Transportation panel speeds up selection of projects intended to boost economy
With local agencies clamoring for transportation funding, regional leaders approved an expedited process for selecting projects eligible for $34 million in federal funds on Thursday. Instead of following a local staff recommendation for projects to be nominated, evaluated and selected through September, members of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation decided to try to pick projects by January.
On the heels of JPACT's Oct. 11 meeting, when the committee voted on what types of transportation projects would be eligible for this pot of money, labeled the Regional Economic Opportunity Fund, this meeting aimed to solidify the project nomination criteria.
A recommendation from Metro and the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee suggested that three county coordinating committees, the City of Portland, TriMet and the Port of Portland each nominate up to two transportation projects totaling $10 million by March, leaving JPACT with as much as $60 million of projects to eventually slim down to $34 million by September. However, an amendment first suggested by TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane at Thursday's meeting called for the agencies to narrow their choices down to a list of strictly $34 million in projects off the bat by January.
Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers pushed for a December deadline, prompting Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick's question: "How does one month make a difference?"
"Business doesn't work on the same time frame as us," Rogers said. "It would be helpful for us to show that we're serious by moving quickly. It's not about us, it's a business process."
Clackamas County Commissioner Ann Lininger echoed Rogers' reasoning.
"I know right now that businesses are being courted to go to other states for help," Lininger said. "We need to signal to our local businesses right away that their needs will be met here."
While the amendment passed with a January deadline, Metro staff stressed the importance of public input. Robin McArthur, director of planning and development at Metro, said that in order for the amendment to work, agencies must be "committed to public engagement between now and January."
But Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland, argued that most agencies have already had their fair share of public comment to push the process along.
"These projects didn't just fall out of the sky, it's been a very thoughtful development process," Wyatt said.
The discussion centered on regional flexible funds, a pool of federal transportation dollars that are controlled by metropolitan planning organizations, such as Metro for the Portland area.
Now that the target for potential projects has been narrowed to $34 million, it's expected that the six local entities would propose fewer, less pricey projects by the deadline. Based on Thursday's discussion, it appears JPACT is likely to receive four project nominations by January totaling $34 million: one from each of the county coordinating committees and one joint application from Portland and TriMet.
Although community groups didn't speak at Thursday's meeting, their emailed comments shared a similar belief: consistency.
Ron Carley, executive director of the Coalition for a Livable Future, wrote that JPACT "adopts these criteria and apply them to all of the $33.8 million being allocated," an idea in line with views from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
"We ask the Policy Report be amended to explicably say that ALL projects must be scored under the criteria," wrote Rob Sadowsky, the BTA's executive director. "We believe that it is the responsibly of JPACT, Metro staff and community partners to ensure that projects are selected through a fair process."