For the past four-and-a-half months the Oregon Department of Transportation has asked the public to help them decide how they should spend $2.2 billion. This crucial exercise is the first step in creation of the 2024-2027 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is the master list of projects the agency will fund during that three-year period.
Oregonians were asked to consider and comment on four funding scenarios that prioritize different categories of funding. One scenario was tilted toward highway maintenance and repair (what ODOT refers to as “Fix-It” projects), another scenario toward active transportation and transit projects (the “Non-Highway” scenario), and so on. As we reported last week, advocacy groups, government agencies, individuals and organizations across the state did their research and submitted feedback — much of it centered around a particular funding scenario that did the most to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The big decision on which scenario would be adopted was scheduled for today (December 1st) at the meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC), the unelected, five-member body that oversees ODOT.
That decision didn’t happen because ODOT staff — in direct collaboration with some OTC members including Chair Robert Van Brocklin — cooked up their own scenarios outside the public process. BikePortland learned about these new scenarios only yesterday, and a full analysis on them was not made available to the public until 12:00 noon today — less than one hour before the vote was scheduled on the OTC agenda.
Despite this lack of transparency and having no feedback on these new funding plans, at the outset of today’s meeting ODOT Deputy Director of Revenue and Finance Travis Brouwer actually boasted about the agency’s public input process. “We have gotten a huge amount of public input,” Brouwer said. “Every STIP cycle we ramp up our public input process another notch or two. And this time I think we really did a pretty good darn good job.”
This is a striking statement from someone who not only introduced four brand new complicated funding scenarios at the last second, but who also warned OTC members about risks to the STIP process if today’s vote was put off until their next meeting on January 17th. “One thing I would note is there are costs of [a delay],” Brouwer warned. “We need to start the project scoping process. And if that process is delayed [until your next meeting]… then the amount of time we have to do that is reduced.”
ODOT’s new funding scenarios were initially introduced as two distinct options, but at today’s meeting they introduced two additional variations, expanding the debate to four new scenarios. Then, to further marginalize months of public feedback on the four original scenarios, the OTC opted to dismiss them completely to focus solely on the four new ones.
Thankfully, the OTC leadership of Chair Van Brocklin and Vice Chair Alando Simpson made it clear more time is necessary to consider these new options. They’ve directed ODOT staff to put together more information and analysis the new funding scenarios and the plan is to reconvene for a special meeting to adopt one of them next Thursday.
Stay tuned for a closer look at each of them. I’ll share more details about the upcoming meeting as soon as it becomes available.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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