Street projects lose traction
Transportation dollars flow into Central City as neighborhoods wait
At first glance, the three budget-related city maps could not be more revealing.
Two of the maps show that the heaviest concentrations of bad streets are in east, north, southeast and southwest Portland.
The third map shows that the city spent more than half of its transportation construction dollars in a different part of town last year - the Central City, which includes downtown, South Waterfront, the Pearl District and the inner eastside.
According to the maps, the City Council authorized spending $98.4 million on transportation construction projects in the Central City Plan District in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The council authorized spending only $81.3 million in the rest of Portland that year.
'There are bad streets everywhere, but the city is spending most of its money in just one place, downtown,' says David Hampsten, a member of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Budget Advisory Committee, using the common term for the planning district that encompasses the urban core.
City officials - including Mayor Sam Adams - caution against jumping to such a conclusion. They argue that much of the Central City transportation spending was tied to a single project, the $148.3 million eastside Portland Streetcar extension that is being largely funded by the federal government. The officials also say that area has special infrastructure needs because it is the employment center for the entire metropolitan region.
'The Central City is unique,' says Adams.
Hampsten, who represents the Eastside Action Plan on the advisory committee, agrees. But he notes that many major transportation projects have taken place in the Central City in recent years, including construction and renovation of the Transit Mall with additional MAX service.
'In a fair and equitable world, downtown would still receive a disproportionate share of all transportation dollars, but the city has gone way overboard on that,' says Hampsten, an engineer.
The heavy transportation spending in the Central City is continuing. The eastside streetcar extension is still under construction. Work has just begun on the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail bridge between South Waterfront and the inner eastside.
Last week, the council created a transportation system development charge overlay district in the area to help run the streetcar over the bridge, forming a streetcar loop around much of the Central City.
The new district will contribute $5.4 million toward the $22 million Close the Loop project. Transportation officials are still trying to figure out where they'll get the remaining funds.
Source: City of Portland • Tribune Graphics: Pete Vogel
Can't get funding
Despite his criticisms, Hampsten praises Adams for creating the Budget Mapping project that produced the maps. Administered by the Office of Management and Finance, the project is intended to show where city money is raised and spent within the seven recognized neighborhood coalition areas that represent all parts of town.
The Central City Plan District was broken out when those working on the project realized how much spending occurred within it.
Only four bureaus participated in the first year of the project, which covered the council-approved budget that ran from June 30, 2010, to July 1, 2011. They were the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Parks and Recreation, the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire and Rescue.
The transportation map documented $162.2 million in authorized construction spending. The information is shown as total spending per resident and worker in each of the eight areas. The Central City came in the highest at $674 per user. The seven neighborhood coalition areas ranged from $58 to $162 per user, all of which were at the low end of the scale.
The transportation bureau also helped prepare two maps that documented the poor condition of many roadways in the city. One showed the distribution of 58.7 miles of dirt and gravel streets. The largest percentage of those unimproved roads is in the east, southeast and southwest neighborhood coalition areas.
Another map showed the location of the worst arterial and collector streets. In addition to the three areas on the other map, they include the north and Central City areas.
Hampsten's concerns are echoed in Southwest Portland, where Multnomah Neighborhood Association Chairman Moses Ross says the maps prove that the council needs to spend its transportation dollars more equitably.
'We've got three priority projects in Southwest Portland that can't get funding. I recognize that downtown has needs, but so do we,' says Ross.
Hampsten admits that the transportation bureau does not have enough discretionary money to repair all of the roads. Most of the bureau's maintenance and construction money comes from the state gas tax, and it has not been increased for many years, allowing inflation and higher-mileage cars to erode its buying power.
Although the 2009 Legislature authorized a slight increase, much of Portland's early share was obligated to two existing high-priority regional projects, the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line and the Sellwood Bridge replacement.
'The city will never have enough money to catch up on the its road projects without a big increase in the state gas tax, and the votes probably wouldn't support it,' says Hampsten.
Adams notes that the eastside streetcar extension is funded primary with money that cannot be spent on other projects or projects in other parts of town. It includes $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration, $27.7 million from the Portland Development Commission, $15.50 million from a local improvement district, and $20 million from Oregon State Lottery that will pay for five streetcars manufactured by United Streetcar LLC, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas.
Many other transportation construction projects occurred in the other parts of town last year. Dozens of projects were listed on the Portland Bureau of Transportation capital program budget approved by the council. They include street, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in every neighborhood coalition area.
The list does not include many other projects in Portland funded by the state and federal governments.
The Budget Mapping project is preparing spending maps for all bureaus for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Service are expected to also help prepare maps showing where the water and sewer system is most in need of maintenance.