A proposal in Congress would undermine the Portland area's ability to build a balanced transportation system that provides travel options and protects air quality, Metro Council President Tom Hughes said today.
In a party-line vote, with two dissenting Republican members, the House Ways and Means Committee voted last week to end a 30-year federal commitment to dedicated funding for public transportation. The measure takes from transit the 2.86 cents of the federal gas tax and eliminates the Mass Transit Account, forcing public transit to compete for general funds that are in line for tough budget cuts.
In addition to making the mass transit vulnerable, it also would make the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvements Program equally vulnerable to the general fund. Though much smaller than the transit fund, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvements Program allocates funds directly to Metro, and has for about 15 years been a key source of investment in regional trails, bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements. It is known locally as part of the Regional Flexible Fund program.
More than 600 organizations signed a letter opposing the proposal last week, including Council President Hughes, the mayor of Portland, the governors of Oregon and Washington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Sierra Club.
"This proposal will have a direct, adverse impact in the Portland area and in urban areas across the country," Hughes said. According to the independent Texas Transportation Institute, public transit service in the Portland-Vancouver area saved each rush hour driver 4 hours of delay in 2010, with a $75 million economic impact.
Council President Hughes also said:
I am deeply concerned that federal policies like this could undermine our ability to use public transit to reduce congestion and also hamper our efforts to create livable, well-connected communities.
For more than two decades, the federal government has been a strong partner with the Portland area, investing with us in a public transit system that creates jobs, gives us transportation options, helps reduce congestion and preserves clean air. The results of that investment are all around, in our world-class network of light rail and bus routes from Hillsboro to Gresham, North Portland to Clackamas Town Center.
Eroding the ongoing federal commitment to transit funding could make it impossible for the federal government to honor contracts it signed to fund projects like the Milwaukie light rail line. That project is already under construction, well on its way to creating up to 14,000 jobs and generating up to $573 million in personal earnings.
This move is sure to make it extremely difficult to adopt a multi-year transportation authorization during this session of Congress, a development that will continue to cloud the future of our transportation infrastructure.
Federal transportation funding and policy will come up at Metro on Thursday, when the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation considers endorsing a regional position on surface transportation authorization.