Metro lays out ‘values, outcomes, and actions’ required for Interstate Bridge project support

(Photos: Metro)

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.”

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  • 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:

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kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago

“assume future congestion pricing in the corridor that manages transportation demand”

The gall of a government body to enthusiastically support a regressive tax increase as a condition of their support.

Granpa
Granpa
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Congestion pricing is the love child of a user fee with the basic law of supply and demand. As demand goes up so to does the value and subsequently the price of the service. The clutching of pearls at the notion of a sliding scale user fee denies an understanding of basic economics

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

You don’t need to control demand if you provide enough supply.

Boyd
Boyd
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Infinite increases in SOV capacity is not a positive or sustainable goal

John C
John C
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Deck over the Columbia I guess.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  John C

Portland’s freeways have 4 lanes where they should have 6 and 6 lanes where they should have 8.

one
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

It is regressive to overfund the auto industry which benefits those with access to opportunity, while we underfund transit and biking and walking infrastructure for those who can not afford a car.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  one

How about instead of trying to take away cars from the 90% who own them we give cars to the 10% who don’t?

Nick
Nick
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Not everyone wants a car

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Not everyone wants a cell phone, should we subsidize a network of payphones for them?

Boyd
Boyd
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Do federal and state governments build the cell phone network?

Boyd
Boyd
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Who’s taking away cars from anyone? There are huge car bridges that cross the Columbia that aren’t going anywhere. The question is, should there be any viable alternatives to cars, or should we keep putting all the transportation eggs in the same basket?

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  Boyd

Making driving and owning a car so miserable that people take the train or walk is taking away peoples’ cars

Boyd
Boyd
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

That is literally not true

Jonathan K
Jonathan K
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

How does congestion pricing “make driving miserable”? The whole point is that it improves traffic flow by shifting non-time-sensitive trips away from peak hours. If you drive during peak hours, you get a faster trip.

Economically, there’s a good argument to be made for reducing friction in the flow of goods and services. That’s why governments build and subsidize infrastructure. Infrastructure subsidies are typically a net positive since the increase in economic activity pays for itself. But the net gain from a subsidy decreases as the subsidy gets higher and higher since the incremental benefit decreases. At some point it becomes a wash, and if you subsidize something to the point that it’s actually free at the point of use, the net benefit is going to go negative. This occurs because a) at this level the incremental add of goods and services being facilitated is low-value, and b) the low-value goods and services being facilitated add friction to the flow of high-value goods and services, decreasing total economic output. Highway congestion is a textbook example of this principle.

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Enjoy your tolls.

soren (sorin)
soren (sorin)
5 months ago

First of all, replacing the bridge is hardly a priority. Why is it that so-called climate champions want to replace a major highway segment in the midst of ongoing ecocide (with all the direct and indirect GHG emissions this entails)? Over a decade period, the risk of a major earthquake is infinitesimally small and we have far more urgent crises to address. (White upper-income people love to worry about earthquakes.)

Secondly, it’s not “congestion pricing” at all; rather, it’s a regressive 1970s era highway toll. And to add insult to injury, Portland rejected implementation of genuine “congestion pricing” as part of the POEM process (and instead prioritized regressive parking fees).

All extant examples of congestion pricing are restricted to a small urban area (typically a central urban area, or roads that lead to a central urban area) and the misuse of this word for tolling of an interstate highway is greenwashing propaganda.

Wikipedia has a good discussion of existing congestion pricing projects here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing#Cordon_area_and_area_wide

Practical implementations of road congestion pricing are found almost exclusively in urban areas, because traffic congestion is common in and around city centers. Congestion pricing can be fixed (the same at all times of day and days of the week), variable (set in advance to be higher at typically high-traffic times), or dynamic (varying according to actual conditions).

Thirdly, the regressive highway toll being proposed will be used to subsidize the SUV-driving of upper-income people by being constitutionally restricted to funding of roadways (highways):

https://www.oregon.gov/odot/tolling/Pages/About.aspx

When “progressive” transportation activists claim that these funds will be spent on transit or other non-highway-associated spending they are lying.

PS: It’s also my opinion, based on many years of organizing, that Portland’s progressive transportation “scene” is often unintentionally or intentionally anti-poor.

Peter
Peter
5 months ago
Reply to  soren (sorin)

Very insightful & useful context, thanks Soren.

> All extant examples of congestion pricing are restricted to a small urban areas…

I’m curious what you think about this, from further down the same source you cite –

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing#Urban

> In July 2010 congestion tolls were implemented at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge congestion pricing scheme charges a US$6 toll from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. During weekends cars pay US$5. The toll remained at the previous toll of US$4 at all other times on weekdays.[156] According to the Bay Area Toll Authority fewer users are driving during the peak hours and more vehicles are crossing the Bay Bridge before and after the 5–10 a.m. period in which the congestion toll goes into effect. …

A bridge between SF and Oakland seems like a close comparison for the Portland / Vancouver situation, no? And while those tolls aren’t dynamic (changing with traffic conditions), they achieve the [traffic engineers’] desired effect of shifting the time that trips are taken. (Of course, the BART fee structure seems regressive compared to the CA freeways: two-way on the train is more expensive than the drivers’ toll.)

Would you classify the Bay Bridge tolling structure as “congestion pricing” (since it charges more during the “peak hours”)? (I’m guessing not, since it charges less during “off peak” time even if congestion happens to be high.)

soren (sorin)
soren (sorin)
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter

I’d characterize the bay bridge toll as conventional tolling just like the proposals in the Portland area. I should have used “almost all” instead of “all”, but I think the comprehensive list in the wikipedia piece still speaks for itself.

FWIW, I’m not opposed to conventional tolling in the Portland area but only if it were specifically linked to a campaign to remove constitutional restrictions on revenue spending.

Steve C
Steve C
5 months ago
Reply to  soren (sorin)

Why isn’t variable rate tolling a form of congestion pricing?

soren (sorin)
soren (sorin)
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve C

The proposed ODOT interstate tolling projects replicate previously existing freeway tolls all over the USA. Here is one example from the city just north of us:
comment image

The desire to label a boring and conventional freeway toll as “congestion pricing” is greenwashing. Cities have relied on congestion pricing to reduce VMT in urban centers not to regulate the smooth flow of traffic (e.g. 1970s era conventional tolling).

I will also add that many of the activists who support conventional freeway tolling have been very quiet indeed about Portland’s recent tabling of bonafide congestion pricing in its urban center. This underlines the hypocritical semantics of using “congestion pricing” to describe a generic freeway toll.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  soren (sorin)

This looks more like a congestion price with a fixed fee schedule based on historical patterns rather than a conventional toll. A fixed schedule may be better as it allows folks to better plan. The fees can be adjusted quarterly, or annually, and are much much simpler to administer.

I’m not sure I see the problem with this approach or why it’s hypocritical, even if, as you assert, it is misnamed.

David Hampsten
5 months ago

This planning document is so watered down that it’s been seltzered.

Peter Welte (Contributor)

Wow, a few compelling things in this Metro doc –

– minimizing the footprint of I-5 (esp. over Hayden Island)
– Reduced GHG emissions during construction by using low-carbon equipment, construction materials and other innovative construction methods.
– “variable rate tolling … prior to completing the project”
– yada yada yada

But – it appears none of that matters.

Going on a limb here, but upon close inspection it seems the purpose of this document is to placate casual readers rather than demand real action. It tries to look like it calls for a lot, when actually it calls for much less.

The first paragraph appears to admit that what follows isn’t introducing anything new (just re-introducing outcomes from elsewhere):

> Metro Council’s support… is contingent on a clear commitment to the outcomes listed below from the Bi-state Legislative Committee, the Executive Steering Group, Community Advisory Group, Equity Workgroup, and technical committees. [emph mine]

This seems odd, given the title claims the document will speak about “Metro Council’s Values, Outcomes, and Actions”.

The second paragraph to the five page doc is also key:

> Specifically, Metro Council expects the IBRP Project Team to assure that bolded Actions below are addressed…

In other words: “This document is a beautiful organic fruit basket, but ODOT just needs to look at the pre-chewed potatoes in the bottom”.

Looking at the climate section specifically, a desired outcome is that “the bridge clearly contributes to the State’s goal of reducing GHG emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050”, but there is only one action Metro Council is specifically asking for:

> Develop and evaluate at least one option that… substantially increases transit ridership and active transportation throughout the project area.

Thus, ODOT could “evaluate” an option that quintuples transit use but claim it doesn’t meet one of the pre-existing “Purpose and Needs” from 16 years ago (2006).

According to this doc, that is quite literally the only climate “action” they’d need to take to walk away with $35 million from Metro.

I’ll Show Up
I’ll Show Up
5 months ago

They should consider this alternative!

https://vimeo.com/22915646

Chris
Chris
5 months ago
Reply to  I’ll Show Up

The Coast Guard and/or the Corp of Engineers does not want additional bridge piers between the existing bridges. It affects the river currents and makes navigation more difficult.

X
X
3 months ago

In a recent OPB article about pending Washington State transportation legislation, the writer asserted without clarification that the Columbia River bridge is a bottleneck for motor vehicle traffic.

I disagree with this. I’ve driven on I-5 N to Vancouver many times in all traffic conditions and the 3 lane bridge is actually the place where traffic speeds up, gaps appear, and even big trucks can move to the lane they need to head North or exit to Vancouver.

Yes the bridge is old, and I hope not to be on it when an earthquake occurs. Neither of those facts justfies a false narrative about why traffic jams occur.