A group of regional leaders voted Thursday on a spending plan for $130 million in federal transportation money coming to greater Portland starting in 2019.
The so-called Regional Flexible Funds are a local allocation of federal transportation money. They're "flexible" in that the Metro Council and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation can prioritize how the money is spent.
On June 16, the Metro Council unanimously approved the JPACT proposal. The project application process will begin next week. Details and materials will be posted on the project website. Go
Under the plan, proposed by TriMet, money would be allocated for Safe Routes to Schools, which educates K-12 students on how to get to school safely, as well as for relieving congestion on Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter, Interstate 205 in Clackamas County and Highway 217 in the Tualatin Valley.
The only vote against the plan came from Clackamas County, which has been pushing for freeway widening projects to combat growing congestion in the southeast part of the region.
Flexible funds make up only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on transportation in greater Portland every year. But as the federal and state gas taxes continue to shrink because of inflation, local governments scramble for any transportation money they can get.
The vote came at a time when regional lawmakers are eager for state government to offer solutions for transportation issues.
"This is really powerful for the region, and a lot of work has gone into it," said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington. "It is a first step toward larger work together for a state package that will serve this region well."
The spending plan approved $63.4 million for transit bonds, allocating money for potential transit projects in Portland, Gresham, Tigard and Tualatin and paying for earlier light rail lines to Milwaukie and Clackamas.
It allocated $28.5 million for funding affordable housing near transit, planning for transit corridors, projects that improve traffic flow, and encourage people to walk, bike or take transit trips.
Another $3.8 million in bond sales would support $10 million to develop projects to relieve congestion, and $2 million to develop projects that allow people to walk and bicycle safely.
The plan includes $26 million for active transportation programs, including construction of bike lanes and sidewalks, $7.3 million for projects that help move freight around and out of greater Portland and $1.5 million for Safe Routes to Schools programs.
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas proposed taking money from transit project development, and instead spending it on project development to reduce freeway congestion.
“Our intent is more regional distribution of those dollars for what is impacting our economy, what is actually impacting air quality," Savas said. "There's 30 percent more fuel being consumed right now because of those bottlenecks on the highway.”
But Metro Councilor Sam Chase said the proposal wasn't good for the region.
“Freight is a part of our economic strategy – a very important part. Also a very important part: When you talk to business leaders around the region, they talk about our quality of life and the assets we have," Chase said. "Active transportation is a part of that. If we take active transportation out, we're actually fighting against our overall economic strategy.”
Savas' motion got no support from the other members of JPACT.
Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, who represented the cities of Clackamas County in opposing Savas' motion, said the TriMet-proposed funding plan made sense.
"It's a strong move to recognize the multimodal nature of projects on our highway system that are bottlenecks for freight movement and commuter movement," Knapp said. "I think it's important that we demonstrate to the public, and our voters, the success of being able to move those priority projects, get them on the ground, show we can get these completed and use this as a template for moving forward."
Craig Beebe contributed to this story.