On Wednesday, Portland City Council voted to allow construction to begin on Better Naito Forever and the Red Electric Trail Bridge — a total of $5.1 million in projects that include physically protected cycling space. But it didn’t happen before one last bit of drama.
“I can’t support this contract when I see the very limited number of people of color who will benefit.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, city commissioner
The Better Naito project hit an unexpected bump when transportation commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty made the extremely rare move of voting against the contractor bid authorization. This was surprising not only because these procedural votes are usually unanimous; but because Hardesty is the commissioner-in-charge of PBOT, so she voted against a project from her own bureau.
Hardesty was concerned that the contractor chosen to do the $2.9 million job, Westech Construction Inc, had committed to award only 8.67% of the subcontracts to firms that qualify under the state’s Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity (COBID). The City of Portland has an “aspirational goal” of 20% COBID firms. “I’m very excited we are going to do this project, this is a visionary project,” Hardesty said before voting, “But I can’t support this contract when I see the very limited number of people of color who will benefit.” Hardesty was also concerned that Westech plans to sub-contract out over 60% of the work.
All three other commissioners voted “yes” on the contract (Commissioner Dan Ryan was reluctant, given Hardesty’s concerns). Hardesty’s vote gave Mayor Ted Wheeler pause. “That puts me in a bit of a conundrum,” he said, “I usually defer to the commissioner-in-charge, but the commissioner has voted against it.” After taking a moment, he continued. “I’ll go with the majority because it’s an important project and has been in process for a long time.” Hardesty appeared to agree with Wheeler and nodded profusely throughout his remarks.
This bit of process now behind us, Better Naito Forever, which won unanimous City Council support back in October 2020 and will build an “iconic” (according to Mayor Wheeler), two-way protected bike lane on the east side of Naito Parkway and new sidewalk in Waterfront Park between the Hawthorne Bridge and NW Davis, will break ground this later this year.
Council has also authorized $2.3 million for construction of the Red Electric Trail Bridge project. As we shared last month, this project will create a new separated bike path between Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and SW Capitol Highway. It allows riders and walkers to avoid a dangerous intersection and completes a key piece of the larger Red Electric Trail vision. Construction is planned to begin this spring.
Also on the council agenda was authorization of $1.9 million to build the Connected Cully project which will bring new sidewalks to NE Killingsworth and Prescott streets between NE 42nd and NE Cully. The project was on the agenda but didn’t receive a vote. It might have gotten pulled at the last minute. We’ll keep you posted on any updates.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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