I rolled my eyes, I'll admit, when I saw the press release this week that Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales were planning a letter to Santa Claus asking for increased transportation funding. It seemed glib and silly and useless—fodder for soundbites but nothing more.
But then I actually read the letter. And it hit me how badly I had missed the point.
The letter isn't puffery. It's a list of how much it would cost to adequately restore and improve our transportation system across every mode. We've chronically underfunded our infrastructure for so long that the growing chasm between needs and resources is threatening our ability to innovate.
$850 million to address our basic street maintenance needs.
$58 million to fund the elements of the Outer Powell Concept Plan.
$23 million to complete the projects on the East Portland in Motion priority list.
$30 million for maintenance and improvement of our signal network to the latest technology.
$2.5 million for a historically and aesthetically appropriate replacement for the safety barrier on the Vista Bridge.
$2 million a year to clean our street signs, making them more readable and improving safety
$1 million a year in grants for community uses of unpaved streets, including community gardens, mulched paths and other community defined projects
$30 million to build the North Portland Greenway Trail, connecting downtown, Lower Albina, St. Johns and Kelley Point Park
$50 million for sidewalks that will make it safer to walk to school, to the bus, and elsewhere, especially in East Portland and Southwest
$19 million to implement the Capitol Highway Plan in Southwest
$15 million for a North Rivergate Boulevard overpass over the UPRR tracks in North Portland
$200 million for improvements to gravel streets
$20 million for 10 years of frequent bus service on 122nd Avenue
$10 million for Intelligent Transportation System improvements to three key freight routes
It reads likes a very sober statement about how deep and awful our transportation budget has been—and why Hales was deadly serious when he told me way, way back in June, for a story I wrote in the Mercury's bike issue, that he saw no other recourse but to raise our taxes.
"I see us spending more on bikes and on paving," he says. "I want us out of the zero-sum game. They don't need to be in opposition.... Yes, we will raise your taxes. I don't think that will be a pitched battle."
I thought of this this morning when reading the Oregonian's fine story on the failed promise (under then-Commissioner Hales) to match a dramatic increase in density in East Portland with basic city services.
This was punctuated further this afternoon when a man in a motorized wheelchair came to our office, Sean Lavallee, and told me about all the damage the unpaved streets near his home in Outer Southeast has done to his wheelchair. He says he knows a lot of neighbors at nearby group homes who have it even worse. We think of cars when we think of unpaved roads. We don't think about people with mobility issues.
"They're everywhere," he told me.