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Council backs group seeking federal funding for roads


by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The I-5 interchange overhaul completed in 2011 is just one example of federal transportation dollars flowing to Wilsonville. It’s a symbolic gesture, but one that provides a window into the city of Wilsonville’s priorities as an economic hub.

The city council voted April 7 to formally endorse the platform of Transportation for America, a national alliance of elected, business and other civic leaders from communities across the U.S.

The group lobbies for greater state and federal funding for local transportation projects that have the potential of spurring economic development. It also advocates on behalf of policy changes at all levels of government to give local communities more authority over how such projects are designed, built and operated.

Stephan Lashbrook, director of South Metro Area Transit, told the city council that joining forces with T4 America, as the group commonly is known, would place the city in a better position down the road to lobby for greater federal dollars to be delivered into Oregon transportation coffers.

“The two Wilsonville areas that are obvious are the transit funding and the Kinsman Road project, which is about $2.2 million dollars in federal money in the mix,” Lashbrook said. “And you don’t have to look far outside the city, either. Other projects that are at risk, include one in Sandy, a pedestrian improvement project on Highway 26 and the South Ivy Street project in Canby; that’s been a terrible street almost as long as I can remember.”

T4 America was formed in 2008 to support a 2009 federal transportation bill. The ongoing need for such a group, however, became clear at that time and its efforts continued and expanded across the country.

That need, said Wilsonville Community Planning Director Nancy Kraushaar, has only increased in the intervening years as federal gasoline tax revenues continue to fall and transportation needs continue to increase.

“The bottom line is that people are interested in sending a message to Congress that we need to find a way to stabilize these (transportation) trust funds,” Kraushaar said.

Councilors voted 3-0 in favor of a two-pronged approach, with Councilor Richard Goddard abstaining from voting altogether. This approval means the city will not only formally endorse the T4 America platform, it will send a letter expressing that support to Oregon’s representatives in Congress and the U.S. Senate.

“There’s risk if the dollars go away, but how can you quantify that?” asked Goddard skeptically.

The federal general fund could potentially provide a temporary solution, Kraushaar responded, which already is being done. But, as City Manager Bryan Cosgrove pointed out, the federal government has not increased its gasoline tax since 1993. Along with falling tax revenues brought about by increasing fuel efficiency, this has helped bring about the current situation whereby billions of dollars in transportation needs are going unmet across the country.

“We can’t keep up our infrastructure with 1993 rates,” Cosgrove said.

Mayor Tim Knapp also noted that a recent city lobbying delegation visited Oregon’s federal elected officials in Washington D.C. and came away with the impression that virtually everyone is frustrated with the ongoing political gridlock that has pervaded the last several congressional sessions.

“I think they are all in a mode where they heard us say this is critical,” Knapp said. “There is frustration among many in congress at the lack of action. Traditionally the highways have been an area where there has been broad bipartisanship because there is a recognition of why that is good for our economy — right now, that has not been enough for these things to gain bipartisan support.”