Tuesday, June 28, 2016

At the MPO: A Public Hearing on I-5 Widening, Light on Deliberation

Today, Tuesday the 28th, the Policy Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a Public Hearing on the proposed amendments for I-5 widening to be added to the 2015-2020 funding cycle and the 20 year Regional Transportation System Plan. (Meeting packet here, see previous discussion here.)

Location for proposed I-5 widening
A Digression on Public Process

The Hearing itself doesn't seem all that important.

On the matter of the Police Station as well as on Rob Handy v. Lane County (RG article here, Court calendar entry here) at the Oregon Supreme Court, there has been some local discussion of Process.

Maybe we'll circle back to those matters as they relate to the City of Salem, but they seem at least peripherally relevant to SKATS.

The formal Public Comment period for the amendments closed on June 14th - but here we are a couple of weeks later for a Public Hearing. The Staff Report agenda item recommends that the Committee
I. Conduct a public hearing for the amendments to the SKATS 2015-2035 RTSP, FY 2015-2020 TIP, and associated AQCDs.
2. Adopt Resolution 16-6 to amend AQCD for the SKATS 2015-2035 RTSP, Resolution 16-7 to amend SKATS 2015-2035 RTSP, Resolution 16-8 to amend AQCD for the SKATS FY 2015-2020 TIP, and Resolution 16-9 to amend SKATS FY 2015-2020 TIP. A unanimous vote is required.
Especially with the requirement for a unanimous vote, it looks like Committee members are on notice that this is a done deal. There is no actual deliberation and consideration that will be going on in the Public Hearing. The decision is already made, and the Hearing a pro-forma gesture to satisfy the need to "deliberate" in public.

In the comment period that closed on June 14th, it is significant that the only written testimony in the packet is against the amendments. Four persons offered comment in varying ways supportive of prioritizing non-auto mobility. No person offered comment in support of more highway.

(For context, apparently only three people showed up for the Open House earlier this month, so even though it's $48 million in play, it's not like we are dealing with a popular issue. It also illustrates the "color of the bike shed" problem: What to take out a few parking stalls and stripe a bike lane in a $500,000 project? Huge problem! Want to spend $48 million on highway widening? No biggie.)

The April minutes suggest that ODOT is driving this and pretty much confirm they expect the Policy Committee to rubber-stamp:
Commissioner Sam Brentano commented that while he is not opposed to widening 1-5 from Salem to Albany, he wants to ensure that Policy Committee actions do not preclude work on the Donald/ Aurora Interchange. He also expressed concern related to the Brooklake Interchange. Chair Cathy Clark commented that the Brooklake Interchange has more work to be done before it is construction ready.

Commissioner Brentano asked if project readiness had anything to do with the ODOT decision to select this section of I-5 for improvement. Tim Potter responded that this is the last piece of a project that has spanned about 25 years. However, he is not aware of all of the details surrounding the selection of the 1-5 projects in the Salem area. He noted that the Donald-Aurora Interchange is also a high priority to the state; however, he doesn't see that approving funding for the 1-5 projects here represents a lost opportunity for the other interchange. A large portion of the proposed funding would come, if selected for funding, from a national competitive funding program. Should the SKATS Policy Committee not unanimously support the projects proposed in the amendments, there is no guarantee that the proposed funding would be allocated elsewhere in the mid-valley area....

Councilor Jim Lewis asked if the Fast Act/FASTLANE funds can only be used on I-5; or if they could, in the future, be used for the Salem Rivercrossing project. Tim Potter responded that the formula funds could likely be used for the Rivercrossing project. However, he isn't sure if the FASTLANE funds could be used for it....*

Commissioner Craig Pope concurred with Commissioner Brentano's concerns. He wondered if these proposed projects are a SKATS or an ODOT priority. He, too, expressed concern about the Donald/Aurora Interchange. He suggested that a robust discussion about regional priorities should take place....

Mayor Gary Tiffin asked if it is too late to exchange the proposed projects for other priorities. Commissioner Pope asked if these projects are a done deal or if the Policy Committee can weigh-in and redirect the funding to higher priorities. Mr. Jaffe explained that while the SKATS Policy Committee can reject the project(s) from being added to the RTSP and TIP and therefore keep these projects from moving forward, the Policy Committee does not have the authority to reallocate these funds to other projects. Project timing is also an issue. Tim Potter reminded committee members that votes related to the RTSP and TIP must be unanimous.
This seems like a somewhat coercive instance of "consensus" and may not in fact be a model of good public process.

A lot of the Salem River Crossing process has seemed driven by a pre-determined conclusion as well.

It's not always like this, but there's enough faux-process that it's easy to see why citizens might sometimes feel like they don't actually have a say or can make a difference.

Hydraulic Autoism as Solution to Congestion

This from 1937 remains our ideal - via NYRB
Also in April, just to note in passing, in the discussion of the prospect of Salem named newly eligible for future Congestion Management Air Quality funds (which include CO, but not CO2):
Councilor Jim Lewis commented that congestion in Salem leads to air quality issues. He favors investments in increasing the flow of traffic. Chair Cathy Clark commented that she favors Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) projects as everyone benefits from improving the flow of traffic. She also appreciates bus transponders and real time information. She would like to make high-quality improvements in all areas of transportation. Commissioner Brentano concurred with Councilor Lewis about the importance of making things move better. He does not favor lane closures. He suggested that this issue be revisited during the next Policy Committee meeting.
This is the logic by which the Salem River Crossing is "green" and will reduce emissions. We are far from the understanding that a more effective way of reducing emissions is to shift drive-alone trips to walk, bike, bus or carshare trips. Making better traffic flow just induces more driving and more pollutants.The only enduring way to ease congestion and pollution is to make it easy not to drive.

Adding lanes doesn't work (CalDOT)
In that conversation there was also talk of the "possibility of swapping CMAQ funds for STPGP funds in for currently programmed projects in the SKATS TIP" and that makes me a little suspicious - like it would be easier to raid STPGP funding for expansion projects or something. The prospect of that administrative move might bear watching.

Weak Commitment to TDM Programming and Projects

Finally, and back to the current agenda, in the discussion of project criteria for the 2018-2023 cycle:
In order to fully implement the RTSP's policy framework, the process for selecting projects for the TIP must consider the Plan's goals and objectives. In addition, federal law and regulations require MPOs with a population greater than 200,000 to have a Congestion Management Process (CMP) to identify congested roads and work on reducing the impacts of congestion. Appendix E of the RTSP outlines the following major strategies for addressing congestion in the SKATS area:
• Transportation Demand Management (TDM) which is supported with funds to the Cherriots Rideshare and TDM programs or project identified in studies such as Salem Willamette River Crossing Alternate Modes Study....[italics added]
I want to suggest that the funding level for Cherriot Rideshare (5% of funds, the green slice) as well as the very small number of actually funded projects from the Salem Willamette RiverCrossing Alternate Modes Study is far from constituting anything "major."

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
We are not really very serious about reducing congestion.

SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 28th at noon. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

* In a comment on a previous post, and relevant to Tiim Potter's point about the SRC, SKATS staff clarified:
The funding for this project is coming from formula funds from potentially three sources: The National Highway Freight Program, a grant application to FASTLANE and ODOT state funds.

The National Highway Freight Program funds can only be used on the National Highway Freight Network (NHFN), which does not include OR-22. In fact, the NHFN is currently defined as consisting only of I-5 in the Salem area.

FASTLANE is a nation-wide competitive grant program for projects that are either on the NHFN, on the NHS, a railway-highway grade separation/grade crossing project or is freight intermodal or freight rail. OR-22 is on the NHS so an application could be submitted for an eligible project. There is $800 million available nation-wide this year.
So no National Highway Freight funds could go to the SRC, if I understand this right.

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