Council passes $5.1 million for Red Electric, Better Naito projects

Breaking ground oh so soon.

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.

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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 jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Phil M
Phil M
1 year ago

Hardesty once again a “roadblock” to making things better for Portland as a whole. Glad this succeeded.

Phil M
Phil M
1 year ago

There is no explaining to you why you are right or wrong when it’s clear you’ve got some social justice driven compulsion to follow her no matter what. This is a project that should have been done a long time ago and it’s a win for everybody who uses Naito outside of a car. It sure as hell isn’t keeping anybody down. Why don’t we just sit around and cry about racial disparities and just do nothing for Portland from here on out. Let’s see how that works.

Phil M
Phil M
1 year ago

Hardesty works for ALL of Portland. She was elected to work for everybody not just her preferred demographic. She knew that when she ran for city council. I suggest she start doing that or walk away from the job.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

JM, I don’t think Phil or anyone disagrees that jobs for people of color are important. But if Jo Ann wanted to make sure contractors of color got 20% of the subcontracts, why didn’t she make sure her OWN bureau made that happen *before* it came up for a vote? After all, she is IN CHARGE of bureau! It’s not like other cities where a bureau could sneak some proposal before a council w/o the councilors being aware (and even then there are usually vetting procedures to prevent that problem).

It’s like Jo Ann was saying, “I didn’t do my homework here so I’m going to vote against myself.” It’s ridiculous – she needs to do better.

maccoinnich
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Hardesty isn’t in charge of Procurement Services.

bdlandoe
bdlandoe
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

She’s only been in charge of PBOT since January. Procurement for this likely took over a year. It’s also inappropriate for a Commissioner to interfere with contractor selection.

was carless
was carless
1 year ago
Reply to  bdlandoe

Thank you, this is an important point. Government is very complex and it isn’t ruled like a kingdom by one person.

Nadia Maxim
Nadia Maxim
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Agree. This is a classic example of a politician pandering to her base instead of working hard to get things done. Now she can brag to all the “woke” white Portlanders how she is a superior racial justice crusader as compared to the unenlightened, uncaring and ignorant other members of the council. Good grief. The next election can’t come soon enough.

was carless
was carless
1 year ago

I agree. She is obviously for this project, yet wanted to raise an issue with the contracting.

ag167
ag167
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil M

Come on now. She made a principled decision when it had already passed.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
1 year ago
Reply to  ag167

Much like Eudaly’s principled opposition to the Rose Quarter project.

maccoinnich
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil M

Hardesty made it very clear that she supports the Better Naito project. City contracting policies have been a consistent issue of hers, and this isn’t the first project she’s voted against because it didn’t meet the goals the city has set for itself. I don’t know enough about this issue and how to fix it, but I think it’s far for unreasonable for her to elevate the issue.

Sigma
Sigma
1 year ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

This was probably a “lowest responsive bidder” contracting process, and if so the city can’t require a COBID participation rate. Hence the “aspirational” goal – City Council is bound by the process established in state law.

It’s also worth noting that PBOT does not do construction contracts. There is an entire city department, the Bureau of Procurement Services (currently under the Mayor’s portfolio) that manages the bidding and contract execution for construction projects.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Sigma

There are other gov’t entities in Portland who are doing great work in this area and making sure that minority- & women-owned businesses are getting a big share of public contracting dollars. Jo Ann should be working with those agencies to find out how they are doing it and not just complaining and casting meaningless votes. This is my big problem with Jo Ann: she is eager to point out problems, but is she willing to do the hard work of solving them? – and especially for politician, rallying people to solve them.

Eric Leifsdad
Eric Leifsdad
1 year ago

It won’t be nearly as good as a better better naito where all of the car traffic “shares” the three lanes on the west side of the existing median and we spend the money on something more worthwhile plus bonus: close the ramp onto the hawthorne bridge so that same car traffic can’t ruin transit service at SE cesar chavez. Looking kinda like that stick in the spokes meme here.

Suburban
Suburban
1 year ago

The bollards will be just fine there

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

Seems typical City top leadership, setting “aspirational goals” which mean little if they aren’t followed through with or administrative rules to enforce them.
Now we can see those “goals” are only for show and have no real substance. Unfortunately, all too common.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

So you would prefer the alternative where Better Naito either gets cancelled because they can’t hit their quota for sub-contractors, or is done poorly because they end up awarding the contract based on demographics rather than capability?

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

I’m all for the project, that’s not the point.
My preference is for our City government to quit making big pronouncements that on the surface seems to be a step forward (goal of having more POC contractors getting more City business), but in the usual wishy-washy way mean nothing because they won’t put any substance (codify) behind them and are just for show.
Who knows maybe there was a better Contractor that did have to 20%+ POC but this article doesn’t mention that. Of course PBOT probably is very tight lipped about such decisions and wouldn’t volunteer that information.

Sigma
Sigma
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

See my comment above – they probably had to go with the low bid, regardless of POC participation.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Sigma

Also see my comment above: there are ways of ensuring high POC participation within the current rules.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I question if there is a legal way to require that 20% goal – seems that there would not be…

was carless
was carless
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff

Sure there is, just change the law!

rick
rick
1 year ago

Everyone will benefit from not having to use that section of Barbur Boulevard every time when going north in the current condition. That is only if it gets built to be a bike-friendly connection. Remember the loose soil for the Sellwood bridge construction and that it went over budget and made the westside of it now feel more like a crosswalk at a freeway exchange?

Nadia Maxim
Nadia Maxim
1 year ago

Glad it passed despite the opposition of PBOT’s leader. Hardesty is an ideologue with only one arrow in her quiver (racial equity). Elected officials need to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time. I still want potholes filled and my 911 calls to be answered. We need to elect leaders who work together and actually get things done.

cmh89
cmh89
1 year ago

Only in Portland would semi-protected cycle track be called “iconic”.

Robert
Robert
1 year ago

I work in the construction industry and it is very much still a white man’s game. Minority, Women, and emerging small businesses don’t have a chance if we don’t hold the government accountable to inclusion targets. Less than half the goal of 20% is laughable. With the size of the contract, telling the GC to put a new team together to get closer to the goal would not kill the project.

rick
rick
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert

Should it have taken nearly one year to build the new bridge over Tryon Creek on SW Boones Ferry Road? I’m not sure of the contractor, but nearly one entire year with no tricky situations of adjacent buildings, cemeteries, or a rare bus stop?

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  rick

I’ve been watching that project also and wondering why it has such a huge completion window. I think they had to rebuild the stream bed above and below the bridge, to repair the salmon habitat, so it’s actually a stream-building project in addition to bridge replacement.

rick
rick
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Washington County bulldozed an apartment built on top of Fanno Creek by Oleson Road, replaced a ten foot or so bridge, built a new bridge, put in numerous utilities in just over a year and it was with a contractor who was building a bridge in downtown Beaverton nearly at the same time. On many days, no work was being done on Oleson yet it all took about fifteen months back by 2016.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  rick

Most likely the soils underneath require the footings to settle before a span is permanently installed. Boggy soils take longer, solid rock much shorter.

Joe Adamski
Joe Adamski
1 year ago

Count to three.Old City Hall maxim. 3 votes passes, and there were 3 before the Mayor chimed in with #4. Commissioner Hardesty didn’t kill the measure,but she DID throw a penalty flag. Moving forward, other members of Council now understand it will need to take equity issues into consideration or risk losing Hardestys vote. Today,its symbolic, tomorrow it may cause a defeat of something that Commissioner or Mayor wants. I believe Comm Hardesty knows how to play ball,and win.

Nadia Maxim
Nadia Maxim
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Adamski

Until the next election. 🙂

doug B
doug B
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Adamski

well said

mark smith
mark smith
1 year ago

Unfortunately the commissioners had an opportunity to do the right thing and hold this vote up for a month while the contractor came back with a better number. But unfortunately his business as usual in Portland..

Honestly I think most of them were afraid to vote against it because it had to have an actual conversation on race reconciliation.. which is probably the opposite of what the white mayor wants to do

Nadia Maxim
Nadia Maxim
1 year ago
Reply to  mark smith

Nah, this was just political showmanship by Hardesty.

was carless
was carless
1 year ago

Awesome!

And this is a really big deal. The changes to downtown will be transformational.