City project one of 44 statewide to receive ConnectOregon funds

The city of Sandy's project to build a combined transit/public works facility received a big boost last week with the announcement that it will receive $800,000 from a state transportation funding plan.

As part of the Legislature's ConnectOregon program, the Oregon Transportation Commission awarded nearly $100 million to 44 projects statewide on Wednesday, July 19.

ConnectOregon, created by Senate Bill 71 in 2005, calls for ambitious transportation infrastructure improvements statewide using lottery bonds - which is essentially borrowing against future Oregon Lottery revenues. The program seeks to strategically upgrade airports, seaports, railways and other systems that would improve connection within Oregon and to other states and countries.

Sandy's facility was one of only six mass transit-related projects to receive funding.

'We are especially pleased the Legislature recognized transit's valuable contribution to the state's transportation connectivity by making it part of this program,' said Julie Stephens, city transit manager and an Oregon Transit Association board member. 'The ConnectOregon contribution … will support the network of transit services that provides the citizens of East Clackamas County with transportation options to jobs, education, services and recreation. This will have a significant, positive impact on the livability and economy of the area.'

State Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, who campaigned to keep mass transit funding and Sandy's project in the ConnectOregon bill, said, 'This is really good for the city of Sandy. The city has done wonders with its transportation issues, and there are some huge issues coming down the road. Sandy will be able to finally move ahead with its transportation plan.'

The centerpiece of that plan is the estimated $3.1 million transit facility, which will include a park-and-ride station for the Sandy Area Metro bus service, administrative and operations offices, and maintenance and storage space for buses and the city's public works department.

'We've outgrown the space we occupy now,' Stephens said in a previous interview. 'Our dispatch, scheduling and drivers' center is all in one room, which certainly makes for distraction. We're looking forward to being able to separate those functions and provide a larger, more secure space.'

The city will pay for the facility primarily using the $800,000 grant, $650,000 in federal matching funds, $620,000 in surplus land sales and about $1.5 million in local utility money from a contingency fund.

Ridership has more than doubled since creation of the Sandy transit system in 2000. In 2005 the SAM and STAR bus systems provided more than 185,000 rides - a number that is growing 6 to 10 percent annually. Another 45 weekly service hours will be added between Sandy and Gresham this fall, and the system's 1 millionth rider is expected before the end of the year.

'I'm very proud of the city's efforts to expand transit in East Clackamas County,' Smith said. 'This new site (will provide) a nexus for transit services to Gresham, Estacada and Welches.'

Sandy is moving forward with its plans to construct the facility. In April, the city purchased 8.1 acres in the industrial Pioneer Corporate Park for $1.24 million.

Stephens said city staff has worked with a design team for several months on a master plan for the facility to find out how big the complex will be and what amenities it will have. She expects the plan to be finished sometime next month. Construction contracts would be awarded at the same time.

'I fully expect us to break ground in the next year,' Stephens said, noting that the building should be ready for use by the end of 2007. Additional phases would be added to the facility in later years.

Last Wednesday Gov. Ted Kulongoski indicated that he would champion a sequel to the ConnectOregon program in the next legislative session. 'ConnectOregon II' would offer another $100 million to transportation infrastructure in the state.

Is Sandy transit looking to apply for additional funds? 'If we have a project that fits, we probably will,' Stephens said. 'However, there were like 25 transit projects that applied for (the first ConnectOregon) across the state. It's more likely that the bounty would be shared across the state regions.'

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