for our community. It will fill a critical gap in the sidewalk and bike infrastructure between two “centers” and improve Stormwater management in an area with documented issues. If the city truly wants to enable people to access key destinations like Multnomah Village without depending on motor vehicles, we must fully fund the SW Capitol Highway project from Multnomah Village to West Portland.

I hope you will convince the Governor to fund this project and not line-item veto it from the HB 5006 package.”

Governor Brown said she plans to veto the project because it wasn’t included in the $5.3 billion transportation project passed this session. “The SW Capitol Highway project is not included in the package that was negotiated in a bipartisan and careful manner,” she wrote in an official statement. “It should receive the same vetting process as other transportation projects and be evaluated on its own merits in future legislative sessions.”

It would appear that a project that has been in neighborhood plans since 1996 and has been the focus of a refinement planning process since 2011 has had plenty of vetting. It’s also worth noting that the most expensive transportation projects passed by the legislature — widening of freeways in the Portland region — have very dubious merits.

Roger Averbeck, a veteran southwest Portland neighborhood advocate is scratching his head. “I do not understand the Governor’s logic on this, since the bill was vetted through the legislature, supported by key legislators, and passed. Someone at a very high level should ask the Governor’s office to explain why this particular project is subject to veto.”

PBOT’s Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway heard about the veto last night, just minutes from stepping into the monthly meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee to give a presentation on PBOT’s legislative successes. When she came to the bulleted item listed as “$2 million for SW Capitol Highway” she had to deliver the news. “The governor has vetoed this,” Bradway shared. “We are still committed to the project and the city will find a solution going forward; but we were disappointed by the news.”

NOTE: I’ve edited this post to reflect the fact that Governor Brown hasn’t vetoed this project yet. Her office has issued an “intent to veto” but sources say it’s not over until it’s over. Stay tuned.

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

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