Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Budget Committee meets Tonight on Capital Improvement Plan

The Budget Committee meets tonight and they'll hold a Public Hearing on the Capital Improvement Plan for 2019-2023.

A draft proposed 2019 Capital Improvement Plan came out at the April 9th Council meeting, but there hasn't been much talk about it. Most of the decisions, too, were made long before the Strategic Plan was adopted. It will take a few cycles for everything to catch up and begin to work together.  On the CIP itself, I'm not sure the Budget Committee really has very much discretion. So the "public hearing" seems more for courtesy and to satisfy process than something intended to elicit substantive debate and analysis.

In the way it's organized, it's also hard to see the shape of underlying priorities and strategies, but maybe some things are visible.

Lots of funding from property taxes here, little from gas tax
or other auto user fees
Every year, Council and the Committee have an opportunity to talk more about ways we subsidize our roads from funding sources other than the gas tax, and auto user fees like licensing, registration, and titling. Funds associated with the valuation of property are a very large source and represent a transfer from home value to road value.

Almost $3 million for parking structure maintenance
Because we are mostly committed to a program for "free" parking, we have to subsidize the maintenance of our parking garages from other sources. This is a systematic incentive for drive-alone trips and works against Cherriots. We we talk about City policies to support transit, we should be talking about ending our policies for free and subsidized parking. We should want instead to talk about redirecting more subsidy to support transit.

This $15 million is very, very speculative and unlikely
A very large chunk of the pie chart at top - 23% of it - is from a future TIGER grant from the Feds. It has not been very clear how competitive the McGilchrist project might have been under the old guidelines, and new guidelines, including a new name, are pushing the program to stress rural projects. The current bucket of funds just seems more like a "wish-list" than a credible set of sources at this point.

So that's a project on which the Committee might question the City - though it's not like there are funds from it that should be redirected to other projects.

And that's the thing about most of the projects in the CIP. They have already been vetted through other processes, many have funds committed from other sources, and so it's not like the Budget Committee could very easily say, "no this doesn't fit our priorities, let's redirect these funds." Most of the funding is actually pretty locked in.

Still, here's an area that should get more questions. The far southeastern quadrant of the city is getting lots of investment, but it's not at all clear that it will have multi-generational enduring value beyond the shiny and new phase of its first life cycle. Sanyo Solar went bust, the Amazon big box model does not seem likely to last decades, and almost all the investment and subsidy here just seems so transitory. (Agriculture and food processing might be the big exception, as we have structural advantages that are not easily portable. The other industries can just pack up and leave.)

Gaia Street and Gaffin Road
These projects include
  • $805,000 for Gaia Street
  • $2.9 million for Gaffin Road
  • $655,690 for new turn lane on Kuebler at Turner Road
  • $414,000 for unnamed new street at Mill Creek Corporate Center
Almost $4 million for a short extension of Fisher Road
Another group are for new connections or capacity on busy streets
  • Almost $4 million for an extension of Fisher Road to the north side of Market Street
  • $2.2 million for intersection widening and a new traffic signal on Hilfiker at Commercial (Trader Joes and Firehouse Crossing, etc)
  • $2 million for North River Road signal interconnect
  • $2.7 million for unspecified "signal enhancements" throughout the city
  • $25,000 for the Congestion Relief Task Force and Study
$7.5 million for pavement rehab
Even though this is a "Capital" projects list, there's a chunk of projects that are ambiguous, and under a different budget and funding scheme, we might consider them part of on-going maintenance rather than capital projects. This is a sign of our system problem with maintenance.
  • $7.5 million for citywide pavement rehabilitation
  • $200,000 for the citywide slurry seal program
Enhanced crosswalks and buffered bike lanes on Commercial
Then there is a group of projects that are either directly to improve walking, biking, and safety, or have a significant component that will offer these benefits. The only one that from here is a little murky is the plan for $1.5 million on Wallace Road along Second Street. There's no plan yet, and there's a risk the City's just throwing money at a problem without knowing much about a real solution.
  • There is a new plan and $300,000 for a walking and biking path along Portland Road to bypass the wretched conditions of the railroad underpass and its sidewalks.
  • The closed bridge at the stream of mystery will be replaced with $140,000.
  • $1.5M  to "initiate design" of an over/underpass along Second Street NW at Wallace Road
  • The downtown streetscape project has been bumped from $3M to $8M total, with an annual allocation of $2M over the four years of the plan.
  • Downtown alley improvements for $500,000
  • $1.9 million for the buffered bike lanes and enhanced crosswalks on "middle Commercial" - programmed for 2020 right now
  • Broadway NE north of Pine Street will get a partial 4/3 safety conversion (if I read it right) for $1.4 million total.
  • A discretionary allocation of $650,000 over four years for "pedestrian safety crossings" at unspecified locations as opportunity and safety demands arise
  • $4.3M for street work associated with the Police Station on Division, Commercial, and Liberty
  • $1.5 million for a weird project to reconfigure a crosswalk by the railroad on Mill Street at 12th. 
  • $529,860 for signal improvements and an enhanced crosswalk on 12th and Marion and 13th and Marion (Safeway, and the Union St Bikeway/Esplanade connection)
  • $3.8 million for the second phase of the Union Street Bikeway
  • A final piece for the Brown Road bike lanes and sidewalks project ($3.7 million total, but only $500k programmed in this CIP)
Ok, this one's a mess
Finally, there's the bridge out south on Lone Oak. Until the City figures out the Reimbursement District, this is an incoherent mess. Maybe this should be taken out of the CIP completely until the Reimbursement District is legally settled or some other solution is developed and accepted.

So here are the questions or assertions that seem reasonable from here:
  1. The City should talk more about how little the gas tax funds
  2. Talk more about our commitment to "free" parking and what trade-offs that entails, including reducing support for transit and increasing support for drive-alone trips
  3. Talk more about how much maintenance we list under "capital" projects
  4. Define the total investment around the greater Mill Creek Corporate Center area including Kuebler/Cordon and what really are its long term prospects, including future maintenance liabilities
  5. Look more closely at the nebulousness and return on investment of the Wallace Road and Second Street under/overpass project
  6. Look more at the Lone Oak Bridge project
  7. Is $650,000 for unspecified pedestrian safety crossings enough? Given we are spending $4 million for a short extension of Fisher Road, and given the urgent needs on climate disruption, do we have the balance right? It may look like the CIP has a lot of projects for walking and biking, but is it still too much on the fringes and not enough for core, structural changes in mobility? A NEN resident writes "NEN has been told that the police only run their [crosswalk enforcement] stings when they have a grant." So much for walking and biking is conceived as an "extra," something we fund only after basic necessities are funded first. But should we flip it to see auto mobility now as the extra and walk/bike/bus as the fundamental core? (The answer here, of course, is "yes.")
The Committee meets tonight, Wednesday the 25th, at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In the Parks section of the CIP there's a couple more projects that are worth noting:

$70,000 for "City Center Park and Trail Master Plan" which involves SCAN and CANDO - sounds like Bush Park and Riverfront Park, and points in between.

And $140,000 chunked in annual $35,000 portions for "Future Linear Park/Connector Trail Master Plan" in unspecified location(s).

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Elsewhere a reader rightly asked what is "the stream of mystery"? That link was missing! But now it's included. Sorry about that.)