We don't know yet how the Metro regional government plans to raise
$3.11 billion to make it easier for people to travel within the Portland area. But we finally got a glimpse last week of where the funds likely would go if Metro takes a transportation money measure to voters in November 2020.
The first big pot — and this is a surprise to no one — would be dedicated to a light-rail line connecting Portland with Tigard and Tualatin. That proposal would gobble up $975 million of the proposed $3.11 billion plan.
What might be surprising — and contentious — is where the rest of the funds might go (see story, Page A1). The dollars would pay for projects and planning in 13 transportation corridors in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. But a preliminary list suggests Clackamas is getting the short end of the stick.
A chart released last week shows that — aside from the Southwest Corridor light-rail line — Multnomah County would receive $840 million of the available funds (most of that is within the city of Portland). Washington County would receive $785 million. And Clackamas County would receive only $390 million. This disparity grows even wider when you consider that the new light-rail corridor will serve Multnomah and Washington counties, but won't make it to the Clackamas line.
Nobody who's driven in Clackamas County can doubt that the area has major transportation headaches. That also was true in the 2000s, the 1990s, the 1980s, the ... well, more or less forever.
As could have been anticipated by anyone, Clackamas County officials are unhappy about the proposed allocation. It doesn't take a political scientist to know, if you're asking voters to OK a massive new tax proposal, hacking off one of three counties before you're even out of the gate is a self-inflicted wound.
Now, it's worth pointing out that this proposal is a long way from being finalized, and likely will change. The elected Metro Council is not expected to finalize the measure until next spring.
And the $3.11 billion total price tag is way, way smaller than the $20 billion initially suggested by Metro President Lynn Peterson. She had championed the much-higher dollar figure to address growing congestion problems in the entire region.
Under that proposal, doubtless, Clackamas County would have fared better. But the higher the dollar figure in the request, the tougher it is to get voters to say "yes."
Which brings us to the topic of how the money might be generated. Peterson, correctly, opposes the use of property taxes. Other options include a regional payroll tax; increasing motor vehicle fees within the region; and possibly a regional income tax.
Multnomah County residents will remember their unpleasant experience with a local income tax from 2003 to 2005. The Metro Council should take that idea off the table and look for a funding source that connects more directly with transportation.
Putting aside the inequitable treatment of Clackamas County and the tricky question of taxation, the preliminary ideas of where the money would be spent mostly make sense. For the new MAX line, these ideas include: a Marquam Hill connector (a proposed connection from a MAX station on Barbur Boulevard to Marquam Hill, including Oregon Health & Science University); replacement bridges for the Newbury and Vermont viaducts on Barbur Boulevard; Tigard Triangle street improvements; and the parking garage in Bridgeport Village at the southern terminus of the new MAX line. (Yes, we still think the tracks ought to end at Bridgeport).
Other major Portland projects in the mix include seismic upgrades to the Burnside Bridge; rerouting the ramps at the Ross Island Bridgehead; work on the Albina Vision plan in the Rose Quarter; and improvements to the intersection at Northeast 82nd Avenue and Airport Way. Those are all worthy.
There is one rabbit hole that Metro should avoid: a proposal to set aside money for planning a MAX tunnel under downtown Portland. We're not making that up. We wish we were. The $50 million for such a "study" would be better spent on actual projects that move people along the Earth's surface, not below it.
A full list of where the rest of the money might be spent can be found reading reporter Jim Redden's story, which begins on Page A1.
A task force will discuss these staff recommendations — and that's all they are at this stage — on Wednesday, Oct. 30. The task force is expected to approve its recommendations to the Metro council on Nov. 20. The council will review revenue options and funding considerations at meetings in December and January, and must refer the final measure to the ballot in spring 2020 to meet state election deadlines for the November 2020 ballot.
We recommend sweetening the pot for Clackamas County, ditching what is sure to be a highly unpopular regional income tax, and keeping all the projects above ground.
Beyond that, the project list has merit, and any local commuter can attest that the need is real.
When asked about the priorities of his voters, former Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden famously responded, "Transportation, transportation and transportation." That topic, along with affordable housing and options to address homelessness, seem to be on the lips of every metro-area resident.
This list, as presented in its preliminary form, would make some progress in addressing the region's transportation woes.
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