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Milwaukie delegation backs state trails grant

Led by mayor, supporters say Kronberg Park link is vital.

A delegation led by Mayor Mark Gamba came to Salem to ensure a state grant for completion of a multiuse trail through Robert Kronberg Nature Park in Milwaukie.

The final part of the trail will connect the crossing at River Road across Highway 99E (McLoughlin Boulevard) with already-completed improvements at the new bridge across Kellogg Lake.

“It will probably keep someone alive,” Gamba said Thursday (July 21) at a hearing of the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Although the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District operates the park, the city is the applicant for a $1.2 million grant through the Connect Oregon program, which funds projects other than highways and bridges.

“It is a critical piece of infrastructure, and it is relatively expensive, as short as it is — which is why a grant like this is so important to the city,” Gamba said. “It would be very difficult for us to fund this directly.”

The grant would be matched with $583,365 from other sources that Gamba said would be on hand.

The project would connect downtown Milwaukie and the Main Street light-rail station with the regional Trolley Trail.

“It is a missing link,” Councilor Wilda Parks said.

Also testifying were Council President Lisa Batey, Clare Fuchs, city sustainability director, and Chuck Eaton, city engineer.

Up to 10 others signed up to testify in favor of the grant — one of 39 projects proposed to be funded with the $49.5 million available from lottery-backed bonds in this round of Connect Oregon — but Tammy Baney, the state commission chairwoman, asked them to appoint a couple of representatives.

Most were clad in light blue T-shirts lettered with “Kronberg Park.” They were easily the largest group in support of a specific project.

The project is ranked 33rd on the list, which the state commission is expected to approve at its next meeting Aug. 18-19 in Klamath Falls.

Two other Clackamas County projects are on the list but did not receive public comments at the hearing.

One is a request for $390,000 for a new transit and operations center in Molalla for the South Clackamas Transportation District, which pledges a match of $207,000. It’s ranked 22nd.

The other is a request for $1.8 million for an updated transit center at Clackamas Community College, which pledges a $792,050 match. A multiuse path will connect it to Oregon City High School and future industrial development. It’s ranked 31st.

Projects in the three Portland area counties account for eight of the 39 on the list, which started with 75 qualifying proposals seeking $91.2 million.

The overall list is more than the $45 million that lawmakers made available for the current round of Connect Oregon projects in 2015. That’s because the Oregon Department of Transportation reported about $4.5 million more available from savings on previous projects or projects that did not go through.

ODOT keeps $500,000 for administration, so the total available for projects is $49 million.

Under Connect Oregon, project sponsors have 180 days from commission approval to sign contracts with ODOT — and they are reimbursed for their shares only after projects are completed.

Connect Oregon has distributed $370 million in proceeds from lottery-backed bonds to 186 projects since it started in 2005. The proceeds were matched by $535 million from other sources.

In each of its first three budget cycles, lawmakers made available $100 million for Connect Oregon projects. But that amount has shrunk in recent cycles to about $40 million.

Earlier during the hearing, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, told the commission that the current round of Connect Oregon projects could be the last if Oregon voters approve any of three ballot measures that would lay claim to guaranteed shares of Oregon Lottery proceeds.

Under the Oregon Constitution, 18 percent of lottery proceeds go into an education reserve fund, and 15 percent go to parks, watersheds and salmon habitat. A fluctuating share goes toward debt service on previously issued bonds.

Lawmakers have discretion over the rest, which must go to economic development and education.

Johnson said those measures on the Nov. 8 ballot are in addition to a looming $1 billion shortfall for the state’s 2017-19 budget cycle.

“Connect Oregon relies on available lottery funds,” said Johnson, who is Senate co-leader of the legislative budget subcommittee on transportation. “If all of those are subscribed through the ballot box, there will be no Connect Oregon projects … if we do not have the money to back it up. So I think this existential threat to Connect Oregon is something voters ought to be aware of.”

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