Regional tensions flare during Metro transportation bond discussion
Regional tensions flared during a Metro Council work session last Tuesday on the tri-county transportation funding measure it is considering for the November 2020 general election ballot.
During the June 4 discussion, Councilor Sam Chase, who mostly represents parts of Portland, said he wants fighting climate change added to the criteria of projects to be funded by the measure.
"We are facing a crisis of epic proportions that is going to affect future generations. I don't feel informed enough about how many people we will be getting off the road," said Chase.
Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents parts of Washington County, also said he did not think transit projects had been prioritized enough.
Metro President Lynn Peterson, a former chair of the Clackamas County Commission, warned that prioritizing transit would favor projects in Portland, where the most people would benefit from new transit projects because of its density.
Councilor Bob Stacey, who only represents part of the city, said he did not want to hear about Portland "overreach" on council decisions.
But Councilor Christine Lewis, who represents Clackamas County, said she has been taken aback by Portlanders telling her that growth should not be allowed her district.
"I don't like hearing from people in Portland that growth in Happy Valley is sprawl that shouldn't be planned for," complained Lewis, who also said freight improvement projects are important.
And Councilor Shirley Craddick reminded the council that the goal is to convince voters throughout the region to support the measure.
"If we don't have the votes, we don't have a package," said Craddick, who represents east Multnomah and Clackamas counties.
The discussion was unexpected because the council was only scheduled to designate corridors within the region where projects that might qualify for funding will be identified over the summer. Metro is considering the measure to help fund the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX line between downtown Portland and Tualaitin through Tigard. The cost has yet to be determined. Polls have consistently found that the measure needs to include a mix of freeway, road, transit, bike and pedestrian projects to have the best chance of passing.
But, under the direction of Peterson, the council has embraced a larger goal — improving the entire transportation system in the region. Rather than simply picking projects in its established Regional Transportation Plan, the could has agreed to improve connections in a limited number of existing transportation corridors.
"We have a great Regional Transportation Plan fill of projects, and we could go through it and prioritize them, but that doesn't create a great regional transportation system," Peterson said.
The council has already agreed on a set of outcomes for the measure to achieve, including improving safety, reducing congestion, and prioritizing investments that support communities of colors. It has also agreed to not directly fund expansion projects on state-owned highways. Councilors said that funds might be spent to cap I-5 in the Rose Quarter area to help fulfill the Albina Vision Plan, but not to pay of the new on- and off-lanes under it. They even renamed the I-5/Albina Corridor the Albina Vision Corridor.
But, during the work session, some urban councilors seemed unsure about the benefits of projects in the more rural parts of the tri-county region, especially Clackamas County.
In the end, the council approved 13 Tier 1 corridors and 17 Tier 2 corridors for further study. The next step is to appoint Project Investment Teams in each county that will identify potential projects in each corridor for measure funding. If not enough projects can be identified in Tier 1 corridor to significantly improve it, the teams can substitute Tier 2 corridors.
The teams will meet and make their recommendation to the council by fall 2019. The measure will need to be finalized by May 2020 to qualify for the November ballot.
Metro approved the following Tier 1 corridors at its June 4 work session: 82nd Avenue; Tualatin-Valley Highway; McLoughlin Boulevard; SW Corridor; SW 185th Avenue; Burnside Street; Downtown Portland; Albina Vision Corridor; Clackamas to Columbia corridor (including 181st Avenue); 122nd Avenue; 162nd Avenue; Powell Boulevard; and Highway 212/Sunrise Corridor.
The following Tier 2 corridors were also approved: NE/SE MLK/Grand Avenue; Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway; SE Foster Road; Division Street; N/NE Columbia Boulevard; Highway 26/Sunset Highway; Oak Grove-Lake Oswego Bridge; 99W/Pacific Highway; Highway 217; Tualatin-Sherwood Road; Highway 43/Macadam Boulevard; NE Sandy Boulevard; NE/SE 11th/12th Avenue; N Mississippi/Albina Avenue; NE Airport Way; NE Halsey Street; I-205 connectivity improvements.
You can learn more about the bond here.