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Clear vision needed to sell voters on Metro bond measures
Metro has begun working on two potential regional ballot measures.
The first is a November 2018 measure to help fund affordable housing projects. The second is a November 2020 measure to help pay for transit and transportation projects.
But although most details have yet to be determined, Metro officials and other insiders say the two measures are related. One goal is to build affordable housing projects in corridors that will be improved with the transit and transportation dollars.
Lynn Peterson, the former Clackamas County Commission chair who is heavily favored to be elected to head Metro in the May election, offered one vision of this future Tuesday night.
Speaking during a panel discussion on transportation issues hosted by Business for a Better Portland, she said local governments in the region should acquire and redevelop state highways that currently serve as major arterials. They include the Tualatin Valley and Beaverton Hillsdale highways, as well as Barbur, Powell and McLoughlin boulevards.
"The state doesn't manage them the way we would. I can see them with sidewalks and housing on both sides, and beautiful medians in the centers instead of turn lanes. I can see families with babies in strollers safely crossing East Powell," said Peterson, a former director of the Washington Department of Transportation, who is the only candidate so far in the race for president of the Metro Council.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who also spoke on the panel, agreed that a big vision is needed to sell both measures to regional voters.
"We need a catchy vision, like, 'Where would you like to go today,'" said Vega Pederson, who represents District 3, which includes much of East Portland and East Multnomah County, where transit and transportation services are poor.
The other panelists at the Jan. 30 discussion were Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat and Nolan Lienhart, a principal and director of planning and urban design at the ZGF architecture firm, which has worked on numerous transit projects, including the renovation of the downtown transit mall. The event was co-sponsored by Metro.
The year-old business organization did not host the discussion solely because of the Metro measures. Chief Collaboration Officer Ashley Henry explained that transportation is an emerging issue for businesses because increasing congestion is interfering with their operations. Creating affordable housing along major transit and transportation corridors is one way to help reduce congestion, she said.
"It's critical that businesses work on these issues," Ashley said before the discussion, which was held at The Urbanite, a new interior design hub in inner Southeast Portland.
List of projects not enough
Although Metro has only just begun working on the measure, some of the themes that emerged at the discussion also have been raised at the few public meetings on the measures that have been held to date. One is the need to offer voters a larger vision to be achieved with them, not just a list of projects.
The need for a vision was first raised when Metro took over planning for the transportation from TriMet late last year. TriMet originally had proposed a $1.7 billion measure for the November 2018 election to help fund the $2.4 billion MAX line being planned in the Southwest Corridor between Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. But the regional transit agency ran out of time to finalize enough transit and transportation projects in the rest of the region to help assure its passage.
"We need to be able to offer voters a big vision for the measure, like completing our transportation system," Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen said at the Nov. 13 meeting of the finance subcommittee of the regional government's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, where the transfer and decision to delay the measure until the November 2020 election was made official.
The next day, Metro President Tom Hughes announced the government also would pursue an affordable housing bond measure for the November 2018 ballot. He released a poll suggesting voters would support $500 million to help address the issue that has emerged as the region's top priority.
"This poll confirms what housing advocates, renters, seniors and others have been saying for far too long — housing should be an urgent priority for local leaders," Hughes said. "Private developers and nonprofits are not getting the job done alone. It's time for our community to come together and do more to ensure seniors, veterans, families and working people can afford a place to call home."
The issue surfaced again at the subcommittee on Jan. 22 when Metro staffers presented their work plan for the transportation measure. The staffers, including government affairs director Andy Shaw, were clear one goal is to identify corridors where affordable housing projects also will be built. Although the subcommittee approved the plan, several members complained they had not yet heard a compelling vision for the measure.
And the issue came up again Jan. 29 when the staffers presented their work plan to the final meeting of the Regional Transportation Funding Task Force that TriMet had formed to help draft its failed measure. Task force members were enthusiastic that Metro pursue both measures, and they agreed to send Metro a letter supporting them. But several members also said they have not yet heard a vision that will convince enough voters to pass them.
Corridor concept controversial
One apparent problem is the concept of corridors. Over the years, Metro has identified and mapped 24 so-called "mobility corridors" in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Metro Manager Tyler Frisbee told the task force they will be narrowed down to the top four or five in the transportation funding measure.
But some task force members said they did not understand what Metro meant by corridors. Instead, they wanted the measure to identify projects in larger areas, such as East Portland and East Multnomah County. Metro Councilor Bob Stacey explained those areas could be helped with corridor projects.
"I can't conceive of a measure that would be put forward that doesn't include frequent bus service on 148th, 162nd and 181st," Stacey said at the task force meeting, referring to heavily used avenues in East Multnomah County within the corridors identified by Metro.
But the corridor concept also was controversial at the Jan. 22 meeting of the JPACT finance subcommittee. Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, a member of the subcommittee, even suggested they should not be improved.
"When money is directed at corridors, service improves, but they also get more expensive to live in," Knapp said.
Such issues will be discussed as both measures are drafted. Metro is planning to hold a series of forums and other public engagement opportunities for both of them. Some will include presentations to help the public better understand the corridor concept.
The deadline for drafting the affordable housing measure is just four months away. It must be finalized in May for the Metro Council to refer it to the ballot in June and meet all election deadlines.
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