Local communities would have more control over hundreds of millions of dollars of new money for roadways, bike lanes and sidewalks, under a finance concept introduced Thursday at the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation.
The idea, being considered by the Oregon Legislature, could give JPACT tens of millions of dollars a year in discretionary spending to support transportation projects around greater Portland. Cities and counties across Oregon could share more than $100 million a year for road maintenance and preservation in funding, based primarily on population.
“This proposal…is so far ahead of where we’ve ever been before and I hope everyone else is encouraged by what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing," said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen.
The plan would also pay for the widening of some decades-old freeways in greater Portland that currently are just two lanes in each direction – bottlenecks at Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter, Highway 217 in Washington County and Interstate 205 near West Linn.
To address the bottlenecks, the legislature could increase a variety of transportation fees on all Oregonians. In addition, the concept calls for periodic 3-cent gas tax increases specifically in the Metro area to account for inflation and pay down loans for the construction projects.
At Thursday's JPACT meeting, regional leaders offered cautious support for the finance concept.
“We’ve been at this quite a long time," said Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas. "There’s a lot of brilliant ideas here." But, he said, the proposal should be more specific about the extent of the I-205 bottleneck project. In response, JPACT passed a motion specifying that the 205 project should focus on the six miles from Stafford Road to the Abernethy Bridge.
Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said the majority of bottleneck reduction money should come from the state, not from the Metro region specifically. The projects, Saltzman said, are more important to the statewide economy than to residents of greater Portland in their daily commutes.
Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, who has served on his board for 32 years and has seen , said the proposal strikes a good balance in addressing transit, highways and pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
“This is a good ask," Rogers said. "We can’t ask the legislature to try to solve our local issues on active transportation. We shouldn’t be looking to the state to solve all that for us. We like the direction.”
Craig Beebe contributed to this newsfeed.