With less than two months remaining before Metro has to finalize a plan to curb the region's tailpipe emissions, discussions about the strategy's details are heating up among regional leaders.
Metro has a December deadline to finalize its Climate Smart Communities strategy, and to get its final strategy approved by the Metro Council.
The good news in the strategy, Metro staffers say, is that implementation of many plans already approved by the region's cities and counties will be enough to help the region reach the state's goal, which is a 20 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2035.
But after months of general agreement on a strategy, some local officials are expressing concern that the plans don't do enough to address highway congestion, and that parts of the plan could go too far in regulating how cities do business.
For the most part, Metro officials seemed open to the latter argument. But the discussion about congestion goes into one of the trickier parts of the Climate Smart Communities strategy – meeting the state's mandate for reducing emissions while addressing growing congestion in suburban communities, specifically Clackamas County.
The Climate Smart Communities strategies are based on one key premise – building out the projects already in adopted plans will reach the region's climate goals. That includes the projects in the Regional Transportation Plan, a list of proposals to keep the region's residents moving while also complying with federal clean air rules.
Among the projects in the RTP are two freeway projects in Clackamas County – completion of the Sunrise Corridor freeway south of Happy Valley, and a study of widening of Interstate 205 from Stafford Road to Oregon City.
There, I-205 is only two lanes in each direction but carries more than 85,000 vehicles a day – as many cars as are on I-5 between Portland and Salem, which is three lanes in each direction. The bottleneck through the largely rural Stafford Basin can clog traffic from Tualatin to the Clackamas Town Center during rush hours.
Even though the plan implicitly calls for the study of expansion of I-205 and extension of the under-construction Sunrise Corridor, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader told the Metro Policy Advisory Committee last week that she'd like it to explicitly support certain highway projects.
"One of the issues that has popped up in our county is the notion of highway investment," Schrader said. "As we invest in these other modalities, particularly in compact urban centers, don't forget areas like I-205, which are having serious capacity issues. I would even say I-5 over the Boones Bridge is having capacity issues. My commission's feeling is if this document is reflecting those kinds of regional needs, as well, the other multimodal pieces will be an easier sell."
The strategies call for significant increases in transit service as a key way to reduce the region's tailpipe emissions. They also call for construction of more bike and pedestrian facilities, ranging from more sidewalks on local streets to new bikeways and trails.
But Schrader emphasized that Clackamas County's mix between rural and urban – about a third of the county's 386,000 residents live outside of Metro's urban growth boundary – means the plan should include ways to meet the needs of a variety of communities. The draft Climate Smart Communities plan leaves it up to cities and counties how specifically to address the Legislature's tailpipe emission reduction mandate in the future.
"I'm actually pleased to see the notion of jurisdictional flexibility on how we implement this program," Schrader said. "My commission has said this is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. As many of you know, the biggest challenge we face in Clackamas County is that we are rural and urban, and the movement of people from those rural areas, and the maintenance of those roads is a very big concern for us."
Metro Councilor Bob Stacey responded that any approach to addressing transportation needs isn't about redirecting the money that's already available for projects – it's about getting more money.
"We all understand that we don't have enough existing resources for any mode," Stacey said. "We're all familiar with the road and bridge needs in this region. I view this listing here as getting particular about some needs that aren't always spoken to, but are going to be very important for achieving the Climate Smart objectives. The transit piece, the walkability piece – it's going to be new money, and we're going to have to have new money for roads as well. The idea that we go down there (to Salem) and fight between modes, talk about counter-productive."
"(Clackamas County) Commissioner (Paul) Savas … consistently says that the gridlock we face on some of our major thoroughfares is one of the largest, if not the largest, contributor of greenhouse gases," Schrader said.
MPAC and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation will meet in joint session again on Nov. 7 to discuss the final Climate Smart Communities strategies. The Metro Council must endorse a set of strategies by the end of 2014; that, in turn, would be reviewed by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission in early 2015.