Poll: Transportation measure must include more than light rail
Metro is preparing to begin work on a regional transportation funding measure for the November 2020 general election ballot. One reason is to raise funds to help pay for the new MAX line proposed to be built in the Southwest Corridor between Portland, Tigard and Tualatin.
But a new poll strongly suggests the measure must also include funds for highway, road, bike and pedestrian projects to have any chance of passing.
The DHM Research poll conducted in November found that tri-county voters believe nearly half of all future transportation funds should be spent to build and maintain roads and highways. Metro area voters believe the other half should be spent on alternative transportation, including rail, bus, bike and pedestrian projects.
The results do not surprise Lynn Peterson, the former Clackamas County commissioner and transportation expert who will become president of the Metro Council in January.
"I think all polls show voters support a multimodal approach to our transportation problems. There's no single solution," says Peterson, who was elected at the May 2018 primary election.
According to Peterson, the elected regional government is expected to appoint an advisory group to help draft the measure early next year. That is the process Metro followed with its $653 million affordable housing bond, which was approved by voters at the November 2018 general election.
DHM Research asked voters about their views on transportation issues as part of the ongoing series of monthly polls it conducts and posts on its website for everyone to see.
The poll was statewide but found little difference between the tri-county region and the total state. Nearly matching percentages of tri-county and statewide voters describe the transportation system as poor, inadequate, in disrepair, in need of improvement, and suffering from congestion and gridlock.
"Congestion has gotten so much worse in the past five years, everyone is feeling the effects now. It's not just caused by the increasing population, but by the affordable housing crisis, too. So many people have to live farther out now, but they still need to get to work and that's increasing congestion, too," Peterson says.
Tri-county and statewide voters also share similar views on how transportation funds should be spent. Those in the tri-county region say 46.5 percent of such funds should be spent on roads and highways, compared to 49.3 percent in the entire state. The rest — 53.5 percent and 50.7 percent respectively — should be spent on alternative transportation projects. A slightly greater number of tri-county voters — 15.1 percent compared to 12.2 percent — believe slightly more should be spent on bike projects.
"Transportation has emerged as one of the two top issues in the state. The other one is homelessness and affordable housing. They've both replaced issues like jobs, the economy and schools, which used to be the top issues," says Adam Davis, co-founder and principle of DHM Research, a nonpartisan public opinion firm.
Many decisions ahead
Although the size and other details about the measure are yet to be decided, it is expected to be the largest ever put forward by Metro.
The measure is being considered now to help fund the proposed MAX line. Its cost is currently estimated at between $2.64 billion and $2.86 billion, which would easily make it the most expensive transit project ever built in the region. Even though the federal government is expected to fund half of the project, that still leaves as much as $1.43 billion that must be raised within the region to match it.
Although Metro is planning the MAX line, it was not originally in charge of referring the transportation funding measure to the ballot. That responsibility was being handled by TriMet, the regional transit agency that will build, own and operate the line.
As recently as 2017, TriMet was planning to refer a $1.7 billion measure to the November 2018 ballot to help fund the MAX line, which was then estimated to cost about $2.4 billion. TriMet intended to use $750 million as a regional match for the federal funds. The remaining $950 million would be dedicated to non-transit projects in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties to help pass the measure, as suggested by a Patinkin Research Strategies poll commissioned by the agency.
At the time, TriMet was considering three high-profile freeway congestion relief projects for funding, one in each county. They were reconfiguring the I-5/I-84 interchanges in the Rose Quarter area, and widening sections of Highway 217 in Washington County and Interstate 205 in Clackamas County. But then the 2017 Oregon Legislature upended that strategy in the Keep Oregon Moving transportation funding package it passed. Instead of waiting for TriMet to finalize and refer its measure to voters, lawmakers funded the Highway 217 project outright, and required tolls to be imposed on I-5 and I-205 to help finance the other two.
TriMet was unable to come up with enough non-transit replacement projects by the deadline to submit the measure to the November 2018 general election ballot. At the same time, Metro wanted to refer an affordable housing bond to its voters then. So TriMet turned responsibility for the referring a regional transportation funding measure over to Metro.
Several other potential projects have been mentioned for funding in the measure, including replacing the Steel Bridge, the critical but aging connection between east and west Portland for TriMet's light rail system. But Peterson says it is more important to talk about improving transportation corridors than listing specific projects at this point.
"You can fix an intersection or interchange, and that will reduce congestion for about five years. What we need to figure out is how to make our entire regional transportation system work better," Peterson says.
Find out more
You can find DHM Research polls at: dhmresearch.com.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to: tinyurl.com/y7qsv7ae.