Just a day before voting on whether or not to give the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) $36 million to continue planning the Interstate Bridge Replacement project, Metro Council has published a document that outlines conditions for their support.
In materials uploaded for Thursday’s meeting, Metro has included a five-page statement titled, “Metro Council’s Values, Outcomes, and Actions for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program” (PDF below). It offers significant detail on four separate values and says plainly that Metro’s support for allowing ODOT to continue the project’s federal NEPA process (which they need the $35 million for) is, “contingent on a clear commitment” to them. “This document reflects the project outcomes that Metro Council expects from the project and the actions Metro Council is requesting from the IBRP team in order to achieve those outcomes,” it reads.
Here are a few notable passages:
- In the “Advancing racial equity” section, Metro says that before the project team selects a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA, a major conclusion in the NEPA process), they must, “conduct and present the findings of in-depth analysis of the benefits and impacts to BIPOC, low income, and other transportation disadvantaged groups for design options and develop performance measures and screening criteria to reveal the anticipated benefits and impacts to these groups.”
- In the “Resiliency and economic prosperity” section, Metro says the project team must, as part of the finance plan, “Engage professionals with expertise in financing massive complex transportation infrastructure construction projects to conduct and deliver the results of an investment-grade traffic and revenue study of the design options.”
- The “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality” section is the meatiest of the four. Metro makes a demand that “high capacity transit” – which they define as either light rail or bus rapid transit with a dedicated lane — is included in the project. Metro has also included a specific GHG reduction requirement, saying that, “The design for the bridge clearly contributes to the State’s goal of reducing GHG emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050.” (It’s unfortunate they say “for the bridge” since this project is five miles of highway lanes and interchanges in addition to a bridge.) This GHG language was likely added at the insistence of Councilor Mary Nolan who came out as a strong skeptic of the project due to climate concerns when it came to council back in October.
- The “Actions” listed in the GHG section include a demand that the project team develops and evaluates “at least” one design option that will, “substantially increases transit ridership and active transportation throughout the project area.” Other ways they require the project to address emissions is to assume future congestion pricing in the corridor that manages transportation demand, aims to “improve traffic flow to 30-35 or better” and minimizes the number of lanes on the bridge. That they mentioned a minimum traffic speed and offered a relatively weak “minimize” when it comes the big question about lanes is worth noting. Did ODOT help write that section perhaps?
Given the publication of this document before the meeting, Metro is planting seeds for their support of the IBR project funding. And it’s highly unlikely they’d issue a statement like this without it already being agreed to by ODOT.
Councilors will lean on this document heavily Thursday as justification for supporting freeway expansions in an era where they’ve become extremely controversial and unpopular with many voters.
Youth activists with Sunrise Movement (one of whom is on the cover of the Willamette Week right now) have substantially increased pressure on Metro councilors ahead of this their vote. Ahead of a planned protest at Metro headquarters in Portland this afternoon, Sunrise released a statement saying, “Sunrise youth are asking Metro to reject the funding until ODOT pledges to study alternatives to expansion for replacing the bridge, as well as asking Metro to include specific language about reduction of carbon and driving trips in their plans for the expansion.”
It appears Metro may have found a way to satisfy these activists and ODOT at the same time.
Thursday’s meeting begins at 10:30 am (Zoom link here) and this topic is listed as Resolution No. 21-5206. You can read the full Values Outcomes and Actions document below: