BTA fights as Metro funding battle brews once again

BTA fights as Metro funding battle brews once again

“It is unacceptable to the BTA to consider overturning our current policy… The Port [of Portland]… wants this money for highway/road projects. Now is the time to say no.”
— Gerik Kransky, BTA

A funding fight is brewing at Metro over how the regional planning agency should allocate nearly $38 million in federal funds. Unlike the vast majority of transportation funds fought over by various regional interest groups, these funds are “flexible,” meaning they can be spent on nearly any type of project. With scarce dollars in play these days, the competition to snag them is intense.

The $37.78 on the table at Metro is a portion of $147 million in “regional flexible funds” they will dole out through the federal government’s Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) for the years of 2016 – 2018.

The last time this issue came up, in summer of 2010, it led to a pitched battle between bike and freight advocates. In the end, Metro came down — by a narrow vote of 7-6 — on the side of active transportation. In a historic decision, Metro’s powerful, 17-member Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) voted to spend 75% of regional flexible funds on “Active Transportation/Complete Streets” projects and 25% on “Green Economy/Freight” projects.

Each time these funds come up for allocation, Metro looks to JPACT to tell them how to allocate the money. Not surprisingly, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) would very much like to see a similar allocation this time around; but other powerful players around the table have different ideas.

Last month, Metro’s news department reported that the mood among many JPACT members was toward a new focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” and that, “Many seemed reluctant to go back and have the tough 75-25 percent conversation over again.” Washington County Commissioner (and JPACT member) Roy Rogers said he wants to reverse the 75-25 split and give the lion’s share to freight projects. Another JPACT member, Clackamas County Commissioner Ann Lininger, said, “We need to focus our transportation resources on investments that are going to create significant jobs benefits and economic opportunity benefits.”

And make no mistake about it, while you and I understand that bike-centric projects are not mutually exclusive with projects that promote jobs and economic development, that is indeed how some JPACT members see it.

Metro has laid out three options for how to allocate the $37.78 million that’s in play. Only two of them are currently being discussed: Option 1 would maintain the 75-25 split where Active Transportation/Complete Streets gets the majority of funding, and Option 3 would introduce a host of new project categories into the mix. Option 3 is where major political muscle from representatives on JPACT from the Port of Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), and others are putting their (considerable) weight.

The BTA’s lead advocate, Gerik Kransky, fears the worst. He sees this JPACT discussion as an attempt to scuttle the historic funding levels he helped earn for bike-friendly projects the last time around. “It is unacceptable to the BTA,” he wrote on their blog last week, “to consider overturning our current policy commitment to spending 75% of the total funds on active transportation and complete streets projects and 25% on freight projects.”

Policymakers Ride-37

It’s too bad we can’t all get along.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Kranksy has some support in his corner and he’s hoping to build it into a strong coalition by tomorrow’s big JPACT meeting where this funding discussion could be decided. Kransky says he has lined up support from the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the Westside Transportation Alliance, Upstream Public Health, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, Coalition for a Livable Future, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and others. Mayor Sam Adams (a JPACT member) has also stepped up in support of Option 1 and wrote a letter to fellow members stating the City of Portland supports continuing the 75-25 allocation in favor of Active Transportation projects.

JPACT member and Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt is anchoring the push for a new allocation. In a letter to JPACT Chair and Metro councilor Carlotta Collette, Wyatt said that the regional economy is still sputtering and that he wants to see these investments go toward projects that create jobs and “retain the engineering and construction capability” in the region. He is also pushing the idea that investments in projects that improve freight and “access to industrial lands” will attract private sector capital.

ODOT is also eager to see a new allocation. They’ve already put forward a proposal with four earmarked projects — three of which would be $9 million (each) highway improvements in Washington County (Brookwood, Troutdale and Sunrise) and a $1 million electric bus pilot project.

For their part, Metro staff would also like to see additional categories added into the pie. They are looking to fund their Regional Transportation Safety plan (similar to PBOT’s High Crash Corridor program) to the tune of $5.18 million.

For Kransky, it’s simple: The addition of new project categories into the mix mean less money overall will be devoted to the Active Transportation/Complete Streets category. Dedicated funding for bike-centric projects no longer exists in the federal (MAP-21) and the state (STIP) funding schemes — so Kranksy sees these regional flexible funds as the last hope for making big bike projects happen.

With Active Transportation winning by just one vote last time around, a renewed clamor for “jobs, jobs, jobs!” and with the Port of Portland and ODOT organizing and lobbying hard for more funds (one source referred to it as “the Empire strikes back”), Kransky faces an uphill battle.

— For the BTA’s call to action on this issue, read their blog post. The public is also welcome at the JPACT meeting tomorrow 10/11 from 7:30 am to 9:00 am at Metro headquarters, 600 NE Grand ave.

UPDATE: Read the Open Letter to JPACT from the BTA and signed by their partner organizations.

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