Tuesday, May 23, 2017

MPO's Legislative Priorities: SRC Number 1

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today the 23rd, and they've got a letter they want to send to the Legislature on the "transportation package."
Proposed letter to Legislature
From the text of the proposed letter (italics added):
Co-Chairs Beyer and McKeown and Members of the Committee:

The Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS MPO) is the regional metropolitan planning organization for the Salem, Keizer, Turner and surrounding urban areas, with an area population over 250,000 residents.

In April and May, the SKATS Policy Committee discussed the subject of proposed state-MPO taxing districts that is being considered by your committee’s transportation bill. SKATS members see the potential benefits of the district concept for cost-sharing large projects, but of course, have questions about the specifics of the proposal and look forward to seeing how these districts will be defined in the state transportation bill. They also raised a concern that all the non-Metro MPOs would have difficulty in matching state funds at a 50-50 level -- especially for high-cost projects -- and request that provision remain open for a subsequent discussion and decision by the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC).

The Policy Committee also discussed major congestion and freight projects that might be funded through this proposal. The following is a list of six projects within the SKATS MPO boundary that would improve freight mobility and congestion on both the state and Salem-Keizer regional systems. Each project shows the county is it located in, along with its planning level cost estimate. The Salem River Crossing (Phase 1) bridge is our top priority along with these listed projects, all of which are significant to the sustainability of our transportation system. The remaining projects are listed in order of decreasing costs:
  • Salem River Crossing (Phase 1) [Polk County & Marion County]: $250 million
  • Chemawa Road @ I-5 Interchange Upgrades [Marion County]: $210 million
  • Salem Center Street Bridge Seismic [Polk County & Marion County]: $60 million
  • OR22 @ O51 Interchange & Frontage Roads [Polk County]: $55 million
  • Cordon Road Capacity Upgrades [Marion County]: $47 million
  • New interchange at OR22 @ Cordon Road [Polk County]: $36 million
The highest priority for the Salem is not "Salem River Crossing (Phase 1)." That project is currently being litigated at LUBA and there is considerable evidence that in its present form it is deeply, fatally flawed. There is also considerable community criticism and opposition. Even if you do not agree with that criticism, it is a fact that there is no local consensus around the SRC. In a 5-4 Council vote on an intergovernmental agreement with DLCD, the City of Salem recently sent a message in opposition to the SRC's current form. The SRC does not deserve any such "top priority." It deserves a high priority only if you already "know" it deserves a high priority. This is circular! An impartial planning process and impartial public participation process would not lead to this claim for #1 priority, and would recognize that there are important issues yet to settle.

On the other hand, there is consensus and overwhelming evidence that the highest priority for the Salem area should be that $60 million line item for "Salem Center Street Bridge Seismic."

Improve efficiency before adding capacity
(Oregon Highway Plan, Policy 1G)
If there is anything related to the SRC that deserves a high priority, it is all the stuff that needs to be "implemented first" as part of "improving system efficiency and management before adding capacity." Transit funding and the all the recommendations of the Alternate Modes Study, for example, should be a higher priority than phase I of the SRC. The letter to the Legislature should say this, and demand more than annual statewide allocations of $10 million for Safe Routes to Schools and $15 million for other biking and walking projects. Congestion relief should be making it easy for people not to drive and to be able to choose other forms of mobility conveniently. Make it easy. Not token gestures.

Of course, the framework and context for the letter is that shibboleth, "Freight and Congestion," and the solutions to these are assumed to be big highway projects. This does not have to be the case, and our MPO could lead or advance the case for a better suite of solutions. It's time to critique that assumption. This ask to the Legislature is far from balanced, and is all about the supremacy of drive-alone trips.

The funding context is also that 50-50 split, between State and local funding measures. The letter asserts that we do not want to pay for 50% of the SRC and other large highway projects. This is might very well be a positive: Requiring a large local share for this kind of project could act as a check on them, making them more difficult and less likely. It could help ensure that only projects with a strong need and strong local consensus would go forward.

Even so, this is a secondary point. The whole framework for "freight and congestion" remains skewed in favor of more auto capacity instead of better total mobility, which involves a full range of transportation options.

Greenwash - via
Portland Mercury
Finally, the MPO's letter and stance should also drop the attempt to greenwash with claims for "sustainability" about huge highway projects. There is nothing sustainable about them. They are not fiscally sustainable. They create future maintenance liabilities for which no funding is assigned. They are not environmentally sustainable. They induce more traffic, and they cause more greenhouse gas emissions. Altogether they are anti-sustainable.

Also on the agenda is a consideration of the formal Public Participation Plan for the MPO:
The SKATS Public Participation Plan (PPP) was released for public comment on February 28, 2017, with minor changes to reflect the updated procedures for processing amendments to the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The public review and comment period was for 45 days, which ended on April 14, 2017. Two sets of comments were received from the public that address other issues with the existing PPP. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration provided their draft document summarizing the findings from the Quadrennial Review that was held in October 2016. It includes a corrective action to revise the Public Participation Plan by December 31, 2017.
The Plan of course is oriented around bureaucratic processes, and not essentially about outcomes. This can lead to Public Participation Theater, a show of public process that more-or-less conceals a decision already in the bag.

In this way too often Public Participation is deployed like kitty litter: To attract dissent, to neutralize dissent, and to clump dissent for easy disposal.

Public Process on the Salem River Crossing has exemplified this many times.

There probably isn't anything to do at the moment, but the MPO could dig in and consider more deeply instances where the outcome of a decision or stance is not in line with public comment.

SKATS 2018-2023 TIP Comment Map
It's important to say that not all of SKATS public participation actions are empty. The map project for the TIP seemed like a strong move. And maybe in the next cycle they can move up the mapping into earlier stages of vetting when comments and upvoting with "likes" could help winnow candidate project lists.

Responses to the formal comments, about speakers of languages other than English, about people who may not have daily internet access, and about the possibility of also using video in communications seem worth considering over the summer and fall, and one or more new elements may be incorporated in that December final revision of the Plan.

But still: If you're going to solicit more public comment, then you should also take it seriously. Right now the MPO does not take public comment on greenhouse gases or on the Salem River Crossing very seriously at all. The MPO is willfully out of step with science and the public on important matters. A really good Public Participation Plan would ask harder questions about that.

Other Items

Keizer is cancelling the project for bike lanes and sidewalks on Wheatland Road.

Salem is moving up the design phase on rebuilding McGilchrist between 12th and 25th. (But again, the TIGER program is in jeopardy, and it remains to be seen where the funding for that is going to come from.)

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
Cherriots is applying for a grant to fund electric buses and the necessary charging infrastructure.

SKATS meets at noon, Tuesday the 23rd.

SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

The SKATS public information plan is a joke. Years ago I served on the Advisory Committee and found the staff to be totally resistant to good ideas. Some of those people are still there and have not changed their approach in 20 years! It is not work then, and it does not work now.

No Facebook presence that I can see. And even reaching out to Neighborhood Associations is minimal and poorly timed. Many NA do not meet in at least one month of the summer, so getting the word out has to happen either spring or fall. And we need presentations, which they do not seem to do.

On the bridge issue, there is a group that is trying to get signatures on a petition to ask that City Council fast track the 3rd bridge to get it built within the next 3 years. It is full of emotion and frustration on Nextdoor chat, but it is full of very little factual information. It is a political effort, not a reasoned effort.

Through the conversation that I have been reading, it would appear that most people have little in the way for factual information. I blame that on SKATS and the River Crossing project. Mayor Bennett is trying to stir up support for the new bridge while knowing he does not have the votes to move it forward.

Also, the person who started the petition on Facebook and on Nextdoor either bans anyone who puts up opposition and in one case has harassed someone who posted questions. Not a good way to create public dialog and education.

Once again thank you Salem Breakfast on Bikes for such good reporting and analysis!