PBOT eyes “transformative” projects with influx of new funding

Map detail of PBOT’s $79.5 million transportation project investment strategy.

For the first time in decades, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has money to spend. Real money.

The typically cash-strapped agency has seen its fortunes take a major turn thanks to a combination of new funding sources: There’s the Fixing Our Streets program that’s funding a $64 million list of projects through 2020; an increase in Transportation System Development Charges thanks to booming growth; and Mayor Ted Wheeler’s $50 million Build Portland initiative just to name a few.

Then there’s the money coming to PBOT from the state transportation package (a.k.a. House Bill 2017) that was passed over the summer. PBOT is dividing up an estimated $15 million per year in discretionary funds from HB 2017 — that’s on top of set-aside funds coming from Salem for Safe Routes to School and other projects.

All told we’ve heard PBOT could have about $40-60 million a year to spend. By accounts of some veteran staffers we’ve talked to, that’s more than they’ve had in the piggy bank since the late 1990s.

At a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) earlier this month, PBOT planner Zef Wagner and Shoshana Cohen from their finance group shared the agency’s latest thinking on how it should be spent.


Before you get too excited, $40-60 million is a lot relative to what PBOT usually has; but they still claim to have $3.6 billion (with a “b”) in unmet maintenance and “safety and capacity” needs. Even so, the mere fact they’ve got a presentation titled “PBOT Investment Strategy” is a good sign.

PBOT outlined three major goals that will steer their investment decisions: manage existing assets, vision zero, and manage future growth. With an eye toward leveraging other funding sources, PBOT said they’re looking for “triple win” projects that touch on all three of those goals.

They shared a draft list of five “transformative triple win” projects that would total $61 million from a number of different sources. The projects are essentially complete rebuilds of big sections of outer SE Stark, the 42nd Avenue Bridge, NE Cornfoot Road, NE Halsey and NE 60th, and SW Capitol Highway:

And another five projects (some of which have already begun) have made a list labeled as “double win investments in safety and capacity”:

Portland City Council recently agreed to set-aside $5 million to rebuild the 42nd Avenue Bridge (over Lombard). That new bridge could tie into existing plans and work by PBOT on NE Cornfoot and Alderwood — main cycling routes to the Portland airport. With the neighborhood greenway on NE Holman that feeds into 42nd, Wagner said, “We could create a cohesive protected bike lane network to get to the airport.”

PBOT shared the maps below to show how these “transformative” projects align with adopted goals related to equity, safety (high crash network), and proximity to commercial centers and freight districts:

PBOT’s Wagner says this unprecedented confluence of funding sources offers the city a major opportunity. Instead of patchwork projects done on-the-cheap, there might be a chance to make major updates to a few key routes and finally begin to “bend the curve”.

“If we could combine Build Portland, HB 2017 and SDCs, we could really upgrade parts of the roadway… the type of thing we’re rarely able to do,” Wagner said. “We could reassess the character of the roadway.” Wagner also said the Bike Plan for 2030 is already seven years old and “It might be time to refresh that [project] list.”

Aligning different funding sources sounds easy, but red tape and bureaucratic turf wars often make it difficult.

If you’ve been dreaming of a major project in your neighborhood, now’s the time to ask PBOT for it. Make sure you’ve done your homework by read through the investment strategy first.

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

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