Archive | December, 2010

$1.5 billion transportation project passes the FEIS milestone

The Sunrise Corridor’s FEIS has been approved. The price tag: $1.5 billion.
And no, I’m not talking about Milwuakie MAX.

Instead, it’s another transportation project in Clackamas County, one that involves concrete (6-8 lanes of it) rather than steel rails and overhead caternary, one whose price tag appears to be just about the same as Milwaukie MAX, which should merit some interesting compares.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Sunrise Corridor–a new 6-8 lane freeway connecting the current interchange of I-205, OR 213 (82nd Avenue) and OR 224 (Milwaukie Expressway), heading east, just north of the current OR224/212 alignment out to Rock Creek junction, and ending a short distance west of the current “center” of Damascus. The project, if built, would be the first new freeway built on the Oregon side of the Portland metro area since I-205 was completed back in the 1980s. (We’ve widened several since then, but no new ones have been built).

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project was just recently published, and the executive summary is interesting reading. (The full EIS can be downloaded from the ODOT project website; one document per chapter–the “old” project website which was hosted David Evans and Associates, the consulting firm overseeing the drafting of the EIS, appears to have vanished).

The price tag? Just south of $1.5 billion. (If this were Dead Horse Times, I’d insert the customary picture of Dr. Evil here, but portlandtransport.com is too highbrow for such cheap editorial stunts).

A billion doesn’t buy you very much any more

For the $1.5 billion, what do you get?

  • A five-mile freeway stretching from I-205 to Rock Creek Junction, 6-8 lanes in width, along with some realignment and widening of OR212 east of there.
  • Three interchanges along the route, one at I-205, one at or about SE 122nd, and one at Rock Creek, including the monstrous new interchange at I-205 shown below. (Click on the picture for a bigger version).hellinterchange.png
  • Various improvements to other approach roads and ramps in the corridor, including a new braided ramp at the current I-205/OR212 interchange, a new access road connecting 82nd Avenue to the commercial area just west of 82nd and north of 224, a new Ambler Road overcrossing of the UPRR tracks, and a network of multi-use paths.

You don’t get any transit, naturally, though I’m sure the 31E will use this new freeway if it gets built, and it’s still running. This is an ODOT project, after all.

Show me the money

The big catch–there’s always a catch, after all–is that out of that $1.5 billion, only $200 million or so has been budgeted to build the thing–$1.3 billion is not an amount you can paper over with an urban renewal district here or there. :) Out of that $200 million, $56 million is the value of land in the right-of-way already owned by various stakeholders. Metro hasn’t identified any funding for the project as of yet, though it’s included in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, in the “financially contrained scenario” (i.e. its high on the priority list). Including funds not currently budgeted, it’s estimated that over $400 million will be available in the next 20 years–still leaving a $1 billion shortfall.

Tolling has been considered for the project, though it appears to be off the radar screen as of now. (A similar conclusion to the tolling question was reached on the Newburg/Dundee Bypass).

There’s one other possible fly in the funding ointment. Currently, there are a few electoral efforts underfoot in Clackamas County to withdraw financial commitments made by county commissioners (albeit commitments which are unpopular with voters) to fund other shorter-term regional projects, namely MLR and the Sellwood Bridge. Were these referenda to be successful, and other regional stakeholders forced to come up with additional funds to complete these projects (assuming further reductions in scope couldn’t be made instead)–how might that affect regional contributions to the Sunrise Corridor? While no such deals (or threats, or however you want to spin it) have been discussed in public–generally infrastructure financing deals involve a good deal of horsetrading between different governmental entities. I hope I don’t sound like a mafia wiseguy when I make this observation (“nice freeway project ya got there…”), but I could see a scenario where Metro’s funding level for the Sunrise project (were it to get that far) to drop by $30 million or so….

Objections?

The other hurdle the project will face is objections from environmentalists. Oregon’s environmental lobby is rather good at blocking or descoping roadway projects–and is far better at it than CPI and other conservative groups are at derailing transit. (Not that I’m complaining. :) And it appears there’s at least one big bright red plum for 1000 Friends and their friends to pick on this project–the “independent utility” rule for federally-funded infrastructure projects. For a project to qualify for Federal funding, it has to have “independent utility”–it can’t depend on the construction of subsequent projects for proper functioning. The FEIS claims that this condition has been met–but it’s a condition that can be challenged in court. A similar challenge helped kill off the West Eugene Parkway, and a good argument can be made the Sunrise Corridor won’t be fully effective until the “part 2” project–the so-called “Sunrise Parkway”, connecting Rock Creek to US26 west of Sandy–is built. (The Parkway is still in concept phase at this point). And there’s also the little matter of traffic on the Milwaukie Expressway–which might see additional pressure were this project built (and especially if the Parkway were also built, and zillions of skiers and freight haulers to start using this route rather than the Gresham street network to reach the Mt. Hood Highway).

There’s one more issue worth noting–development in Damascus. A major justification for the project is the urbanization of Damascus–a decade ago, planners were projecting that the Damascus area would see significant increases in population. That hasn’t happened (other than in the westernmost parts); and Damascus residents, not particularly liking the County’s (and Metro’s) plans for their community, incorporated–thus allowing themselves greater control over their land use planning. Whether or not significant development in Damascus will occur, I don’t know–but many residents there are opposed to it. But without urbanization of the area, is there still justification for an infrastructure project of this magnitude?

At any rate, it should be interesting.

UPDATED: Anti urban renewal petition being circulated in Clackamas County

An initiative petition is being circulated in Clackamas County to require countywide voter approval for the creation of urban renewal districts, other than those lying within cities. Could be on the ballot in Fall 2011.

Yuxing Zheng of The Oregonian reports that an initiative petition is being circulated in Clackamas County to require that urban renewal districts, other than within cities, be approved by voters. The sponsors of the petition have a website here. (Our very own Jim Karlock apparently drew the big chart featured prominently thereon). At this point, the website doesn’t contain very much information on the proposal (including any draft of the initiative language), just a statement of position and exhortations to send money. (That said, the campaign appears to be just getting started, so I’m not troubled by this—yet.)

While I have my own doubts about urban renewal–a practice which can be abused, and one which as traditionally implemented can deprive various special districts (school, fire, etc.) of tax revenue without their consent or participation (though recent changes in state law attempt to rein in this problem), the way the proposal is structured, according to the article, appears to require the entire county vote on such project, as opposed to only those voters affected by a specific urban renewal program (whether directly in the district, or within service districts affected by the urban renewal program).

The initiative does not appear to have any affect on Milwaukie MAX (if the petition succeeds in referring the proposal to the ballot, the earliest it will appear is September 2011, by which time MLR will well be underway, and the City of Milwaukie UR funds would not be affected), but appears to take dead aim at the possibility of extending the rails further south to Gladstone or Oregon City. The county is putting together a new UR district called the “McLoughlin Boulveard District” (a recent article on the subject) to finance improvements along McLoughlin in the Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge area–essentially the unincorporated segment between Milwaukie and Gladstone. While extending MAX that far south is not likely to happen for several decades at least, I would expect that a big part of urban renewal in the corridor would be in anticipation of a future MAX line.

9,378 signatures would be needed to place the question on the ballot.

Update:

We have obtained the petition text and proposed ballot language, which are reproduced here:

ACT TO REQUIRE VOTER APPROVAL OF URBAN RENEWAL

Be it enacted, the Clackamas County electors propose adding the following chapter to their County Code:

Chapter 3.03 Voter Approval of Urban Renewal

3.03.010 A county urban renewal agency shall not be activated or authorized to exercise additional powers without the approval of county electors at a general election.

3.03.020 Every new urban renewal plan, or substantial change to an existing plan, shall be referred to county electors for their approval at a primary or general election.

3.03.030 Whenever an election required by Chapter 3.03.020 will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness, the county shall determine the information required to complete the public notice statements A-D in this section. Public Notice Statements shall be posted on the county website at least 45 days in advance of the election and mailed to county electors no more than ten days in advance of distributing ballots.

(A) “ATTENTION VOTER: IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT [identify local measure number].

(B) “If approved, this measure will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Repayment of such debt may significantly reduce the amount of property tax revenues that would be otherwise available for public schools, police, fire, library and other public services within Clackamas County for [maximum duration of indebtedness, listed in years and months].”

(C) “The maximum amount of new Urban Renewal Indebtedness permitted by this measure is [maximum new URI permitted by proposed plan or amendment].”

(D) “The maximum amount of interest payable for this debt is [maximum amount of interest payments for new URI over lifespan of debt].

Public Notice Statements do not need to be mailed to County Electors if printed at the top of the explanatory statement of the County Voter’s Pamphlet.

3.03.040 The county shall not approve or amend a plan by any means other than by ordinance. Non-substantial changes to any plan may be approved by non-emergency ordinance of the Board of Commissioners.

3.03.050 Upon the retirement of all urban renewal indebtedness authorized by county urban renewal plans, the purpose for a county urban renewal agency will cease and it shall be terminated. Any continuing obligations or rights of a terminated agency shall be assumed by the county.

3.03.060 As used in this Chapter:

“Urban renewal plan” and “plan” have the meaning given those terms in ORS Chapter 457 as it now exists or may hereafter be amended, or a similar plan adopted under any other provision of law.

“Substantial change” means any change proposed to be made to an existing urban renewal plan that:

(A) Expands the boundary, duration or borrowing authority of any plan; or,

(B) Alters the basic purpose, engineering or financing principles of a voter-approved plan.

“Urban renewal indebtedness” and “URI” mean debt incurred pursuant to an urban renewal plan where repayment is pledged from ad valorem taxes assessed within the county.

3.03.070 Miscellaneous provisions.

This chapter shall become immediately effective upon passage by the electors. If any provision of this chapteris barred from operation by superior law, the other provisions shall remain unaffected. Prior to any public hearing to consider legislation that would conflict with provisions of this chapter or prevent them from operating, the county must provide notice of the proposed legislation and hearing date to all county electors by mail at least two weeks prior to the hearing. Any legislation passed in violation of this provision shall be void.

And the ballot language:

BALLOT TITLE PETITION NUMBER 3-371

CAPTION:
Voter Approval of Urban Renewal

QUESTION:
Shall the Clackamas County Code be amended to require voter approval of Urban Renewal decisions?

STATEMENT:
This measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to create an urban renewal agency. The measure also requires voter approval when an urban renewal agency seeks to authorize the exercise of additional powers. The measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to establish a new urban renewal plan or to substantially change an existing plan. The County is required to provide public notice when an election will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Any approval or amendment to an urban renewal plan by the county must be done by ordinance. The retirement of all previously authorized urban renewal indebtedness will result in the termination of the urban renewal agency. Any continuing obligations or rights of the terminated agency will be assumed by the county. If passed, this chapter will be immediately effective.

One legal question immediately comes to mind. Clackamas County is a “general law” county, and thus has no county charter–the county’s complement of elected officials, their powers under the law, and the manner of their election are specified by state law. Article VI of the state Constitution provides that counties may elect to enact county charters which provide for different arrangements (ORS 203 has a lot of additional detail on the subject)–counties which have done so are called “home rule” counties. Nine of Oregon’s 36 counties are home rule counties, including Multnomah and Washington, though Clackamas County is not.

The legal question which comes to mind is: in the absence of a county charter, can the Board or voters of a county vote to restrain their own legislative powers? The petition appears to have the same legal affect as a simple ordinance; and the last paragraph of the proposed petition contains language which essentially purports to prohibit the Board from reversing (via subsequent ordinance) the petition. Does this language have any legal effect? According to a source familiar with the petition, the petitioners investigated this same question and are satisfied that the petition meets legal muster. At the state level, it’s a well-settled legal question that ordinary legislative acts or initiative petitions cannot constrain the powers of the state Legislature other than by amending the state Constitution; but county lawmaking might well be different. IANAL and all of that.

Origin Stories, Continued

Last week I shared a clip of my first bicycle. I continue to work my way through the converted video files from my old family Super-8 movies and suspect I may have found an early influence for my multi-modal transportation obsession.

In the summer of 1965 I traveled to New York City with my parents for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. I apparently “drove” a car (on a track) and rode both a monorail and an aerial tram…

Another Step Forward for Transit Appliances

The holiday break has been productive, I had a chance to polish up the first pass (“beta”) of a configuration service for the Transit Appliance project.

This is a web-based GUI that lets you configure a custom display for transit arrival information. The idea is to allow this tool to configure multiple applications, and for our first release it’s handling both our own Transit Board as well as TriMet’s Transit Tracker (Transit Tracker doesn’t really need a configuation tool, but for proof-of-concept I needed a second app to show!).

You can check it out here: http://service.config.transitappliance.com/

If you want to use it with some hardware (like the Insignia Infocast), go over to our sister Transit Appliance site for the full scoop on how to connect them. Otherwise you can just bookmark the resulting configuration.

BTW – the project has been attracting some volunteers! I’d like to thank Francis for significant help on the user experience and Matt who’s working to bring this to other kinds of hardware. If you’d like to help move this effort forward, reach out (webmaster@portlandtransport.com) and let me know. There are lots of ways to help.

Enjoy, and please give us feedback!