August 15, 2012  4:02 PM

Metro Council seeks more urban representatives on ODOT transportation panel

The Metro Council has urged the Oregon Department of Transportation to include more representatives of cities and other urban stakeholders on an interim committee the state plans to form to decide how to spend $65.6 million on projects across the Portland metropolitan region.

ODOT officials proposed a committee mainly comprised of representatives of four counties: Hood River, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington. Each county could appoint four members of the committee, with Hood River County – population 22,000 – having the same number of votes as Multnomah County, with 748,000 residents. The four appointments are to include at least one city and one county representative, and also include stakeholders.

A letter sent from the Metro Council on Aug. 9 calls for adding as many as four more committee members, to be selected by the council and Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, "together with the cities and counties."

"This is, I think, a good interim compromise if we can get these additional votes," Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette said.

The council's letter also calls for more city involvement. Since cities cover 75 percent of the population of ODOT's Portland-area Region 1, the appointments from each county should be "selected jointly" by the cities and each county.

The issue will come to a head on Thursday, when the Oregon Transportation Commission is scheduled to be briefed on the process at a meeting in Baker City.

Learn more about the Oregon Transportation Commission meeting

The transportation department has hurriedly overhauled the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, known as the STIP. The multi-year program of capital improvements identifies money for projects on the federal, state, city and county transportation systems.

The 2015-18 cycle being planned now covers an expected $65.6 million in federal and state investments in Clackamas, Hood River, Multnomah and Washington counties.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has told ODOT to focus on projects that can achieve multiple outcomes and involve multiple funding sources – getting beyond the "funding silos" that often dictate transportation spending. So state officials propose to spend their capital on projects that will either "fix" or "enhance" Oregon's system of roads, bridges, trails and rails.

"What this does is broaden eligibility, in a lot of cases, for what types of projects can be considered," Jason Tell, manager for ODOT's Portland-area Region 1, said last week. "We're asking people to look beyond individual silos into different categories."

But even as it looks to reform its spending and become more open in its decision making, the transportation department has drawn objections that it has hurriedly designed a program with little input. And the committee for the Portland area raises questions about the role of JPACT, which has federal authority over transportation spending in the urban area.

At a JPACT meeting Aug. 9, members objected to the state's new committee idea, and also objected to an initial Metro proposal that would have added four committee members picked solely by the Metro Council.

Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard said the state seems determined to create the committee.

"While we have some concerns about the creation of this committee, my understanding from ODOT is, you're going to create the committee, now you decide how to do it," Bernard said.

And he blasted Metro for proposing to pick four members of its own for the panel.

"If you add four more Metro people, you’ve added four more Portland people," Bernard said. "We have 90,000 people in rural Clackamas County. I'm concerned that they already feel like they're not represented. You add four more people from the metro region, they're going to feel less represented."

At the JPACT meeting, Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder said he would only respond to Bernard's comment by pointing out that only two of seven councilors live in Portland.

Under the initial Metro proposal, the Metro Council would have selected four stakeholders to the committee, not solely elected officials such as councilors. The idea, Collette said, was to have diverse interests at the decision making table, as ODOT officials say they want.

"The addition of four Metro appointments will provide greater capacity to meet the full diversity of interests," said Collette, who is also chair of JPACT.

The council backed off the idea of its own appointments, instead seeking to have up to four seats selected by the council and JPACT, with the cities and counties.

In all, ODOT's proposed committee would be comprised of 21 members: 16 from the four counties and one each from the City of Portland, the Port of Portland, TriMet, ODOT Region 1 and a Metro Council member, suggested to be the JPACT chair.

Learn more about the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation

Learn more about Metro's role as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the region

View the materials presented at recent JPACT meetings

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