Saturday, June 11, 2016

MPO Subcommittee Moots Sidewalks vs. Third Bridge for 2018-2023 Cycle

The technical advisory committee for our local metropolitan planning organization meets next week and they've got a bunch of substantive administrative matters on tap. Significantly, as they look to the 2018-2023 cycle and plan, they are beginning to talk about setting aside funding for parts of a Third Bridge, and this merits close attention. (Agenda and packet here.)

General Discussion on Priorities and Values

There's a good bit of discussion about evaluation criteria, and the policies and values that might inform them. Funding parts of a Third Bridge is being considered. Because of the dollar value, it potentially dominates everything.

This casts a long shadow over everything
September 2014 Oversight Team Presentation
The whole section in the Staff Report is worth quoting:
With over $14 million in federal funds to program, there are several policy questions that should be discussed prior to selecting projects for the draft SKATS FY 2018-2023 TIP....

2. Should an amount be set aside to partially fund a large and expensive regional project?

The SKATS RTSP contains a number of large and expensive projects that are difficult to program relative to the limited funds received by SKATS. There are six projects between $5-10 million, and five over $10 million. These include a new interchange at OR22 at Cordon Rd., upgrading McGilchrist St., widening Cordon Rd., and several other projects. The FHWA record of decision (ROD) for the Salem River Crossing Final EIS is expected to be completed in 2017, and there has been discussion about setting aside some of SKATS's federal funds for an initial phase of the project.

Large projects such as these require a substantial amount of funding and many years to complete. With $14 million available over the next five years, now might be the time to set aside some of those funds to go toward a large project. Another option is to also set-aside an amount in the illustrative years of the plan (FY 2022 and 2023), when another $5 million could be available (although those years are beyond the current federal act (FAST Act)). Either approach might also be a strategy for leveraging future competitive state and federal funds such as a federal TIGER grant.

The implications, risks, and challenges of doing a large set-aside include:
a. It leaves fewer funds for Complete Street projects, ITS, transit projects, intersection improvements, etc.
b. If a project is only partly funded using SKATS funds with the intention to leverage a state/federal grant, there is the risk of not getting a grant and therefore having the SKATS funds either sit idle or not be used efficiently.
c. Competitive federal and state grants are more often provided to projects that have significant local match.
d. It should be kept in mind that federally mandated performance measures in the near future will require projects in the SKATS TIP go toward meeting targets for safety and system performance as noted on page 2.
e. For a project associated with the River Crossing, one concern would be identifying what the initial project would be and which jurisdiction(s) would provide the match. In order to include a project in the adopted TIP, it must have a description of the project and a source of match. (Note: funds that SKATS identifies for the 2022 and 2023 illustrative years would not be added to the FY 2018-2021 Statewide TIP, so don't require as much detail.)

Staff recommendation - A discussion is needed by the Policy Committee and TAC about this option.
I don't know what is the best frame for advocacy on this.

Risk a) alone seems like it should be sufficient: a large set-aside "leaves fewer funds for Complete Street projects, ITS, transit projects, intersection improvements, etc." As we've mentioned before, funding a Third Bridge sucks all the air out of the room. It's not just the absolute cost, which would be considerable; there is also the opportunity cost, what valuable, and generally more cost-effective, projects we have to defer or delete because the funding is instead going to a giant bridge and highway. If we build a giant bridge and highway, we will be doing fewer other things.

In setting the context for decisions about that 2018-2023 cycle, in the review of past projects, I was happy to see a new pie chart.

The 22% wedge for "complete street" needs more detail, though, as it has been the subject of some wrangling. There's a subclass of "complete street" projects that are bike lanes and sidewalks bolted on to projects that are primarily widening ones, and then there's another class that do not represent widening and might more properly be called complete street retrofits. There is meaningful shading in "complete streets" with primarily autoist expansion with a side order of sidewalks and bike lanes at one end and retrofitting without autoist expansion on the other. One type is something of a greenwash, the other is more truly balanced.

The 24% wedge for "planning" is mostly funding for the Salem River Crossing project, so it's a little misleading to allow readers to suppose that it represents planning in general or planning distributed equitably across a range or project concepts. It's urban highway planning. That's a few millions that might more usefully have been spent on neighborhood sidewalks or improved crosswalks.

More generally, we are still far from incorporating a greenhouse gas assessment as part of the way we score candidate projects. That remains a huge absence and will have a cascading series of network effects on the way we look at candidate project lists and they way components fit together.

Preliminary Ranking of 31 Projects for $14 Million

At the last meeting the committee scored and ranked the candidate projects (see here for more detail on the individual projects).
By the end of April, local jurisdictions submitted a total of 31 preapplications with requests totaling over $38 million for consideration for federal funding [$14 million actually available] in the SKATS FY 2018-2023 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)....After the May TAC meeting, TAC members provided priorities ("High," "Medium," and "Low") for each project relative to the transportation system needs. The projects are listed in order of the combined score of those relative priority rankings.

Full applications are due by 5:00 p.m. on July 29, 2016.
Here are the rankings:
  1. Center Street Bridge Seismic Retrofit Study ODOT/Salem
  2. 12th Street SE: Hoyt St. SE to Fairview Ave. SE Salem
  3. River Road N. Traffic Signal Interconnect- Keizer/Salem
  4. Cordon/Kuebler Traffic Signal Interconnect Salem
  5. Silverton @ Hollywood Traffic Signal & Tum Lane Marion County
  6. Union Street NE Family Friendly Bikeway Salem
  7. 45th Av : Silverton Rd to Ward Dr E Side Urban Upgrade Marion County
  8. Transit ITS Replacement and Upgrade SAM TD
  9. Fixed Route Transit Bus Replacements SAM TD
  10. Hilfiker Ln SE at Commercial St SE Intersection and Signal Upgrade Salem
  11. McGilchrist Street SE - Complete Streets Project Salem
  12. Lancaster @ Hayesville Traffic Signal & Tum Lanes Marion County
  13. Kuebler/Cordon Corridor Study and Management Plan Marion County
  14. Center St: Lancaster to 45th Av NE Upgrade Marion County
  15. Keizer Growth Transportation Impacts Study Keizer
  16. Oregon Household Travel and Activity Survey for the SKATS area SKATS
  17. Orchard Heights Road NW Pedestrian Improvements Salem
  18. Lancaster Or: Auburn to Center Urban Reconstruction. Marion County
  19. Lancaster Dr: Winema Signal and Realignment Marion County
  20. Connecticut Av: Macleay to Rickey W Side Bike/Ped Marion County
  21. Cordon Rd @ Herrin Rd Turn Refuge Marion County
  22. Verda Lane Bike/Ped improvements Keizer
  23. Wheatland Rd Bike and Ped Separation Design Keizer
  24. Brush College Road NW - Safe Routes to School Salem
  25. 25th Street SE Multi-Use Path Salem
  26. Liberty Street NE Bridge Over Mill Creek Salem
  27. Hollywood Or: Silverton Rd to Salem CL Urban Upgrade Marlon County
  28. Turner Road Downtown Upgrade Turner
  29. Sidewalk Reconstruction - Salem Northeast Neighborhood Salem
  30. Cordon @ Auburn Rd Traffic Signal and Turn lanes Marion County
  31. Lancaster@ Cooley Traffic Signal Marlon County
Mostly they seem reasonable, and I am glad to see the Center Street Bridge seismic project at the head of the list. Seeing the Union Street bikeway near the top is also reassuring.

But there's only $14 million available for $38 million of requests. Not everything will be funded. And if we fund part of a Third Bridge, that leaves even less funding for this list of projects.

Abbotsford, BC draft Official Community Plan
(See Chapt 3 for more on this policy)
Apart from the Third Bridge, if we had a more thorough "fix it first" philosophy as well as a better sense of priority for non-auto travel, projects like  #17, Orchard Heights sidewalks, #20 Macleay to Rickey sidewalks, #22  Verda sidewalks, and #25 25th Street side path, would all score higher. This might mean that widening and interconnect projects would score lower.

The current goals and evaluation criteria
Compared to the our current goals, "make walking, biking, and transit delightful" in Abbotsford seems like a more powerful aim than something "supportive of moving goods and people by their mode of choice." Additionally, it's not clear that we actually give people a real choice of non-auto travel. If our networks are full of gaps, does non-auto travel actually constitute a realistic choice except for those "strong and fearless" types? There is a lot of space between our words and our built conditions and funding choices.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
So even without changing our current evaluation framework, it should be possible to have a more vigorous interpretation and application of it.

SKATS Technical Advisory Committee meets Tuesday the 14th at 1:30pm. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Bar Andaluz and Table Five 08.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I wish that more people knew how important this committee really is to what gets done for our transportation system. I used to be on the SKATS Citizen Advisory Committee and we were supposed to help with community outreach. It was a real struggle to get staff to consider any form of public education...beyond the bare minimum that the federal government required...which was basically one mailer once a year to local groups and a press release. Sigh....

Unknown said...

Susann: Thanks for posting that. Before there was SKATS there was SATS, the Salem Area Transportation Study, and, as chair of the Planning Commission, I served on the overall SATS Coordinating Committee. We took the funds that were to be for an I-405 freeway bypass and we decided we needed a series of road projects instead. So we created the Liberty Commercial Couplet, the Salem Parkway, Cordon Road, and Kuebler Boulevard instead. Limited funds, so additional lanes would have to be funded in the future. However we had comprehensive plans for a Beltway boulevard, that included two river crossings (bridges), one from Chemawa Rd west across to West Salem. Another as a continuation of Kuebler, west across the river to Highway 22. Traffic counts and topography did not justify these huge projects, and there was no funding anyway. We had 3 trillion in overseas wars that needed our treasure. Geoff