SMART projects in flux
During a recent phone call with Tri-Met and the Oregon Department of Transportation, a revelation sent SMART's ambitious plans for transportation improvements into a tailspin.
ODOT informed Wilsonville's transit provider SMART (South Metro Area Regional Transit), Tri-Met and other local transportation providers that the deadline for submitting transit plans, which could qualify for funding via a statewide transportation bill passed in 2017 (House Bill 2017), was two months sooner than Tri-Met thought.
Wilsonville Transit Director Dwight Brashear said SMART is well-positioned to submit a plan to Tri-Met by the August deadline, but the news has sparked uncertainty surrounding SMART's future planning.
SMART must submit plans to Tri-Met — which will then send ODOT a larger, regional plan. Brashear is not sure whether Tri-Met will meet the November deadline for sending plans to ODOT or wait until next year. Whichever option Tri-Met picks will impact which Wilsonville projects get prioritized, the nature of some projects and the timeframe that the City would receive funding.
Nevertheless, SMART is planning for both scenarios.
"If Tri-Met doesn't make the ODOT deadline then this (planning for early deadline) is all for naught because we cannot submit our plan to any other agency other than Tri-Met," Brashear said. "If Tri-Met doesn't submit their plan then none of the plans get submitted."
House Bill 2017 is projected to generate $5.3 billion in revenue for transit projects and is paid for via additional taxes, including a payroll tax.
At the July 2 Wilsonville City Council meeting, the City passed a resolution to amend its Transit Master Plan. The amendment updated the transit project list so that it met standards required by ODOT — a move that paved the way for submitting the plan.
SMART used the list of projects outlined in appendix B of the Transit Master Plan to create the project list but tweaked the list so that the costs of the projects amount to at least 115 percent of the projected revenue generated from the fund within a 2.5-year timeframe, as required by ODOT.
"The team and I, after crying in each other's shoulders for awhile about how this threw our timeline off, went to work and discovered that appendix B of the transit master plan was a list of projects and they were prioritized and had gone through public outreach ... (and) had met or exceeded the criteria for the plan we are to submit for HB 2017 funding," Brashear said at the council work session.
Unlike SMART's more comprehensive plan, which is in the public outreach phase and won't be passed through the City Council in time for the August deadline, the plan does not include longer term projects such as services to Coffee Creek, Frog Pond, Oregon City and Hillsboro, a mixed-use facility and a fareless system. The plan's most highly prioritized projects include enhancing connections to Tri-Met via Tualatin and Tigard, additional Saturday services and adding mid-day or late morning services.
"Eventually, my hope is that everything that is on both lists will be melded together at some point," Brashear said.
The plan does not include an express service to Portland, but instead a service to Tualatin that connects with Tri-Met.
"In Appendix B we wanted to improve connection between our services and Tri-Met. That's not to say down the road we won't offer the express service," Brashear said.
"That one seems to be polling very high," Brashear said of the express route to Portland. "I suspect we'll be looking at that very closely."
SMART will continue preparing its more extensive plan, but will either submit the list in two years if ODOT passes the plan or in 2019 if Tri-Met decides not to submit the regional plan to ODOT by this year's deadline.
If Tri-Met submits its plan and Wilsonville's projects aren't included in the plan, SMART will have to wait two years to submit its projects for funding again (project lists are updated every two years) — which is why SMART is rushing to submit the less comprehensive plan.
At the work session, Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp was satisfied with the idea of using the TMP project list as a framework for the plan.
"These preferences for expanding service existed before this money came along. This came out of our master plan. It's not like we went out and said 'Hmmm how can we spend this money?' We had this public process," he said.
Brashear said Tri-Met is attempting to convince ODOT to extend the submission deadline.
"If Tri-Met doesn't go in November and they go in May, by that time we would have vetted all the projects and attempt a merge of the two plans," Brashear said.
Wilsonville Councilor Susie Stevens believes SMART's projects will benefit Wilsonville citizens.
"The other thing to remember is if we can make enough connections there are more cars off the road," she said at the work session. "If people can get around and do things they want to do, it can help with the traffic issues."