A tense decision between the greater of two good projects came to an end Thursday, as regional leaders agreed on a compromise that would complete sidewalks and other improvements on two major Gresham roads: Division Street and Cleveland Avenue.
How did we get here? A quick guide
Every few years, regional leaders allocate federal transportation dollars that Metro calls "regional flexible funds" because JPACT and the Metro Council have some flexibility on how to spend them.
Roughly $130 million was available in this funding cycle. Last spring, JPACT and the Metro Council reserved about $97 million for region-wide programs to expand high capacity transit, fix bottlenecks, manage the existing transportation system and support housing construction, among other things.
They directed $33 million to specific projects to improve walking, biking and moving freight around greater Portland. In early 2017, after receiving thousands of public comments and conducting a thorough technical analysis, JPACT and the Metro Council allocated about $30 million to 12 projects, leaving about $3 million to grant.
On Feb. 16, the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation was unable to come to a final agreement about which of the two Gresham projects should receive the last $3.14 million in federal transportation dollars known as regional flexible funds.
Related: 2 Gresham sidewalk projects vie for final $3 million grant in spirited JPACT debate
Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, supported by other east Multnomah County local officials, had argued for building sidewalks, bike lanes and a turn lane on Cleveland Avenue, a half-mile connector between downtown Gresham and Stark Street. Others argued that completing sidewalks and bike lanes on a half-mile stretch of busier Division Street would be of greater regional significance, and thus a better use of dollars allocated at the regional level – particularly as TriMet prepares to operate a new rapid bus service on the street in 2021.
Gresham residents spoke passionately on behalf of both projects at the Feb. 16 meeting, sharing personal stories about the lack of safety on both streets.
But after a motion to fund the Cleveland project failed, JPACT decided to put off a final decision until March, to give members more time to learn about the tradeoffs between the projects.
"You call it a compromise, I call it an expansion of opportunity"
In the four weeks since then, leaders and staff at Metro and Gresham hammered out a compromise: Cleveland Avenue will receive the $3.14 million federal grant, if Gresham commits to reserving $2 million it expects from future development fees to completing sidewalks on Division.
As a result, two good projects move forward and thousands of Gresham residents will have a safer way to walk or bike to school, work or a bus stop.
The agreement met with unanimous praise from JPACT members Thursday.
“I want to tip my hat in thanks and praise to the mayor of Gresham,” said Metro Councilor Bob Stacey. “You call it a compromise, I call it an expansion of opportunity.
“We get more accomplished when we work together,” Stacey added.
“I appreciate the leadership by Gresham and others and the willingness of people to work together, including (Metro Councilor) Shirley Craddick, to find the most reasonable outcome on some kind of a compromise here,” said Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart.
“I’m extremely pleased,” said Craddick, who represents eastern Multnomah County on the Metro Council. “I want to say thank you to the city of Gresham. Now the city has two good sidewalk projects that will be funded. It was important to the city to connect the Gresham Vista Business Park to downtown along Cleveland Avenue. And now we’re going to be able to also complete sidewalks along Division, which is extremely unsafe and one of the highest-crash corridors in the whole region.”
After a unanimous vote of approval, with one abstention, Metro Councilor and JPACT Chair Craig Dirksen pointed out that the protracted debate on how to spend $3 million – a relatively miniscule figure in the region’s overall transportation spending – underscored a larger dilemma: Finding more revenue to keep up with a growing region’s transportation needs.
He noted that it is important for the region to work together if it wants to be successful in those efforts.
“We’re confident that this solution keeps our regional table together and focused on the important work of finding more money at the federal, state, regional and local levels to address our transportation needs,” Dirksen said.
The $3 million for the Cleveland Street project represents the final piece of $33 million allocated to specific walking, biking and freight projects around greater Portland by JPACT and the Metro Council in this cycle of the regional flexible funds. On Feb. 2, the Metro Council approved 12 other projects, totaling $30 million, agreeing with a JPACT recommendation from January. The projects could start construction as early as 2019.
JPACT’s recommendation must now be approved by the Metro Council, which is expected to take it up April 13.
See a full list of funded projects