Metro's collection of advisory committees can seem like an alphabet soup heavy on just a few letters: JPACT, MPAC, MTAC, TPAC, among others. But there's a lot behind those acronyms. When regional transportation dollars are spent or decisions are made about growth management, there is typically a direct link back to the people and conversations at these committees, which shape the policies that come before the Metro Council.
Each committee is mostly made up of elected officials or technical staff from the three counties and dozens of cities inside Metro's boundaries. But most also have seats reserved for members of the community. The volunteers who fill those seats play a crucial role in guiding the policymaking process.
This is especially true on TPAC – formally, the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee. In Metro's committee ladder, TPAC provides technical advice to the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, a body of elected officials that directly shapes most transportation policies that come before the Metro Council.
On the last Friday morning of every month, TPAC's 21 members fill the council chamber at Metro Regional Center to discuss the finer points of transportation policy. Though the atmosphere is usually relaxed, there is often a lot at stake. Grappling with big questions is routine. Where will the region see the biggest return on its transportation investments? What needs to happen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Which policies and investments are most likely to boost transit ridership and reduce congestion?
Metro Councilor and JPACT chair Craig Dirksen said TPAC's advice is critical to how regional transportation decisions are made. "A lot of the issues we look at have a very technical component," Dirksen said. "Unless we have people who have the time and expertise to look at it and give use advice, it's difficult for us to make an informed decision."
TPAC's roster includes planners and other staff from the region's three counties, several cities, TriMet, state agencies and the Port of Portland. But alongside these professionals are six members of the community – who often bring a dose of on-the-ground realism to high-level policy conversations. Four of these positions are vacant and open for applications: three for 2-year terms, and one for a 1-year term.
"It's a great room to be in," said Steve White, a southeast Portland resident who has been on TPAC for one year and is continuing on."It's an opportunity to see what transportation issues are facing the region, [and] to get to know different stakeholders around the region."
Carol Gossett, a retired northeast Portland resident halfway through her second 2-year term, agreed. "The experience has been really great," she said. "I hope it's beneficial on both sides. I hope the people on the staff learn something from me. I certainly have learned a lot from them."
A broader conversation
Dirksen said diversity is especially important for TPAC to do the job it's designed to do. "We're going to be making decisions that affect everyone, so it's important that we have views that truly reflect the whole community," he said.
Such a goal is clear in the vacancy announcement from Metro, which encourages applicants who understand needs of underrepresented residents like disabled people or people of color. Metro is also seeking applicants knowledgeable about economic development and freight movement.
"If there's a particular issue or constituency you're representing that you think needs to be heard, this is a great table to be at," White said, whose own day job is with the nonprofit Oregon Public Health Institute. He said he worked on TPAC to ensure public health and health equity are part of the region's conversations about transportation.
For her part, Gossett often raises the impact of transportation policies on low- and moderate-income residents of the region. "There are a lot of people [on TPAC] who have outstanding knowledge of how funding policies work," she said. "So it seems to me that my job is more related to the people of the region."
Gossett acknowledged that the commitment – a monthly two and a half-hour meeting once, plus hours of homework between meetings – can seem daunting. But she said the commitment is well worth it.
"It's almost a ballet of ideas being exchanged," she said. "It hasn't been work for me because I've enjoyed every minute of it."
Applications for the open community representative positions are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21.