Good news today for proponents of more bike and pedestrian trails throughout the region: more than $40 million in funding is about to become available.
That's because the Oregon House of Representatives this afternoon passed Senate Bill 260. The culmination of a years-long effort to win more money for bike trails, the bill expands the type of projects eligible for money from the Multimodal Transportation Fund, also called ConnectOregon.
Since its 2005 inception the lottery-backed fund has poured millions of dollars [PDF] into things like a Tigard railroad switching yard and a new runway at the Bend Airport. So long as it had the potential to bring economic gains and didn't have to do with roadway improvement, a transportation project could qualify for the funds.
But pedestrian and bicycle improvements have been conspicuously absent from qualifying projects. Passing the house 44-14, SB 260 changes that. The bill's passage is a win for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the state's chief bike advocacy organization, which has been working since at least 2008 to win money for new trails.
For an idea of what this shift might mean for Portland, check out the BTA's recently released "Blueprint for World-Class Bicycling" [PDF] which details a list of five trails the organization want to win funding for in years to come.
The furthest along is the long-discussed North Portland Greenway, which would stretch from Kelly Point Park to the Steel Bridge. Also on the BTA's list: a trail connecting Portland to Lake Oswego, and an extension of the Gresham-Fairview trail.
"I won't pick a favorite today," said BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky, when I asked which project the group would focus on first. But he was quick to point out that the North Portland Greenway has existing support, and that it would offer convenient access to the manufacturing jobs on Swan Island (remember, projects need to aid the economy).
The measure, as you've no doubt surmised from the split vote, had its share of opposition. As reported by Bikeportland.org, State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, called the measure "an absolutely bad and wrong direction" in a floor speech this morning. Kruse contended the ConnectOregon money was intended "for business interests and not for bicycle projects."
Kransky, meanwhile, points to a study released earlier this year that suggested bicycling tourism alone injects hundreds of millions into the Oregon economy.
Of course, the fact that bike/pedestrian trails are technically eligible for ConnectOregon funds doesn't guarantee they'll win them. The fund has $42 million to spend in the next two years—a far cry from the $100 million allocations its seen in past bienniums—and everybody's looking for money.
And it's not a BTA show to begin with. The organization now will work with the public agencies who'd actually be constructing its longed-for paths.
"It’s not so much a fight at this point," Kransky says. "It’s a matter of us making the case (for money) in the context of that program."
Applications for ConnectOregon money are typically released in October and due in November, says Chris Cummings, a senior transportation planner at the Oregon Department of Transportation. Monetary awards are announced in August of the following year.
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