Metro bond measure talks hit bumps
Metro's work on a possible regional transportation funding ballot measure got off to a rocky start Monday morning.
The majority of an advisory group to the elected regional government approved a staff work plan to draft a measure for the November 2020 general election ballot, for an amount yet to be determined. But several members faulted Metro for not yet proposing a vision for the measure that voters throughout the region would embrace. Some even questioned several assumptions in the proposed plan, including whether funds should be directed at improving a limited number of transportation corridors.
"When money is directed at corridors, service improves, but they also get more expensive to live in," said Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, a member of the finance subcommittee of Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation.
And no Washington County members attended the meeting, even though Metro represents the urbanized areas of all three counties in the Portland area. Those missing were Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, and Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin, Doyle's alternative.
"There are three members here representing Clackamas County and no one from Washington County," Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said, meaning himself, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba and Knapp, who represents other cities in the county, too.
Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, the subcommittee chair, said all three from Washington County were aware of the meeting. Metro Director of Government Affairs Andy Shaw said staff had discussed the work plan with officials in Washington County, calling them "actively engaged."
Before the subcommittee approved the work plan, Shaw and other staff members said their concerns would be addressed. The Metro Council is scheduled to review it in February.
The possible measure has two goals. One is raising regional funds to match the federal funds expected to pay 50 percent of the cost of the new MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor connecting Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. Metro currently is planning the project, which will be built, owned and operated by TriMet once it is funded. Its cost is estimated at $2.4 billion.
The other is to help fund enough transportation projects in tricounty areas outside the corridor to encourage voters who live in them to approve it. TriMet originally had been in charge of the measure and intended to place it on the November 2018 ballot. The regional transit agency had been preparing a $1.7 billion measure, with some of the funds intended to help finance major congestion relief projects in all three counties — rebuilding the I-5/I-84 interchanges in Multnomah County, widening Highway 217 in Washington County, and widening I-205 in Clackamas County.
But the new transportation funding package passed by the 2017 Oregon Legislature includes and proposes funding for all three projects that do not require local matches. After that package was approved, TriMet tried to find different congestion relief and other transportation projects in all three counties, but ran out of time to meet election deadlines to qualify the measure for the November 2018 ballot. So TriMet and Metro decided to transfer responsibility for it to Metro and try for the November 2020 ballot instead.
Poor recent track record
During Monday morning's meeting, it quickly became clear that convincing a majority of voters in the region to pass any transportation funding measure will be a challenge. Metro staff working on the measure presented a map (see above) showing the results of four major transportation funding measures in all three counties between 2014 and 2016.
The only one that passed was a temporary gas tax increase in Portland. Going down to defeat were a motor vehicle registration fee increase in Washington County, and a road fee and gas tax increase in Clackamas County. The map is colored green where the measures passed and red where they failed. It shows a 50/50 split, at best. None were in the Gresham area.
TriMet conducted two public opinion polls and formed a Community Task Force to help draft its measure. Both polls found that reducing traffic congestion was a top priority for regional residents. But Metro is poised to start the decision-making process all over. To win support for a regional measure, it includes new polling, researching multiple financing options, new meetings with elected officials and other stakeholders, and future public forums to help determine what transportation-related problems voters perceive and what solutions they will support.
"We are trying to reach for a measure that will actually pass," Shaw said.
And while TriMet spent much of its time focused on congestion-relief projects to win the additional votes needed to pass the measure, Metro appears poised to give equal or greater emphasis to other options, including safety projects and so-called active transportation projects, such as new bike and pedestrian paths.
"Highway projects are very expensive per mile. You can get a much bigger bang for your buck with active transportation projects," said Gamba.
TriMet will still have a say in the measure and is represented on the subcommittee. Its task force will meet for a final time on the morning of Monday, Jan. 29, to draft recommendations for Metro to consider while drafting its measure.