JPACT picks five projects for transportation money from 'Opportunity fund'
A regional transportation funding committee unanimously supported a $33.8 million plan they say will spur economic development across the Portland region.
The plan calls for the $33.8 million in transportation funds to be used on five projects in the region, including road projects in Clackamas and Hillsboro, a new road in Troutdale, a road widening in Wood Village and pedestrian improvements in East Portland.
Provided the proposals continue to meet certain criteria, they'll receive cash from the so-called Regional Economic Opportunity Fund, a one-time distribution from the Regional Flexible Funds in that starts in 2016. That money was the result of a change of the way the federal government distributes transportation money.
Members of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation voted unanimously Thursday morning to support the allocation; committee member Nina DeConcini, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's representative on the committee, abstained.
Under the approved plan, an even distribution – about $8.3 million – of the money would go toward freeway projects in Clackamas and Washington counties and pedestrian improvements in Portland.
The Sunrise Corridor project is a new connector between Interstate 205 and highways 212 and 224 near Happy Valley, and the request to JPACT called for funding for road improvements associated with that project. Similarly, the Washington County request called for money to help pay for road improvements associated with the reconstruction of the U.S. 26 interchange with Brookwood Parkway.
The pedestrian project, East Portland in Motion, identified dozens of potential pedestrian access improvements in that city east of 82nd Avenue. The plan was presented at JPACT by the Portland City Council and TriMet. (See disclosure below)
A Port of Portland was recommended for $8 million to improve access to the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park by building a new access road around the east side of Troutdale Airport.
Another $1 million was tabbed for widening of Northeast 238th Avenue in Wood Village, a key part of the recently-adopted East Metro Connections Plan.
Lake Oswego City Councilor Donna Jordan said the decision represented true regional thinking.
"The idea that we were all coming together with a focus on economic development, on jobs, on creating a better life for the region by this kind of investment, everyone was supportive of it," Jordan said. "Knowing this is possibly a one-time opportunity, and being able to bring so much leverage into the region… was extremely important."
Jason Tell, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation's Portland region, said the regional fund designation adds to money put forth by local and federal agencies for those projects.
"It's remarkable, fantastic work," Tell said.
Clackamas County Commissioner Ann Lininger was similarly complementary of the process.
"Everyone was willing to exercise some moderation and self restraint so we could all get to a place that was going to be better for every jurisdiction," she said. "There are some skeptics who don't think that ever happens, and I'm here to tell you that today, it's happening in a bipartisan way so we can create jobs across these communities."
But Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, a former JPACT chair at his last meeting on the committee as an elected official at the regional government, warned the committee to avoid the style of cash distribution that decided how the $33.8 million would be spent.
The money was essentially earmarked by JPACT and its members in the last four months, bypassing the usual long vetting for Regional Flexible Funds allocations.
"This kind of rushed itself through," Burkholder said before his vote in favor of the proposal. "How we make these decisions is just as important as the decisions we make."
Note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized JPACT's action on Thursday. While a plan for distributing the money was adopted, no money was awarded by JPACT. The specific requests in Hillsboro and Clackamas were for road projects related to nearby freeway interchange reconstruction projects, but did not directly fund freeway interchange projects. This version has been corrected.
Disclosure: This story's writer is also the chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association, which was consulted in setting funding priorities for East Portland in Motion. The writer has not been involved with the plan since 2011 and has had no involvement in the plan's fundraising efforts.
Transportation panel speeds up selection of projects intended to boost economy (Nov. 8, 2012)
JPACT will focus on jobs for additional $38 million in transportation funds (Oct. 11, 2012)
Transportation panel says focus investments on 'jobs, jobs, jobs' (Sept. 14, 2012)