Saturday, October 6, 2012

City Council, Oct 8th - Minto Bridge and Cemetery

The two big-ticket items for Council on Monday are the re-opened hearing on the alley adjacent to the Pioneer and City View cemeteries, and consideration of the funding strategy for the Minto Bridge and Path.

The City proposes to reallocate $3 million in Riverfront Downtown Urban Renewal Area funds for construction and to "increase the competiveness of future grant applications for the project."

According to the staff report, the City is $7 million short:
To date, $1,930,000 in Riverfront Downtown URA and $212,700 in South Waterfront URA funding has been committed to support design and permitting of the Bridge and Trail. Additional funding of approximately $6,200,000 for the Bridge and $800,000 for the Trail is needed for final design and construction....

To date, the only grant awarded is a $60,000 grant from the Oregon Business Development Department's Brownfields Redevelopment Program to fund environmental assessment in the location of the future Bridge and Trail. Feedback from other granting agencies indicates the funding gap for the Bridge and Trail is too large, leading to uncertainty regarding the ability to finance the project.
In order to shift the funds, the following reductions would be made - reductions to which the Downtown Advisory Board has given consent, it should be noted.
$1,300,000 - Reduce Existing Toolbox Loan Program Funds
$1,000,000 - Reduce Demonstration Grant Allocation
$150,000 - Eliminate Streetscape Funds
$550,000 - Reduce Ending Fund Balance
$3,000,000 - TOTAL
Without more information it's hard to evaluate the impact of these cuts, but I think it might be true that these are programs that have had difficulty soliciting applications, and so it might be that the money is in a sense idle and not being used as effectively as it might. So it may not be wholly accurate to characterize these as "cuts." Hopefully more detail will come out about this. 

At the same time, the strategy sure leaves the impression that we may not be getting the full story.

The bridge and path are being sold in part to people who bike, and packaged for transportation grants, as part of a commuting and transportation alternative solution for River Road.

But the route will be dark in winter and rain, and really indirect at all times.

And of course even without massive flooding, like we had in January, the park and paths will be impacted by episodes of ordinary high water.

Entry to Minto closed for high water
The Minto Path and Bridge is a recreation project and should be funded and enjoy expectations proper to recreation projects. If it is oversold as a transportation project, we will all be disappointed.  It is possible that the mismatch of reality to hoopla here could be part of the reason the project is struggling with funding.

The magnitude of the funding gap, too, in this economic climate, might suggest it could be better for the City to focus on improvements in the public right-of-way for people who bike to business and jobs - for groceries, retail, and other errands, and for work. 

As we continue to talk about spending $687+ million on a bridge, why aren't we investing in improving the Union Street Railroad Bridge connections as part of a strategy to make it easy to choose not to make a drive-alone trip over the Marion and Center Street bridges?

Other bridge details include reports on an application for Transportation Enhancement "discretionary" account funding (which is supplimental to the regular and competitive TE program), and an information report on the decision to withdraw from an Oregon Parks and Recreation grant program.

It looks like the TE discretionary account is a slush fund for "emergency" funding of unanticipated expenses. But the TE program is also getting phased out in the new Federal transportation bill, and it's hard to see how the bridge and path are far enough along to have unanticipated expenses. This looks like it could be something of a back-door funding opportunity. In particular, I'm not sure the project meets the requirement it have "a clear sense of urgency, including a convincing reason why the project cannot wait for the next selection cycle, and why it was not submitted in the last cycle."

The Parks and Rec grant required "the full balance of funding needed for the project be committed at the time the final application is submitted" and since the bridge and path project cannot meet this, it is being withdrawn from consderation.

Cemetery Alley Vacation

After the initial decision was appealed and the Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the decision back to the City, the hearing on a proposed vacation of a remnant alley has been re-opened and is back at Council. I think there is nothing new to say (past notes here), so instead, since the conversation isn't going to be as much about transportation as it is about the cemetery, even though the alley's not in the cemetery, and no path actually has been planned for the cemetery, I'm going to notice one of my favorite headstones.

John Shunk Zieber was U. S. Surveyor General for the State of Oregon, worked for Asahel Bush, and as Eugenia Zieber Bush's father was Asahel's father-in-law.  The lettering on this has verve - so stylish and expressive! 

Other Stuff

A Bunch of Eminent Domain proceedings on the Eola Drive NW widening project. I don't know how newsworthy these are in and of themselves, but it's always good to know when the power of the state has to be invoked in this way. Mostly these are necessary because of legal and procedural trickiness, not because of a stalemate with owners in negotiation.

There's a final accounting of the Energy Grant that was part of the Stimulus funding, otherwise known as "the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)." People who biked got "9 miles of signage on 3 bike routes, 12 bike lockers, 32 bike racks, and 1 shelter."

A stimulus-funded bike locker in use!

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