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Road funding splits Metro votes

Two key Metro advisory committees recommended approval of the proposed regional tailpipe emissions reduction plan this week, but not without suggested changes to parts of the strategy.

The Metro Policy Advisory Committee and Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, both made up of regional leaders who are charged with advising the Metro Council, both voted to approve Metro's Climate Smart strategy. The strategy is a response to a state mandate to curb the region's tailpipe emissions by at least 20 percent by 2035.

The strategy ranked ways to cut emissions, mostly based on plans already on the books in the region's 25 cities and three counties. It assigned star ratings based on how effective those approaches would be at cutting tailpipe emissions.

Metro officials ranked approaches like improving transit and making supporting cleaner fuels as five-star approaches to cutting emissions. Improving highways to cut emissions ranked as a one-star approach – part of the strategy but not terribly effective.

Based on that, the road improvements were recommended as part of a "toolbox" of options cities, counties and Metro could use to meet the state's climate change mandate in the next decade. Transit and active transportation improvements were elevated to a list of short-term actions.

At MPAC on Wednesday night, Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey moved to get the road improvements into the short-term actions. And the next morning, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas made the same motion.

The MPAC motion passed 14-1, with Portland Public Schools Director Ruth Adkins casting the lone dissenting vote. At JPACT, the motion passed unanimously.

In arguing for the change, Willey said he was concerned that a one-star rating could make it hard to get funding for highway projects in the future.

"We think that streets and highways, arterials and intersections are a critical part of evaluating reducing traffic, reducing greenhouse gases in the whole area," Willey said.

At JPACT, Savas said he felt the Climate Smart strategies would be used as a filter for funding decisions. Clackamas County's concern, he said, is what gets filtered out.

"In Clackamas County … investments that reduce congestion are essential to reducing emissions, improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gases," Savas said. "These types of improvements not only reduce greenhouse gases but provide vital co-benefits of reducing congestion and lost time for traded-sector businesses."

Lake Oswego City Councilor Donna Jordan said allowing for road improvements will help places that don't have much in the way of other ways to get around.

"It helps those communities like Hillsboro and Gladstone and West Linn and Oregon City, places that don't have in place those bike and pedestrian kinds of opportunities," she said.

With the amended motions on the table, both committees were generally supportive of recommending the Metro Council approve the Climate Smart package.

"We need to repeat that we want to reduce air pollution, and we want to reduce the amount of miles driven, and we want households to save money," said Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle. "This is an economic development tool for our region. I can go to meetings … and say, 'Guess what we're doing now.' That's a value to attract employers here, or to stay here. I don’t think we know how impactful this is going to be across the country, but it adds to the aura of our region."

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick said the strategies will help improve the economy, public health – and the planet.

"We should periodically remind ourselves that we are talking about the defining challenge not just of this generation, but the history of the human race," Novick said.

Still, there was opposition to the plan. Both at MPAC and at JPACT, Clackamas County's representatives voted against endorsing the strategy.

The vote was particularly emotional for Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader, who voted to create the mandate when she served in the Oregon Legislature in 2009.

"I still agree with that yes vote," she said. But earlier that day, the Clackamas County Commission voted, as a whole, to oppose the plan. She said she was obligated to follow her commission's lead.

"What we're concerned about is being a suburban and rural county. Roads, arterials, we do want to make sure those revenue streams remain intact because our needs for reducing congestion are different," Schrader said. "I was not successful in getting a majority of the Clackamas County Commission to a yes vote."

At JPACT on Thursday, Savas said his county was considering developing its own greenhouse gas reduction plan. That was welcomed by Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen.

"I would encourage other jurisdictions to follow their lead, and take the work we've done at a regional level and take it back to their own jurisdictions, and determine how they can tailor and craft this plan to suit the needs of their own communities," Dirksen said.

MPAC voted 12-3 to recommend that the Metro Council approve the Climate Smart strategies, with Schrader, Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker and Oak Lodge Water District Commissioner Dick Jones voting no. JPACT voted 14-1 to recommend approval, with Savas casting the lone dissenting vote.

The Metro Council will take up the strategies – and decide whether to accept MPAC and JPACT's recommended change – at its Dec. 18 meeting. The plans will be reviewed by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission in 2015.

Nick Christensen is a reporter who works for Metro, the elected regional government. His stories are review for accuracy by the Portland Tribune.

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