Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Project Scoring for 2018 Cycle Continues at the MPO

The Technical Advisory Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today, the 8th.

Forward-thinking cities are removing highways!
(via New York Times)
The lead item is continued assessment and ranking of projects for the 2018-2023 funding cycle (formally "the Federal STBGP-U and TA-U funds for the FY 2018-2023 TIP" - more on that in a moment).

With the decision to pull four items from consideration for the 2018-2023 cycle and instead fund them by applying the "bonus" money from the 2015 cycle, evaluation of the remaining projects is a little easier. ODOT has further refined some estimates (and the false precision, down to single dollars even, is a little amusing: $1,470,000 vs. $883,541 etc.) and here's the latest draft priority list with project "owner" and estimates:
  1. River Road N. Traffic Signal Interconnect – Keizer Keizer/Salem $1,470,000
  2. Union Street NE Family Friendly Bikeway Salem $3,500,000
  3. Silverton @ Hollywood Traffic Signal & Turn Lane Marion County $883,541
  4. Hilfiker Ln SE at Commercial St SE Intersection and Signal Upgrade Salem $1,925,000
  5. Fixed Route Transit Bus Replacements Cherriots $4,234,927
  6. Verda Lane Bike/Ped improvements Keizer $2,730,000
  7. Hollywood Dr: Silverton Rd to Salem CL Urban Upgrade Marion County $2,513,318
  8. Keizer Growth Transportation Impacts Study Keizer $185,000
  9. Kuebler/Cordon Corridor Study and Management Plan Marion County $200,000
  10. Oregon Household Travel and Activity Survey for the SKATS area SKATS $350,000
  11. Lancaster Dr: Auburn to Center Urban Reconstr. Marion County $2,417,189
  12. McGilchrist Street SE – Complete Streets Project Salem $3,500,000
  13. Transit ITS Replacement and Upgrade Cherriots $2,145,000
Here's a helpful reminder about what should be important for prioritizing.

September's Keeling Curve - CO2 earth
Barriers to Public Recognition - the Acronymic Pile-up, Jargon, and Mission

Last month the committee talked about the Federal Quadrennial Review, and lamented, or perhaps more neutrally just observed, "the lack of public recognition related to SKATS."

(This was almost certainly a minor point, and I'm going to spend a disproportionate amount of space on it here. Just want to be clear on that!)

Here are some thoughts about that.
  • To the public SKATS is a weird hybrid governmental organization. It's not a super-city government that conceptually falls in exactly between the level of municipality and county, and as was noted in the meeting "project development occurs at the local level rather than regional level." SKATS is a 'tweener, an agency it is full of organizational ambiguity, and by nature, and perhaps even by design, it is not easy to grasp its purposes and powers. There is little that is obvious about SKATS! So that's a significant strike against easy "public recognition" right off the bat.
  • SKATS lacks a vision. If, for example, SKATS took greenhouse gas modeling seriously and took its mission as reshaping the regional transportation system for the demands of the 21st century, that could be a strong narrative around which "public recognition" might be organized. But instead it has to make do with bland assurances about a "balanced" transportation system. (A year ago a staffer said "The SKATS MPO -- along with our local jurisdictions and ODOT -- invests in a balance of travel modes: auto, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects." Even if you think they find "balance," it's hard to tell a story about that because it is the compromise result of so many competing vector forces, not just one over-arching theme.) 
  • Language. Holy Crap. SKATS, TIP, TAC, RTSP, STBGP-U, LOS, CMAQ...ASDFGHJKL;'
Here's what SKATS says about itself:
Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS) is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Salem-Keizer area. A MPO is a federally mandated body for any urban area over 50,000 in population. The SKATS MPO is directed by a Policy Committee composed of elected representatives from the cities of Keizer, Salem and Turner, Marion and Polk Counties, the Salem Area Mass Transit District, the Salem-Keizer School District and a manager from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Region 2 office. MWVCOG staff provide the day-to-day staff work for SKATS.

SKATS focuses on transportation planning activities, plans, and studies within the Salem-Keizer urban area for transportation facilities of regional significance. The Policy Committee adopts the long-range regional transportation plan and decides how the federal transportation funds available to the urban area will be spent on transportation projects and programs. Assisting in this process is the Technical Advisory Committee made up of staff rom the same jurisdictions as the Policy Committee, as well as from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Federal Highway Administration.

SKATS does not own, operate or maintain any transportation infrastructure. In addition, SKATS does not have the ability to collect or levy taxes or fees to support any investment in the transportation infrastructure. These duties and responsibilities are left to the members of the SKATS.
What is there in all that for the public to grasp and rally behind? I see two main activities, one a curatorial/editorial function in project ranking and selection, the other a high-level administrative/secretarial function in supporting the member cities and ODOT with analysis and planning services. However important they may be, neither one of these is very compelling in a broad, public way.

Here's a counter-factual. Lancaster Drive is one the most messed up stroads in Salem. But it is owned and operated by three different entities, the State, the County, and the City of Salem. As a meta- and coordinating agency, SKATS is logically positioned to be the ideal entity to develop a plan to restore it so that it functions for all road users, not just those in cars.

But that's not the job of SKATS. "Project development occurs at the local level."

What SKATS is doing, what is effectively their signature project, is a colossal blunder of truly epic proportions.

And even then, they're functioning as a service organization, in support of the City of Salem and ODOT.

If SKATS wants public recognition, they need a story, a narrative on which to hang a mission and then a program of projects that enact that mission.

One opportunity? There's a real leadership void here on greenhouse gases and integrated land-use and transportation planning. SKATS could take up that project. It would not always be popular - but leadership is about getting in front of important issues!

(The agenda contains this note, but the google doesn't turn up anything more about it:
TAC members are invited to attend a workshop on State Targets for MPO Greenhouse Gases immediately following the meeting until 3:30 p.m.)
Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
If SKATS is not interested in that leadership role, or if it is truly not possible because they are unavoidably structured in a way that makes it impossible, than SKATS may have to muddle along without much public recognition.

SKATS Technical Advisory Committee meets Tuesday the 8th at 1:30pm. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

No comments: