Interstate Bridge and freeway project heads toward funding approval after key Metro vote

Posted by on November 19th, 2021 at 9:15 am

(Source: Interstate Bridge Replacement project)

The Interstate Bridge Replacement project (a.k.a. CRC 2.0) received another unanimous vote on Thursday from Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) to receive an additional $36 million dollars to be used in the planning and engineering phase. These funds are Oregon’s share of an additional $71 million the project is asking DOTs of both states to fund (the Washington Department of Transportation has already agreed to $35 million) and they need to amend the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) in order to do it.

“We have to do things differently.”
— Mary Nolan, Metro councilor

The vote and relatively collegial banter between JPACT members and IBR project staff, signals that December 2nd’s final vote in front of the Metro Council could be a foregone conclusion. The JPACT includes three members of the Metro Council: Shirley Craddick, Christine Lewis, and Juan Carlos González. With Bob Stacey’s District 6 seat vacant, only one additional vote would be needed for the amendment to pass.

The least likely member to cast that additional vote is surely Mary Nolan, who has staked out a strong stance against the project in recent months. Nolan testified before colleagues ahead of Thursday’s vote, reiterating earlier statements that their standard for reductions in greenhouse gases in the project is the same as the state’s overall climate target: 45% below 1990 levels.

Calling out “oblivious highway engineers” of past decades, Nolan urged electeds to ask more of the project team than they’ve provided so far. “We have to do things differently,” they said. Explicitly calling for racial equity in the project outcomes, Nolan said that communities of color should “realize at least as much of the benefit [from the project] as white folks.” At one point Nolan referred to the project as the I-5 freeway, not the “Interstate Bridge” as project staff prefer, and ODOT Tolling Program Manager Lucinda Broussard tried to correct them.

Watch the exchange below to see how Nolan stood their ground to clarify that this is not just a bridge replacement project, but a five-mile long freeway project:


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Despite Nolan’s pointed testimony, the comments weren’t enough to persuade any other JPACT members to cast even a symbolic vote against the amendment.

“I’m going to trust but I’m also going to verify.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, PBOT Commissioner and JPACT member

At the JPACT meeting, IBR project administrator Greg Johnson framed the need for more funding as essential to answering the questions that are being raised by elected officials. “We are not at a critical decision point in the program,” he told the elected leaders, noting that failure to approve additional funding for design would “crash our schedule”. Later in the day, as he briefed the project’s Executive Steering Group he called the vote at Metro a “ringing endorsement”.

Councilor Juan Carlos González — who in August said, “From here on out [I] will no longer support any fossil fuel highway infrastructure projects,” — framed his vote as an act of trust and said he will reserve the right to change his yes vote before the full Council vote if project staff don’t answer his list of outstanding questions. Metro Council President Lynn Peterson and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pressed the IBR team on the issue of looking at a design option that leaned heavily on transit and demand management through congestion pricing. Comments made at the meeting made it clear that Johnson and other IBR staff have met privately with Hardesty and Peterson (and others) and have been able to assure them these options will be analyzed.

Johnson has also put it in writing. In response to a letter from Hardesty and Peterson in October, he wrote in a letter dated November 12th that, “We understand the important role modeling plays in helping our partners reach important decisions and we commit to working with you to strike the right balance to achieve this mutual goal.” He then listed promises to do modeling that includes “fully optimized transit capacity and congestion pricing” as well as quantitative
analysis on equity and climate metrics.

Even with that commitment in hand, Hardesty, head of Portland’s transportation bureau, also spoke about how her vote was something of a leap of faith in IBR project leaders. “I’m going to trust but I’m also going to verify,” she said, prior to voting yes.

But after JPACT’s unanimous vote Thursday, Oregon State Representative Khanh Pham of the 46th District sent a letter to Metro Council (PDF), asking them to withhold approval. “As an Oregon State Legislator and transportation justice advocate, I write to urge Metro Council to reconsider your investment in the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) relating to the Interstate Bridge Replacement project,” she wrote. “Metro can table the proposed amendment and withhold $36 million from the Interstate Bridge Replacement project until ODOT pledges to study the full range of options to ensure that we are considering the most green, equitable, and affordable actions. I believe this is the right course of action.” Rep. Pham doesn’t serve on the bi-state committee of legislators who will ultimately vote to approve the project; so far, few lawmakers on that body have been openly skeptical of the process.

With the federal infrastructure package a hot topic of conversation at all recent IBR meetings, we now know the project is eying at least three grant programs included in the recently signed legislation. Commissioner Hardesty brought up a tension between a race to be competitive for federal dollars and the timelines to thoroughly assess the design options. Greg Johnson was quick to clarify that he thinks the federal agencies that approve grants are on the same page with the IBR in terms of project goals. “The USDOT has already identified that equity and climate are at the heart of what they’re going to address”, he said. But earlier this year, based on USDOT feedback that updating the Columbia River Crossing project’s purpose and need to include equity and climate change would impact the project’s timeline, those issues were kept out.

There are signs, however, that the project’s ambitious timeline may be slipping a little as the IBR team seeks to answer the outstanding questions that electeds are pressing on. But once Metro officially approves this funding to get the project to final design, it’s not clear if or when there will be another inflection point with this much leverage for quite some time.

In related news, there’s a project listening session later today (11/19) for people with disabilities. And don’t forget to add your feedback to the IBR fall input survey.

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BoydJaredOMike QuigleyLisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)soren Recent comment authors
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George
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George

What’s the general consensus on how WSDOT is feeling? Are they open to these ideas this time around or will this get flushed down the toilet again like last time?

Todd/Boulanger
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Todd/Boulanger

I am not sure it was ‘all WSDoT’ last time…ODoT + Clark County + ‘crazy Trump like’ take over of Olympia legislative session plus the Portland v Vancouver dialogue chasm

soren
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soren

IMO, the near universal lack of urgency in Portland is due to the fact that this area of the world is among those that will suffer the least from ongoing ecocide.

comment image

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Just curious, what do the hatched lines indicate?

soren
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soren

Areas that aren’t significant deviations.

Xavier R.
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Xavier R.

Maybe I won’t move out out of Portland after all. 🙂 LOL.

X
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X

This will keep happening. The Oregon Department of Mostly Highways will keeping grinding away engineering more lanes and ramps, and now we have a regional government body committing $36 million. Sorry, a list of questions, voiced reservations and such doesn’t cut any ice.

The only way to stop this stuff is to build a constituency that will vote against any politician who goes along, from the governor who enables the Oregon Transportation Commission on down. Single-issue politics kind of suck but I don’t see another way. Maybe we should say single-planet politics?

‘Now we’ve sunk $36 million so we’re in it for 2 big ones’–except when did ODOT learn to bring a project in on budget? Two billion dollars going in means what, three billion? Nobody can answer that.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

You could also make the OTC a directly-elected body via the Oregon referendum process. Mississippi has such an elected commission, by region.

X
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X

After kvetching about Kate Brown’s climate policy fecklessness for some months I had an epiphany, followed by a revelation.
1. Because of term limits the results of the election effect Kate Brown no more than they do another Oregon resident. Me for instance. So, the governor is free to act as their conscience dictates? Earth to Mahonia Hall…
2. Most likely KB is simply following the wishes of Oregon voters, many of whom love their cars in the cold-dead-hand kind of way. An elected OTC? Probably wouldn’t change a thing.

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

Fear not! All this will come to a grinding halt next year when republicans take over Congress, and in 2024 the presidency.

soren
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soren

I believe the plan is to install Trumpolini as house speaker in 2023.

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

House speaker? He can’t even speak a coherent sentence!

kernals12
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kernals12

When even Portland is jumping off the anti-car bandwagon…

Anymoose
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Anymoose

Portland has never been meaningfully “anit-car” (or, more constructively, pro-bike), similar to how it has never been meaningfully progressive. Compared to some parts of the country, it might be, but the bar is extremely low.

Watts
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Watts

How did we get from “From here on out [I] will no longer support any fossil fuel highway infrastructure projects” to “Yes!”?

Disappointing.

JaredO
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JaredO

WTF.

Feels like everyone who has any political aspirations is being met with and told they will lose their reelection or future elections if they fight this.

Hardesty? Gonzales?
These folks get it, but they’re up for reelection.

Peterson’s less surprising, as a former highway engineer, but just imagine what we could do for biking in the region with $36,000,000 – or, even better, with $5,000,000,000.

Lighting the world on fire. Future generations, and other species, I am so sorry.

X
Guest
X

You could build about three bike & ped bridges to fill freeway gaps, or repave the worst 36 miles of so-called greenways. That might not sound like much but what if the worst bits of your commute suddenly got smooth? (We can hope that investment would be paired with shunting away the cars.)

I’m an unabashed bike partisan but given what is only the PLANNING contribution to bridge replacement I’d actually try to figure out what bus route bottlenecks could be fixed on that budget. My dream is, of course, what kind of bike network could be built with the billion dollars we’re about to flush into the Rose Quarter boondoggle?

soren
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soren

These folks get it, but they’re up for reelection.

Perhaps they don’t actually get it (e.g. the ongoing and future ecocidal suffering of millions).

X
Guest
X

“Without a vision, the people perish.”

Not many of us actually have the vision to make radical change. The feeling of helplessness that allows people to read the headlines, sigh, and then go punch the clock (or log into a meeting) extends right on up through local government.

People have been known to gut their flooded house, again, and order up more drywall.

I support the kids but singing songs outside ODOT’s darkened windows isn’t going to do it.

soren
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soren

In the USA politics is no longer personal and the crises we collectively caused are always someone else’s fault.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

Hi X, I have to join in here. I’ve been reading La Peste (The Plague) by Camus as a pandemic self-improvement project. I don’t speak French, so it is slow going. The book is always described as an allegory of Fascism, actually though, it’s an accurate description of the various ways people respond in an epidemic. But really, it’s more profound than even that. A sobering description of attitudes toward global warming, or really anything people just can’t seem to wrap their heads around. The narrator describes how his fellow citizens mistakenly believed their very bad situation was only temporary . . . So yeah, lack of vision “to make radical change.”

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I hadn’t read my copy of The Plague (my version was translated by Stuart Gilbert, 1972; the original was published in 1947) in years, but I quickly found it is well-written well-researched historical fiction (there was an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Oran in 1944, but only 95 people died, nothing like what was presented in the novel.)

But the question remains: How do we wrap our heads around things like global warming, nuclear armageddon, pandemics, ebola, plague, recessions, and the global shortages of bike parts without going crazy, or equally, not being totally ambivalent about it all?

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

You left off Russia shooting down satellites and knocking out our communications network.

Around 2013, 14, I had an epiphany that things weren’t getting better, and that there was no reason to believe they couldn’t keep getting worse. So how do you live? That’s the existential question Camus answered in The Myth of Sisyphus, you keep pushing the damn rock. And allow yourself to be happy even though a lot of things are messed up. Notice when something gets better, see improvement when it happens … God I should start working for Hallmark. LOL.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

A note on how MPOs like JPACT work: Anything up for a vote will get passed; anything that might not get passed simply will not be put up for a vote. I mean, when was the last time that JPACT ever voted against anything? Has it ever done so?

X
Guest
X

I do appreciate your dissection of local governing bodies. The other reason this stuff keeps happening is, the agenda is stacked like the greasy deck in a steamboat saloon. Or maybe it’s a game of 3 card Monte.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

For the staff working at an MPO (all of whom are very nice people BTW), they have a self-interest in getting everything passed and getting as much funding maximized and passed as possible – MPOs typically take a tiny cut of the funds being expended for transportation – for “planning” etc. Similarly they have an interest in getting certain types of previously-elected officials from the member jurisdictions to “govern” the MPO and approve whatever is put in front of them – stacking the greasy deck as you so accurately call it.

Xavier R.
Guest
Xavier R.

There needs to be compromise on both sides. It’s clear we need a new bridge. The logjam approach of the recent past got us nowhere. There is a LOT of federal cash floating around now. It’s time to move while the bank account is still full.

JaredO
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JaredO

“It’s clear we need a new bridge” is exactly the simplistic way this is set up.

Try this on: “It’s clear we need a complete network of safe, comfortable places for people of all ages and abilities to bike and walk, as people who drive already have a complete network to get around.”

The right question isn’t “wouldn’t a shiny new bridge be nice?”

but

“What’s the best use of limited resources? Or, if you had $5 BILLION dollars to spend in the region on transportation, how should we best spend it”

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

Disagree.

ODOT and WSDOT pro-SOV engineers aren’t compromising. They’ve already concluded that SOV throughput capacity is going to go up no matter how many questions and reservations are raised by well meaning elected leaders. Nobody seems to have the will to tame this dragon, so we’re better off slaying it.