OPINION M26-218: Time to invest in transportation infrastructure
If you made a list of things we could do right now to improve the economy and quality of life in Greater Portland, it would likely include creating new jobs, investing in safer streets and sidewalks, addressing racial equity and climate change, and doing something about our region's traffic.
Thankfully, we can take immediate action on these priorities. Measure 26-218 — the regional transportation measure on your Nov. 3 ballot — tackles these critical issues through a smart set of targeted investments throughout Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas counties.
The measure will fix aging roads and bridges that have become seismic and safety risks and address unacceptable congestion, already back to pre-pandemic levels, before it gets worse through growth and recovery.
This package expands light rail and electrifies our buses while ensuring that pedestrians and cyclists have more safe options to get around. It's a job creator, producing an estimated 37,500 good-paying jobs. It also makes overdue investments in safety, transit access and pollution mitigation for communities of color throughout the region.
These critical investments will be funded entirely by a modest tax on large, profitable businesses, not the small businesses and families hardest hit by the economic downturn, and it could not come at a better time.
That's why this proposal is endorsed by engineers and planners, businesses large and small, unions representing construction trades and frontline workers, environmental and climate leaders, and advocates for communities of color, equity and disability rights.
Unfortunately, some politicians and profitable corporations in our region seem to have forgotten that only a decade ago, in 2009, the United States was facing a financial crash and recession not dissimilar to what we face today.
At that time — just like today — economists across the country recommended the types of public infrastructure spending found in this measure. By acting now we have the opportunity to save money and to get additional financial backing from the federal government, thanks to low-interest rates and federal matching funds that will go to benefit other regions if we delay or do nothing.
We know the positive impacts public investments have in our region. By building out our transit system and addressing congestion now, by creating jobs and opportunities for displaced workers, local contractors and apprenticeship programs before we are "fully recovered," we can reduce future spending on poverty-related costs, including social services and health care.
Plus, with traffic almost back to pre-pandemic levels and only slated to get worse as our region adds more than 250,000 estimated new residents in the upcoming decades, we must take action now before we are suffering even worse gridlock.
We know from history and common sense that waiting until conditions improve to take action on our economy only prolongs the pain and hurts people and communities unnecessarily. Economic prosperity has never been achieved by failing to act.
We have the opportunity to create jobs, take on urgent issues in our region, and address long-term growth and overdue safety and maintenance right now with Measure 26-218.
Opponents will always say that this isn't the time for action. But take a look around at our clogged roadways, crumbling bridges, worsening congestion and rising level of traffic and pedestrian fatalities — and the impacts of climate change — and we think you will agree with us that now is exactly the time for action.
Let's jumpstart our region's recovery and safety. Vote yes on 26-218.
Vivian Satterfield is the strategic partnership director at Verde, a Portland nonprofit promoting environmental investments in low-income neighborhoods. Willy Myers is executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.