Monday, July 23, 2018

$35 Million I-5 Project at SKATS

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets tomorrow the 24th, and they lead with what will probably end up being an exemplar of empty process and public participation theater.

$35 million I-5 project (notes on right side of I-5 added)
A couple months ago the Oregon Transportation Commission approved a big chunk of funding for some I-5 work, and it has to be adopted as a TIP amendment. This requires a formal Public Hearing.
The proposed amendment to the FY 2018-2023 SKATS Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) Update and Air Quality Conformity Determination (AQCD) to add $20,865,436 of funding, add utility relocation and construction phases, and slip right-of-way phase to 2019 for Project Key Number 19929 - I-5: Kuebler Blvd. to Delaney Rd. widening was released for a 30-day public review and comment period on June 13, 2018. A public hearing is scheduled during the July 24, 2018, Policy Committee meeting....
The SKATS Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) currently includes a project for the design and right-of-way only to add one travel lane in each direction of I-5 between the Kuebler Boulevard and the Delaney Road interchange ramps which includes reconstructing the Battlecreek Road overpass and the I-5 bridges over the Commercial Street exit ramp. The project was part of an Environmental Impact Study conducted in the mid-1980s for the entire I-5 corridor in Salem from the Hayesville Interchange to the Battle Creek Interchange. The EIS was approved in 1988 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and ODOT.

On May 17, 2018, the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) approved the addition of $17,332,151 to the project to add a utility relocation phase and construction phase, bringing the total project amount to $35,365,436. The proposed funding will allow for design of the entire project but is only sufficient to construct the portion of the project on southbound I-5 from the Battle Creek culvert to south of the Delaney interchange, and will not include the reconstruction of the Battle Creek bridge at this time. The northern limits were selected so that the addition of the third lane begins just prior to the start of the hill so heavy, slow-moving trucks can transition into this lane before they begin slowing and causing congestion. The southern limits are driven by design standards that address the merging, weaving, and transitioning of traffic between the Commercial on-ramp and the Delaney off-ramp/on-ramp heading south...Construction is scheduled to begin in 2021.
But what, really, is the MPO gonna do? Are they going to say to the OTC, "Eh, no thanks. You can have your money back?" Right. Not gonna happen. It would take a tremendous stinker of a project for this to occur. Something very seriously wrong with it. And this is just garden variety interstate widening, a sub-project that follows from that 1980s study - and now the larger project has become cross-generational, almost like cathedral building.

(If we can't complete a project from an FEIS in a generation, we ought to have revisit it for a supplemental EIS, as conditions might render it in important ways obsolete or no longer responsive to the original "purpose and need." Our approach to the environment might change. We might also have learned new things that would make a different solution a better solution.)

The Air Quality component is especially empty:
Air Quality Conformity Determination (AQCD) Staff completed an AQCD for the amendment to the TIP and sent it out for review by state and federal agency staff. The AQCD was also posted on the MWVCOG website on June 13, 2018. Regional emissions analysis is no longer required of the SKATS TIP. The adopted AQCD will replace the existing AQCD in the adopted TIP. No comments were received as of July 15, 2018.
"Staff completed an AQCD...and sent it out for review...Regional emissions analysis is no longer required."

This AQCD is totally just paper pushing and bureaucratic process, with no substantive analysis!

Even if there were analysis, while Carbon Monoxide and Ozone are criteria pollutants, Carbon Dioxide is not yet a criteria pollutant and would not be included, so there's also no official reason for an Air Quality determination to include greenhouse gas assessment.

This is a serious shortcoming at the moment at the Federal level. In another world, it sure looks like the AQCD regulatory framework could accommodate greenhouse gas assessment and would be a logical vehicle for assessing greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the transportation sector.

RTSP goal 7 is still contested
So the one way that the Public Hearing could be useful is as leverage for something else - say Goal 7 in the RTSP that is being wrangled over right now.

Even without changing the requirement for unanimous votes at the MPO, it seems like members could more effectively seek out concessions in order to give their votes on certain matters. The inter-governmental and intra-committee politics just have seemed so odd. Right now there is only one member who seems to be effective about threatening to withhold votes. Rather than prompt a shift to more negotiating and trading on policies and projects, it has seemed to elicit hand-wringing. From last month's minutes:
Committee members discussed the issue of policy difference between the local jurisdictions which might result in the failure to adopt and RTSP or TIP. According to the current Cooperative Agreement, a unanimous vote of the committee members present at a meeting is required to adopt an RTSP or TIP. It might be prudent to re-evaluate this issue. Concern was expressed that an individual could block the adoption of either plan if consensus is not achieved. The method of adoption in lieu of a unanimous vote of the Policy Committee – which is review by the elected boards of Marion County, Polk County, City of Salem, City of Keizer, and the Transit District -- is a time-consuming process. Further discussion related to this issue was tabled for now
So is dissent on this I-5 project a chip that might be used to secure an improved goal 7?

Making this Public Hearing a moment in bargaining seems like the only way it would be actually useful and something more than Public Participation Theater.

Also in the minutes from last month was a note on the DLCD's rule-making on the Transportation Planning Rule and the prospect of a component on greenhouse gas assessment.
Policy Committee discussion continued related to transportation choices and retrofitting old infrastructure. It was noted that one way to reduce pollutants would be to make it uncomfortable for people to travel to, and in, the area. Chair Clark highlighted the importance of mode connectivity. Without connectivity, no progress will be made. It takes money to provide the needed infrastructure.
This might have been a small moment of inadvertent truth. Because we subsidize drive-alone trips so profoundly, we have made them more comfortable than they should be. We have externalized a whole system of costs. We need to bring into the price of drive-alone trips more of the true costs. In that sense, yes absolutely we need to make drive-alone trips more uncomfortable.

But also the sentiment trades on slippage: It's not travel-in-general that would become uncomfortable. On the contrary, bus travel, bike travel, walking travel - all of these other forms of travel should become much more comfortable. It's drive-alone travel only that really needs to be less comfortable and less habitual. This sentiment is an instance of the hegemony of autoism: That the only kind of travel that counts is car travel.

In minor notes on scheduling, the Lancaster/Macleay traffic signal upgrade and the Cordon/Kuebler Corridor Study are both slippling a year to 2019.

Finally, there was this hopeful moment last month. A theme from some members of the committee is that things other than capacity increases for drive-alone trips are "extra" and require extra levels of funding. They're never about how we make visible our priorities in a budget (or, rather, they are, but the autoism insists on being invisible and the "natural" order of things). One member disagreed a little:
Chair Clark commented that mandates should come with funding attached. Kathy Lincoln noted that some regional efforts don’t cost a lot of money. She suggested that it might be advisable to use any proposed 3rd bridge funding to be directed to bicycle and pedestrian projects which would assist in improving the climate.
Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
That's the spirit, Cherriots!

You can download the agenda and meeting packet here.

SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 24th, at noon. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Little Owl Kitchen (new concept!) and Table Five 08.

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