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Roads? Rail? How do we pay for them?


A new Metro survey says Portland-area residents want government leaders to maintain and repair existing infrastructure to create jobs.

But there are important differences within the region as to what kind of improvements should be made, and how to pay for them.

For example, roads and highways are a more important issue to Clackamas and Washington county residents than to people living in Multnomah County.

Multnomah County residents are more concerned about bus service and bike lanes than those in Clackamas and Washington counties.

Washington County residents are more likely than their neighbors in Clackamas and Multnomah counties to believe government leaders should attract large corporations to the region to create jobs.

Oh, yeah, there is more support for a minor league baseball team in Hillsboro than in Milwaukie — a good thing, because that’s where the Yakima Bears are moving.

Those are just some of the regional differences found in an online survey recently commissioned by Metro, the elected regional government. Results of the Opt In survey conducted in late July shed light on some of the conflicts within the region, including why some Clackamas County voters are questioning the cost and the need for the new $1.49 billion Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project. Or why Washington County officials are so keen about creating more industrial land in the Hillsboro area.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers, which owns publications throughout the three counties. The two companies worked with Metro on the questions and encouraged readers to join the ongoing Opt In panel that is invited to answer surveys on various issues throughout the year. One goal was to increase the number and diversity of the people invited to take the recurring online surveys.

More than 16,000 people have joined the Opt In panel. Of them, 3,385 completed this survey — 469 from Clackamas County, 1,985 from Multnomah County and 865 from Washington County. In addition to a set of specific questions on regional topics, people in the survey provided thousands of written responses and opinions.

A total of 133 surveys were completed by Portland Tribune and Community Newspaper readers who joined the panel for the first time.

People who want to take part in future surveys can register online at optinpanel.org. No personal information gathered in the survey will be sold or used for marketing purposes.

Paying for improvements

Regional infrastructure financing is a new and growing concern at Metro. In July 2008, Metro released its regional infrastructure report predicting that an additional 1 million people would move to the Portland-Vancouver region by 2035, with the majority settling in the three Oregon counties south of the Columbia River. The report predicted it would cost between $27 million and $41 million for the infrastructure maintenance and improvements needed to accommodate the expected population.

But, according to the report, only about half the money could be expected from traditional sources, such as the state gas tax used to pay for road improvements.

The recent Opt In survey shows regional residents share some but not all of Metro’s concerns — and that the perceived needs vary by location. For example, roads and highways are seen as the most important issue during the next five years in all counties. Clackamas and Washington county residents see them as twice as important as those living in Multnomah County, however. Roads and highways are the No. 1 issue for 44 percent of Clackamas County respondents and 41 percent of Washington County responded, but only 22 percent of Multnomah County respondents.

“Great need for more roads, wider freeways, less congestion,” wrote a Hillsboro woman who took part in the survey.

Maintaining existing bridges was the next highest priority, with approximately 18 percent of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington county respondents picking it as their most important priority. That was closely followed by water and sewer systems, with about 15 percent of all respondents considering them the most important issue.

Perhaps surprisingly, given all the attention it receives, light rail is seen as the most important infrastructure issue by only about 10 percent of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington county respondents. Bus service came in higher in Multnomah County, with 16 percent picking it as No. 1, compared to 3 percent in Clackamas County and 6 percent in Washington County.

Multnomah County residents also ranked bike lanes higher than their neighbors, with 8 percent putting them in first place, compared to 3 percent of Clackamas County respondents and 4 percent of those in Washington County.

“A bus service that provides frequent service would be a huge asset for our community,” wrote a Portland woman in the survey.

by: HOFFMAN CONSTRUCTION/SRG PARTNERSHIP - The minor league baseball stadium planned for Hillsboro has strong of support among Washington County residents. This artistic rendering shows it on a game day.

New baseball team?

A question on how to pay for the top priority improvements generated 2,604 responses. They ranged from cutting programs to increasing taxes, imposing tolls and users fees, and selling bonds.

“A bake sale? Actually, sin taxes usually pass, so levy tax on adult entertainment, adult bookstores and porn shops,” wrote a Washington County woman.

When it comes to helping the economy, opinions vary. Roughly 30 percent of all respondents said government leaders preserve the existing infrastructure to create jobs. Thirty percent of Multnomah County respondents said government should provide loans to small businesses, compared to 23 percent in Clackamas County and 28 percent in Washington County.

And 18 percent of Washington County respondents said government should recruit large corporations, compared to about 14 percent in the other counties.

“When attracting large corporations, we need to make sure we’re attracting high-wage jobs, not just low-wage jobs,” a Portland man wrote.

The survey did not specifically ask about Hillsboro’s decision to sell up to $15.2 million in bonds to build a minor league baseball stadium. It did ask about support within the region for a team moving to Hillsboro or Milwaukie, however.

Fifty-four percent of Washington County respondents supported a team in Hillsboro. Only 38 percent of Clackamas County respondents supported a team in Milwaukie.

A quarter of Multnomah County respondents supported a team in either location.

“Hillsboro and Washington county can make it happen, support it, leverage it to opportunity,” wrote a man in Banks. “I don’t see evidence any other area will do that.”

High participation rate

The Opt In surveys, launched in early 2011, are not intended to be scientific. They are one tool that Metro uses to receive public feedback on issues, along with more traditional methods such as open houses and public hearings. The project is managed by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., a Portland survey firm.

A February 2012 staff report to the Metro Council said the project made substantial progress toward the goal of increasing public participation in the Metro decision-making process during its first year. Ten surveys generated more than 20,000 completed responses and thousands of replies to open-ended questions. Participation ranged from a low of 39 percent to a high of 70 percent. Average participation was 49 percent, well above the industry standard and significantly higher than typical email survey rates.

The report also noted the Opt In surveys cost far less than scientific surveys — about $5,000 each. A telephone survey in the region can cost $25,000 to $50,000.

The staff report also pointed out that some groups are still under-represented on the Opt In panel, however. They include people of color; Clackamas and Washington county residents; Republicans; people without college degrees; and ages 18 to 34.