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ODOT says US DOT Sec Pete Buttigieg will be Oregon’s ‘new best friend’


Oregon’s new BFF, US DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
(Source: ODOT presentation)

Heads are spinning at the Oregon Department of Transportation over what’s being called a “truly historic” influx of federal cash thanks to passage of President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

On a media call Friday, ODOT Assistant Director of Revenue, Finance and Compliance Travis Brouwer (who we talked to last week) shared a rough outline of how the money will be spent. When the presentation arrived at the pot of $100 billion in discretionary funding that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be in charge of, Brouwer said, “I put a slide up of Secretary Mayor Pete Buttigieg, because he’s going to be our new best friend.”

“He’s got $100 billion that he’s going to be able to dole out for competitive discretionary grant opportunities for all different types of transportation programs across the country, whether it’s road, transit, rail, airports, ports and other modes as well,” Brouwer continued. “So we are all going to be getting our grant writing pens out and spending a lot of time trying to bring additional money back to Oregon.”

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ODOT infographic of where the money will go.

Brouwer said given historic patterns, Oregon could net about $1 billion additional dollars (over five years) in discretionary grants. Key to his optimism is Oregon’s most recent transportation package, House Bill 2017, that primed the pump with $5.3 billion — some of which will be used as matching funds for these grants.

Portland’s share.

Details of Sec. Buttigieg’s program haven’t been released yet, but given his politics and past leanings, it’s likely that bicycling and transit projects will compete very well for the funds. This week Buttigieg has began to announce recipients of his RAISE grant program, and the winners – including $19 million for a bike-friendly rebuild of a street in Eugene – show a priority on multimodal and active transportation projects.

Another place where we can expect to see a boost in bicycling infrastructure spending will be the estimated $164 million in additional funding that will come into Portland from the IIJA over the next five years.

Also at Friday’s presentation, Brouwer said funding decisions will have to be made on a very short timeline. He thinks Oregon will see about $150 million that will have to “get out the door very quickly.”

ODOT typically has about four years of process to award funds to projects through its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), but Brouwer says, “This go-round we have more like four months.”

And because this is federal funding, Oregon must obligate it to projects in the fiscal year or they have to send it back.

To get a sense of this quick timeline, Brouwer and ODOT plan to debrief the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) at their meeting Thursday (11/18). A timeline shown during last Friday’s presentation showed that ODOT expects to have its first public draft of various funding scenarios ready for public input by January and the OTC would make the final decision in March. That’s lightning-quick compared to other funding allocation processes.

So buckle up folks! It’s going to be a wild ride.

For more analysis of the bill, I recommend this article from Transit Center. I agree with their take: We should not despair and assume this bill will fund mostly freeway expansions and other car-centric projects. “It’s up to the public — and reformers inside government — to mobilize for good projects and prevent bad ones,” they write.

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