The Portland area could invest $34 million in transportation projects that create jobs, make safer streets and improve access to jobs for low-income and minority communities.
Those are some of the primary criteria proposed to guide regional investment in a new Regional Economic Opportunity Fund. The fund is the invention of regional elected officials and transportation agency leaders who serve on the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, a panel that, along with the Metro Council, controls federal transportation investments in the region.
Metro planners have turned the general guidance from JPACT into a proposal on how specifically to judge whether a project is worthy of funding. The proposal’s criteria will be aired for their first public discussion on Friday at the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee, comprised mainly of transportation planners from cities and counties across the region.
A final decision on the criteria expected at the Nov. 8 JPACT meeting, which subsequently has to be affirmed by the Metro Council. In December, Metro staff will publish evaluation measures, the specific ways the criteria will be measured.
Comment on the funding formula
JPACT takes public comment on the Flexible Funds criteria and measures. The public can email comments on the criteria by noon Nov. 7 to firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in Nov. 8 JPACT meeting materials. Draft criteria are available in the packet for the Oct. 26 TPAC meeting and a revised draft will be available Nov. 1 in the packet for the Nov. 8 JPACT meeting. In November, Metro will offer a public comment opportunity on draft evaluation measures for the criteria, which staff will finalize in early December.
The $34 million is part of a three-year pool of federal programs, known as regional flexible funds, which are expected to provide about $94 million to the region in 2016-18. Though the funds overall make up only 4 percent of regionwide transportation investments, they attract considerable attention because they can be spent on a wide variety of local projects. Over about 15 years, flexible funds provided about half the financing for the regional trails used for recreation and bicycle commuting. The fundsalso have financed road projects that unlock freight bottlenecks and provide safe pedestrian crossings.
In the last funding cycle for the program, regional leaders in 2011 approved several projects that could nurture the economy and improve transportation access for low-income and minority communities. A $1.5 million project in Forest Grove will improve truck and bicycle access at the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 47, which serves two key freight routes. A $3.2 million project in Portland will provide safe pedestrian crossings and sidewalk improvements to Southeast Foster Road, from Southeast 50th to Southeast 84th Avenue, where Metro’s data shows a higher than average concentration of minority, low-income and elderly populations.
Advocacy groups have recently taken aim at the program. Some called for more investment in active transportation – infrastructure that makes it safer to bike walk or take public transit. Others pushed for more road improvements near industrial sites where new businesses could take root.
In addition to the $34 million for the new economic fund, JPACT has directed staff to split another $35 million between two categories it created in 2011: 75 percent for active transportation/ complete streets and 25 percent for green economy/freight. The criteria for those programs is anticipated to be largely the same as the region used when it made funding decisions on those programs last year.
The economic opportunity fund was previously expected to have $38 million to invest, but recent estimates from federal and state officials have revised that figure to $34 million.