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Cities go head-to-head on Metro grants

Competition can bring out the best in people — or it can fuel bitter cross-town rivalries.

Take the case of Metro’s regional “flexible” grant funding, where limited cash is available to a half-dozen competing North Clackamas projects. Across the Portland region, Metro is preparing to dole out $94.58 million this year. Jurisdictions would have to spend these federal funding sources on bicycle, pedestrian and/or freight transportation projects in the next three to five years.

Because there is insufficient funding for all of the projects, Metro subcommittee members are in the challenging position of selecting the most worthy project from among competing jurisdictions. Metro officials note that flexible funds, though they comprise only about 4 percent of the transportation investment in our region, attract considerable interest because they may be spent on a greater variety of transportation projects than can most federal transportation funds.

The project to beat has been Oregon City’s Molalla Avenue proposal that staff from various participating agencies ranked No. 1 for regional significance. Mayor Doug Neeley and other Oregon City leaders hope the project from Beavercreek Road to Highway 213 will address travel safety and connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists with modified lane configurations, new curb alignments and median treatments.

“Picking winners and losers is not easy and for that reason, the criteria were established to help guide us toward the best decisions that will benefit the greatest numbers of our citizens,” Neeley wrote to committee members. “Under those circumstances, there is simply no other project under consideration that is competitive with Oregon City’s Molalla Avenue project.”

But Jason Tuck, city manager of Happy Valley, also is encouraging citizens to rally around their own bike-lane and sidewalk project on Southeast 129th Avenue to provide safe connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists between Mountain Gate Road and Scott Creek Lane.

“Our project adds bike lanes and sidewalk to an area with nonexisting facilities,” Tuck wrote to citizens in encouraging testimony at an Aug. 1 hearing, where a county coordinating committee initially recommended Happy Valley’s project over Oregon City’s.

Ted Leybold, Metro transportation planning manager, said “it will be interesting to see what happens” when citizens rally behind various projects at the full county committee meeting on Sept. 5. The Metro Council is scheduled to hear regional transportation committee recommendations on Oct. 10.

Tuck also argued for allocation on the basis of equity since Happy Valley received “very little grant money” after coming in second place to Oregon City during the last Metro funding session.

“In the past they have received significant grant money through this process in comparison to other cities,” Tuck said of Oregon City.

Neeley wrote that the “whose turn it is” argument was not part of the official criteria for allocating grants, so it couldn’t be considered until future funding cycles. Neeley noted that he didn’t begrudge other municipalities for coming up with creative arguments in facing the “daunting task” to provide statistical data to support a small local street project that is competitive with a major arterial in a regional center serving a far greater population such as Oregon City.

“Each jurisdiction has, in good faith, expended considerable resources (Editor’s clarifying note: About $10,000 so far and $1 million in future design costs expected in OC) to prepare and advance their applications consistent with published criteria,” he said. “It should be a straightforward endeavor to add these criteria as a matter of equity, but it seems to me that an applicant would still need to prove that they have a ‘regionally significant’ project on its own merits.”

After several traffic crashes and a fatality, Happy Valley wants to compete with Oregon City by criticizing the project of a city more than twice its size. TriMet eliminated its 157 bus line, further limiting mobility in Happy Valley, so the city is feeling shut out of regional attention focused on Oregon City.

“In the future, a lot of state and regional money will be spent on Blue Heron to benefit Oregon City,” Tuck said.

Future of grants

Oregon City wants $4.58 million for Molalla Avenue, while Happy Valley’s 129th Avenue project is asking Metro for $2.72 million.

Another project that’s been getting a lot of attention is likely to be funded because it’s only asking Metro for $201,892. Gladstone hopes to address active transportation access across the Clackamas River by studying the feasibility of rehabilitating the Portland Avenue Historic Trolley Bridge as an extension of the Trolley Trail into Oregon City.

Metro will have to weigh whether it should fund a smaller project with Happy Valley or be able to leverage more funding with Oregon City. OC is proposing a 37 percent $2.7 million local match, while Happy Valley is proposing a 14.8 percent $400,000 match.

Clackamas County held an open house last week to give the public an opportunity to learn more about and comment on six transportation improvement projects being considered for regional funding. Other comments will be accepted through Thursday, Aug. 8.

The county is applying for the other three projects vying for Metro funding: to study how to reduce freight delay and related roadway design deficiencies in the Clackamas Industrial Area and Wilsonville; construct Jennings Avenue sidewalk and bike lanes; and provide funding for the Sunrise industrial area freight access and multimodal project.