At the Portland City Council meeting yesterday where 82nd Avenue was officially transferred from state to city hands, the regional director of the Oregon Department of Transportation Rian Windsheimer said, “We simply haven’t had the funding to truly transform the roadway from that important highway function… into the city boulevard the community’s been asking for.”
The truth is ODOT has plenty of money, they have just chosen to spend it on other things.
After years of pushing from the community, ODOT finally coughed up $70 million to help make the 82nd Avenue transfer happen. For constrast, at today’s meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission, state transportation department staff asked for an increase of $120 million to pay for their I-205 project that will widen seven miles of the freeway and replace the Abernethy Bridge. (The OTC had already allocated $375 million to this project in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).)
The reason for the increase is that bids from construction firms came back higher than expected. In meeting documents, ODOT says, “The primary reason for the higher than anticipated bids are the escalation of the steel and high performance concrete unit prices… Steel cost came in significantly higher than anticipated due to fear of continued escalation and inflation due to the geopolitical risks and expected USA inflation rates.”
The project will cost an estimated $495 million.
How will we pay this extra $120 million? House Bill 3055.
If that rings a bell it’s because many people raised the alarm about that bill when it was being discussed in the 2021 legislative session. In June 2021 we shared a guest opinion from Clackamas County resident and transportation activist Cassie Wilson. Wilson, who was recently hired by The Street Trust, called the bill a “freeway widening slush fund” that, “will rob us of desperately needed revenue for road maintenance and safety improvements while literally stoking the flames of the impending climate crisis.”
Youth climate activists with Sunrise PDX were so alarmed by the potential of HB 3055 that they added it to their list of demands for ODOT and rallied in Salem in an attempt to influence Governor Kate Brown. The bill was also strongly opposed by No More Freeways.
Despite all this, the bill pass and was signed by the Governor on July 27th.
The bill allows ODOT to increase its short-term borrowing cap from $100 to $600 million and allows ODOT to take out short-term debt that will be repaid by toll revenue or the proceeds of bonds. In short, the concerns voiced over HB 3055 have come to life just nine months after it passed.
We don’t dispute that more money is needed to pay for this project. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that these projects — that take Oregon in the opposite direction we need to go for all of our environmental, transportation, and livability goals — are very expensive and $120 million more is being spent on this project without anyone really batting an eye.
You very likely haven’t heard anything about this price increase until reading this post. At this morning’s OTC meeting no one spoke in opposition to the cost increase and it passed unanimously.