Regional leaders approved $68 million in transportation projects Thursday, helping 21 projects around the region move forward but questioning the region's priorities for awarding funding.
The approval of the allocation of Regional Flexible Funds for 2016-2018 was expected, but it came with a rebuke of state highway funding priorities from one Metro councilor.
2016-18 Flexible fund recipients
Jennings Avenue (AT/CS) - $1.9m
SE 129th (AT/CS) - $2.5m
ITS Project (GE/FI) - $1.2m
Trolley Trail study (AT/CS) - $201,892
Sunrise Corridor (REOF) - $8.3m
Sandy Blvd. (AT/CS) - $3.6m
238th Drive (REOF) - $1m
Troutdale access (REOF) - $8m
Going Street (GE/FI) - $500,000
Rivergate (GE/FI) - $3.2m
99W/Barbur (AT/CS) - $1.9m
Foster Road (AT/CS) - $2m
SWIM strategy (AT/CS) - $272,000
Central City mobility (AT/CS) - $6m
East Portland access (REOF) - $8.3m
Canyon Road (AT/CS) - $3.5m
Fanno Creek Trail (AT/CS) - $3.7m
Beaverton Creek Trail (AT/CS) - $800,000
Tonquin/Grahams Ferry (GE/FI) - $2.1m
Arterial crossings (AT/CS) - $636,000
26/Brookwood (REOF) - $8.3m
AT/CS - Active Transportation/Complete Streets; GE/FI - Green Economy/Freight Initiatives; REOF - Regional Economic Opportunity Fund
The Flexible Funds are an allocation of federal money passed along to the Metro region on a periodic basis. For years, advocates for freight and transportation projects have fought for a bigger share of the flexible funding pie.
The Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, a regional oversight body for federal transportation funds, targeted a 3-to-1 split for the first $34 million in federal money – 75 percent would be spent on active transportation and complete street projects, and 25 percent would improve freight and mobility.
A new wrinkle was thrown in for this funding cycle, when the federal allocation was about $34 million larger than expected. That led to the JPACT to tap five projects for extra funding as part of a Regional Economic Opportunity Fund.
Overall, a little more than half of this year's money went to active transportation projects. The remaining $32.6 million went to projects aimed at improving traffic flow, particularly for freight.
"These are really important projects," said Councilor Carlotta Collette, who chairs JPACT. She pointed out that many of the freight projects included elements that address equity and mobility.
Councilor Kathryn Harrington said the projects, which stretch from Hillsboro in the west to Troutdale in the east to Gladstone in the south, serve communities throughout the region.
"There's a great deal of need for transportation improvements in our region, for people driving trucks, people driving service vehicles, people walking, people getting to and from the bus, the train, the MAX, the streetcar, people bicycling," she said. "Each one of these projects is community-serving throughout our region, and I think we should be really pleased with the results that these projects will lead to throughout our community and our region."
Councilor Bob Stacey agreed with the importance of the projects. But he questioned whether the freight projects – particularly the freeway interchange improvements in Troutdale, Hillsboro and Clackamas County – should be paid for out of Regional Flexible Funds.
Instead, Stacey wondered, shouldn't those projects be paid for out of the state highway trust fund, which can't be used for active transportation projects, leaving the Regional Flexible Funds for trails, bikeways, transit and other projects that gas tax money can't cover?
"If we as Oregonians, as policymakers and legislators were to step up and raise the resources necessary in the state highway trust fund, we could build Troutdale, we could build Sunrise, we could build Brookwood from state highway trust money," Stacey said.
"We have to step up … so we're not cannibalizing this rare resource," Stacey said.
Stacey cast the lone dissenting vote on the funding package, which passed 6-1.