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Transportation commission will weigh choices at March 30 meeting for $400 million deemed as 'flexible' over 5 years.

The Oregon Transportation Commission has decided that the state's share of flexible funds from the federal government should not go toward new highway "enhancements."

The commission directed the staff of the Oregon Department of Transportation to revise its options, which the commission will decide on March 30. About $400 million in transportation money from the federal infrastructure bill, which President Joe Biden signed on Nov. 15, will be divided among maintenance projects for roads and bridges, safe routes to school, and improvements on state highways that function as main streets in communities.

The commission heard more comments at a meeting March 10, after which members refined what had been four scenarios for spending $214 million of the $412 million in flexible funds.

"We are committed to preserving the existing transportation network and investing in a range of improvements to reduce congestion and harmful emissions, and to support improved safety, electric vehicles, transit, and local improvements," commission Chairman Robert Van Brocklin said. "The proposed scenarios will allow ODOT to invest in Oregon's transportation system in these and other important ways."

The commission will decide March 30 on the exact mix to be divided among the list of maintenance projects, known as Fix-It, plus safe routes to school and improved highways that function as main streets. It will decide money afterward for specific projects within these categories; some projects will start this summer.

The $400 million-plus is part of Oregon's $1.2 billion that will come to the Department of Transportation over the next five years.

This amount counts about $800 million that the federal law earmarks for specific purposes, such as bridge repairs, charging stations for electric vehicles and programs to reduce greenhouse gases.

It excludes about $200 million that larger metropolitan areas will get for transportation directly from the federal government. It also excludes money for broadband, water and sewer line upgrades that will not go through ODOT. Transit agencies, such as TriMet, also will share $200 million they will get directly.

Other uses

Other uses of the rest of the state's $198 million in flexible funds, as proposed by ODOT staff in all scenarios, are:

• $100 million for ODOT to carry out new access projects to comply with a 2017 settlement of a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• $40 million to help offset a projected shortfall in agency operations and maintenance.

• $40 million to enable Oregon to compete with other states for a share of $100 billion that the U.S. Department of Transportation will award for other projects. Possible Oregon contenders are two projects on Interstate 5: Rose Quarter widening and partial capping, and a new bridge over the Columbia River to connect Portland with Vancouver, Wash. (The federal law has a separate fund for projects reconnecting communities, but it is just $1 billion nationally.)

• $15 million to help communities with planning for climate change, including the transportation planning rule that seeks to reduce the need for travel between home, work and other activities. The rule dates back to 1991, but was updated in 2012.

• $3 million to boost business and the workforce required for construction projects.

These numbers also could change as the commission makes its final decisions on March 30.

The amounts available to ODOT for new highway enhancements will drop off sharply after 2024, seven years after the Legislature approved its third major funding plan in two decades under House Bill 2017. The plan increased fuel taxes, which ODOT and local governments spend on maintenance, and raised some vehicle and license fees to repay bonds for construction.

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