While lawmakers in Washington D.C. are moving at relative warp speed to provide stimulus funding for the American economy, some Portland public transit planners and at least one elected representative say this region is ready to get in line.
"With the $2 trillion COVID response legislation … there could be an enormous opportunity for stimulus spending," Metro Councilor Bob Stacey told a crowd during a virtual meeting of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association. "You remember 2009? A whole lot of money came into Oregon that we spent right away. Anything that (Portland Bureau of Transportation) or (Oregon Department of Transportation) has in the pipeline that they've already done the engineering on, should go out the door."
Stacey, who has a long history with funding for public works projects, was referring to the stimulus finds that came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
"In the Great Recession we needed (construction) jobs so we could put Portlanders to work," said Teresa Boyle of PBOT, referring to the boost for federal light rail funding following the economic collapse in 2008. "The Green Line was built with the help of stimulus funds. We also got $25 million to build (Southwest) Moody Avenue, a project that streamlined the Orange Line to move forward."
Boyle testified before the Portland City Council on April 1 on a pre-COVID $1.8 million funding agreement with TriMet so planning for a new Southwest Portland MAX line could continue.
"Completion of this phase of the project makes this project ready and available and poised to be part of a stimulus effort… if that relief includes infrastructure funding," Boyle said.
Bernie Bottomley of TriMet has intimate knowledge of how federal funding works. During previous recessions, Bottomley wrote in an email to the Pamplin Media Group, Congress and the White House have joined together to support investments in transportation "as a way to both spur short-term economic activity and help our businesses be competitive in the long term."
He said there's one man in Congress who really matters.
"Congressman Peter DeFazio is in a very important position in this conversation as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and we sincerely appreciate his efforts on behalf of the state and transportation in general.," Bottomley said.
As for specific projects that might be eligible for any infrastructure stimulus spending, Bottomley mentioned MAX expansion.
"TriMet will soon be applying to the Federal Transit Administration for approval to move forward on the Better Red project (MAX Red Line extension to Hillsboro with system improvements between Gateway Transit Center and Portland International Airport). We are also investing heavily in electric bus charging infrastructure. Elements of the Southwest Corridor Project may be in a position to move forward to construction in the short term, depending on the size and scope of federal legislation," he said.
Congressman DeFazio unveiled a $760 billion dollar bill to finance "transformative infrastructure investments across the U.S." in late January, before the spread of coronavirus was identified as a serious threat. Included in the proposed spending package was $105 billion for "transit investment."
Since then,DeFazio has called for a fourth package of relief spending that would be "a longer term recovery package." He said he thinks major infrastructure funding should have White House support.
"I was pleased to see the President has come back to where we started almost a year ago, now," he said in a statement. "Which is, he wants a big package on investment in infrastructure to recover the economy. Actually, he's right. For once, I agree with him on a step he wants to take."
ODOT, the major public infrastructure player in the state, isn't ready to identify which projects might be eligible for stimulus funds.
"If new federal funds become available, we'll attempt to match our projects with the specific funding programs the federal government may make available," ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton wrote in an email.
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