Saturday, May 19, 2018

ODOT Works to Box in Salem City Council on the SRC

Here's an interesting item a reader just sent in. It involves a deadline hitherto ignored publicly - or perhaps just very little discussed - and a decision made without publicly consulting relevant parties. You may know more about it, or about the regulatory requirements more generally, and feel differently. But from here it looks like ODOT making a unilateral determination and working behind the scenes and in a non-public way to force a very particular concluding action on Salem City Council and other parties.

But the nature of the matter looks instead like something that should have gone before the Oversight Team as well as City Council for a more public analysis and debate.

Back in June of 2017, or thereabouts, ODOT realized they had missed a September 2016 deadline on the Salem River Crossing. They wrote to the Feds for an extension.

Letter from FHWA Dated August 3rd, 2017
From the Federal Highway Administration's letter back to ODOT in response to the ODOT petition:
Thank you for you June 29, 2017 [before the LUBA remand was issued], letter requesting an extension to the provisions set forth in 23 CFR 630.112(c)(2), commonly referred to as the PE 10-year rule, until September 30, 2019. The Salem River Crossing (SRC) project was first authorized on March 1, 2006 (Oregon Federal-aid Agreements S000(287) and S000(288)), and Oregon thus had until September 30, 2016, to undertake a construction project or repay the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) the sum of Federal funds paid to ODOT under the terms of the agreement. However, FHWA regulations allow a time extension with no repayment of Federal funds, when requested by the State and considered reasonable by FHWA.

The SRC project is complex...FHWA recognizes ODOT's current efforts to actively advance the project through the environmental review process, with the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision scheduled to be completed by December 2017 [didn't happen]. Recognizing the project's many complexities and ODOT's demonstrated commitment to advancing the project through the environmental review process, it is reasonable for FHWA to grant a time extension to ODOT until September 30, 2019....[italics added]
So there are a number of interesting things here:
  1. The original agreement from 2006 already assumed that no-build would be rejected and that a construction project would be undertaken. This is more evidence about the pre-determined conclusion, or a pre-determined range of outcomes, built into the "process" from the very beginning. "The environmental review process" was not so much an actual review as a rubber stamp and box-checking. ODOT is "actively advancing" it, working actively to shape it, despite whatever headwinds it might endure, and not merely abiding by any ostensibly impartial assessment and outcome.
  2. The request for an extension was submitted well after the SRC had blown past the September 30, 2016 deadline.
  3. The request for an extension was submitted just before LUBA published its decision and made the remand to Salem City Council.
  4. It is likely that pro-SRC advocates at ODOT and SKATS are making an argument entailing or involving a form of "sunk cost" fallacy: "We can't waste this money, we have to build!" or "We can't pay it back!"
Maybe you will discern other interesting things in it. (There is the question, of course, of funding a part of Marine Drive inside the current UGB, and others who are more in favor of that may have more to say.)

This extension might be evidence for the reasons SKATS keeps the SRC in the Work Plan for this coming year.

The formal Work Plan for the MPO
In that clip is reference to "Alternative Mobility Targets." This is a reminder that the SRC as proposed and as currently modeled, doesn't actually meet "mobility targets" and definitively solve congestion. Because it can't meet these targets, the official process has to develop "Alternative Mobility Targets." This is on the face of it an admission of failure! The SRC fails to meet ODOT's official standards for auto mobility. (Update - see below for additional note on this.)

Earlier we saw how the approach to walking, biking, busing, car pools - all the things we call "transportation demand management" and those things near it - was structured in such a way to avoid making "all or any of these investments in alternative modes" so that the SRC process could avoid "being tied to implementation of the needed highway improvements which are as yet unfunded." The real aim of the SRC process is to build nothing but a giant bridge and highway. (The "assumption" that we will do things to assume an 8% reduction in drive-alone trips is a sham. ODOT and the SRC intend to do no such thing.) The highway things are "needed," but support for any "alternative modes" is wholly optional.

(SRC memo from October 14, 2008 - see long discussion here)
In so many ways, the SRC process is driving towards a pre-determined outcome, and decision points in analysis or in process are structured to eliminate reasonable alternatives and funnel everything down one path. There's so much bad faith here!

And since this matter has not been publicly discussed, it is a reminder that there's probably a good number of other memos and decisions on the SRC that have not been made public. Too much of it is secret, and that's not right.


Ah, but the schedule has been updated some time this spring. Here's the one from late last fall...

Last fall's schedule did not directly acknowledge LUBA's remand
And here's the latest. Note the "TBD," a silent recognition of the remand.

Now, an undated schedule says "TBD" for the FEIS and ROD

Addendum 2

It turns out the West Salem Neighborhood Association has talked some about the fact that the SRC does not meet mobility standards or "solve" congestion.

April 16th presentation to WSNA

Addendum 3

There is increasing talk that the way out of the repayment problem is for the Final Environmental Impact Statement to recommend and then the Record of Decision to ratify a finding for the No Build Alternative.

DEIS, 2.3.1 - No Build Alternative


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Should have checked the schedule before posting! And indeed, there is a new schedule. So added that in a postscript.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Also clarified a quote from...

"all or any of these investments in alternative modes without being tied to implementation of the needed highway improvements which are as yet unfunded."


"all or any of these investments in alternative modes" so that the SRC process could avoid "being tied to implementation of the needed highway improvements which are as yet unfunded.")

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Found a slide from a WNSA presentation that shows more awareness of ways the SRC fails to meet mobility standards and fails to solve congestion. It's a lot of money for a non-solution!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And here are notes on the WSNA follow-up meeting and presentation, which include some ODOT spin on the deadline.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added note on No Build Alternative, which as a new "preferred alternative" appears to offer the best way out of the repayment problem and is also otherwise a very satisfactory outcome.