JPACT will focus on jobs for additional $38 million in transportation funds
Sticking with a September plea for spending money on "jobs, jobs, jobs," the region's transportation purse string holders approved a multi-million dollar funding package Thursday, rebuffing last-ditch efforts to change an staff-recommended funding formula.
The formula, put forward after a September discussion at the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, set aside $37.8 million from 2016-18 for transportation projects that meet specific criteria as part of a so-called Regional Economic Opportunity Fund.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams, left, listens as Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, right, talks about transportation funding at the Oct. 11, 2012 JPACT meeting.
Another $26 million would be spent on active transportation projects for cyclists and pedestrians, with $8.7 million set aside for freight transportation projects. That money was expected all along, but the $37.8 million is a new pot of cash, mostly from the federal government, for regional leaders to spend.
Both the active transportation and freight funding streams will see more money per year than they get now, but cycling advocates grew concerned that the 75 percent share for their projects, agreed to in 2010, was being watered down.
"It is unacceptable to the BTA (Bicycle Transportation Alliance) to consider overturning our current policy commitment to spending 75 percent of the total funds on active transportation and complete streets projects and 25 percent on freight projects," wrote alliance advocacy director Gerik Kransky in an action alert earlier this month.
Under the BTA's proposal, $54 million would have been set aside for bike and pedestrian projects from 2016-18, instead of the $26 million already allotted.
Suburban representatives to JPACT, meanwhile, were facing their own challenges, particularly the pushback against projects perceived to benefit the urban Portland lifestyle and not suburban commuters.
JPACT funding scenarios
JPACT agreed to spend 75 percent of about $11 million a year in discretionary funding for 2014-15 on active transportation projects. The committee met Thursday to discuss how to spend an extra $12.6 million a year in discretionary money from 2016-18.
Clackamas County Commissioner Ann Lininger said her county needed to stay at the regional planning table in order to have a sustainable region that protects farmland, forest land and open spaces and invest in regional transportation systems.
"We recently made the decision to support transit investments because we have a commitment to our regional partners," Lininger said. "You know it has not been easy."
She went on to say the previously-agreed package, called Option 3, will help to increase access to industrial areas, and help create jobs in the suburbs.
"I think we absolutely need to go to Option 3 to keep our regional team in tact, now and in the future," Lininger said.
JPACT was not scheduled to discuss whether to go back to the 75-25 formula or to adopt the $37.8 million opportunity fund. The official point of Thursday's discussion was what criteria to use to decide what projects would qualify for the opportunity fund.
Jason Tell, the director of the Portland region for the Oregon Department of Transportation, pushed for $27 million of the money to be split between three projects – roads near the Interstate 84 interchange in Troutdale and near the U.S. 26 interchange at Brookwood Parkway in Hillsboro, plus money roads near an initial phase of the Sunrise Corridor, a freeway and trail from Interstate 205 to Damascus. The remainder would adopt the 75-25 percent split.
But Tell's proposal got limited support at the table, and drew rebukes from some, including TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane.
"When we start picking one for each county, this begins to feel to me like regional sub-allocation," McFarlane said. "That's a concern. That's not what the federal government established a MPO (metropolitan planning organization) to do. I think it's a slippery slope."
Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder said the funding selection process should remain open around the region.
"Based on what I see here, the three projects would certainly qualify," Burkholder said. "Are they the only projects we should consider for a big hunk of money? I don't know that. Let's go through the process here."
Still, Tell continued to push for the earmark option.
"I don't think this is an opportunity to write you a check," responded Metro Councilor Carlotta, who chairs JPACT.
Where the committee didn't seem too interested in earmarking money for specific projects, JPACT members did respond to calls to add environmental justice factors to the selection criteria for the $37.8 million.
Cynthia Gomez was one of a handful of members of the public to offer opinions on the funding formula.
"Latino community members are looking for Metro to do the right thing," she said. "Our community seeks transportation justice."
Her comments at times mirrored a letter from Jonathan Ostar, director of OPAL, an environmental justice advocacy group.
"Without sound demographic analysis to ensure that investments are not only distributively equitable across race and socioeconomic lines but are also meeting the prioritized needs of our underserved communities, we will continue to miss the boat on environmental justice," Ostar wrote.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams, before voting in favor of the formula, called for as much as possible to be spent on safety projects.
"I'm passionate any remaining money be devoted to safety, especially safety for vulnerable transportation users," Adams said. "The carnage – it's too bloody, all over the region."
The committee adopted environmental justice, equity and safety considerations as factors for selecting projects to be eligible for the $37.8 million. It also said the projects should be ranked on their ability to serve identified transportation corridors and improve safety.
Those join factors recommended by Metro's transportation planners, including criteria used for federal grants, recommendations from the Community Investment Initiative, recommendations from the Greater Portland Export Plan and impact on the Regional Industrial Site Readiness Project.
At the request of ODOT's Tell and Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, the committee called for the selection process to be expedited.
After those criteria were spelled out, the committee voted unanimously (with one abstention) in favor of the new formula.
Note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized JPACT's September discussion on the $38 million. JPACT did not vote to endorse a funding formula at its September meeting; members verbally said they prefer the $38 million to be spent on jobs. Staff then took the verbal communications of JPACT members and translated that into a funding proposal, voted on at the Oct. 11, 2012 JPACT meeting.
An earlier version of this story also said ODOT's request was for freeway interchange improvements. An ODOT spokesman said late Thursday the money would go toward roads near those interchanges.
This version has been corrected.