Where Does The Money Come From?

I’ve mentioned in the past that cities should think of things from more of a systemic mindset. Currently however that’s almost completely impossible considering how funding and Government is organized in the United States. Even within groups things are pitted against each other that shouldn’t be. Let’s take a look at some.

For Oregon the main transportation organizations that handle budgets, building, and planning are ODOT and Trimet. You might thing, oh, but Trimet is Portland’s transit system. Well, this is true and false. It’s actually headed up by a board and the Governor who mandates much of how they operate. It also is responsible for transit over a three county area: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington. Portland, actually has little control over anything Trimet does besides some tactical issues around capital project design and maybe funding some of the service. Most of the service falls on the back of income taxpayers. Actually about 78% falls on the backs of the income tax and those who pay it. Only about 22% of operations comes from fares. The remaining bulk of capital projects, which is as much or more than operational costs, rests primarily on state budgets, federal injections of cash, and incurred debt on the back of tomorrows taxpayers (i.e. bonds/loans and related funding structures). Here are some of Trimet’s budget documents.

ODOT is funded out of the gas tax and other miscellaneous funds. The bulk of their money going to road construction and encouraging auto-dependency. Some minor funds go to freight, passenger rail, and related matters. Keep in mind, ODOTs bucket for auto related things is the vast majority of their budget. Here are some quick links to ODOT budget information.

Let’s not forget the feds. The Federal Government provides a large influx of transportation infrastructure spending. Also, they spend the largest amount on auto-related transportation infrastructure and auto-dependency programs (i.e. subsidies for parking, funds for roads, etc) The Federal Government also gets a large chunk, but not all of their money from the federal gas tax. Here are some of the documents if you want to educate yourself on the Federal Budgets and funding from the FHA (Federal Highway Administration).

The other parts of Oregon’s transportation, since almost half the population of the state lives in the Portland metro area, is PBOT, or the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Here are some of the budget documents of their’s.

What Infrastructure Would you Want To See in Oregon and Portland?

I’ve been pondering what ideal wins the infrastructure czars (you know, the Governor of the state, mayor of Portland, Bend, Eugene, Salem and all the other leaders of Oregon) could and should push for these days. With the recent and still ongoing absurdity of the I-5 Bridge to the epic nature of the new bridge in Portland that is Bike, Ped, Bus, Light Rail and Streetcar only bridge, it begs the question. What infrastructure would be awesome to have added to Oregon, and specifically Portland, Eugene, Salem and other such cities and towns? What is reasonable and what would actually be a good return on the effort and investment for the state? What is a good investment to direct a good and effective future path for the state? That’s just the beginning of the questions though, one could write a thick book of endless questions.

But with that in mind, here’s a few I’ve been thinking of just recently.

  1. Rail service enhancement into Vancouver from Portland. Rail service that could be used for, but doesn’t necessarily mean passenger service initially. The bottleneck on either side of the Columbia River is a problem space, however with some solid double tracking, or even triple tracking from Portland north through Vancouver to the Battle Ground area and even out toward Camas we could get some serious benefit from this. Freight could be handled by rail into the city and out of the city more easily, putting intermodal points at locations that better serve Portland and Vancouver instead of so many trucks driving into and out of the cities via interstate. The other notion would be, at some point, with appropriate access real commuter rail service could be offered easily from points north like Battle Ground, Camas, and other locations and have them funnel through Vancouver’s station and into Portland. We’re talking about 15-30 minute commutes. Light rail will never accomplish this, bus service won’t accomplish this, only passenger rail could accomplish this. As the current service, albeit not effective as commuter rail, already serves the corridor from Vancouver to Portland in about13-16 minutes, pending they get a slow order or not. Regardless, for bang for the buck, subsidizing a rail infrastructure expansion here would go far beyond any other motorized infrastructure investment in the area.
  2. Cycle track system, not just a few cycle tracks. Not faux bike infrastructure but real bike infrastructure. Let’s put 20-30 million into it every year for the next decade, then let’s see where we get an truly reevaluate that. For the $200-300 million it would cost to get Portland true bicycle infrastructure on a world class scale similar to Amsterdam, it would easily give us the ability to hit the 25% mark for cycling. This in road bike infrastructure however is a joke to most people, and seriously, it still just exacerbates the more neanderthal drivers to freak out the less assertive cyclists. Very frustrating to see such an opportunity go down the drain. As for that investment, we already know the more cycle oriented parts of town are doing crazy good business, have healthier, happier and more effective citizens then the auto oriented areas – so seriously, we need to get our ass in gear in this regard.
  3. BRT – Bus Rapid Transit needs to be put into play in a number of areas from Eugene to Salem to Portland. BRT would be highly effective in acting as core arterials feeding the existing light rail systems, and as systems feeding directly into the city cores. BRT should be implemented as true BRT, not the faux junk implemented in Seattle, but as dedicated – possible to upgrade to LRT or even heavy rail in the future – with regular 5-7 minute service for more than 10 hours a day. Ideal points to connect in Portland would be Gresham down Powell to downtown Portland, 39th street north and south as a feeder from St Johns out and down to Hollywood and into Milwaukee, and another possible great route would be to setup a core run somehow on Barbur and put some traffic calming into place so motorists stop killing pedestrians and other motorists on that arterial. BRT could play a huge part in future build outs, especially since we need to bulk up ridership with frequency more than “luxury light rail”. Light rail is still needed, but with the completion of the Portland-Milwaukee Light Rail, we’re good for the next 10-20 years for rail infrastructure as our corridor backbone. Let’s get to feeding it as we should to make it easier and faster to use.
  4. My last thought is actually a huge way to spend a little money and over time save millions upon millions. There are untold miles of roads in Portland that we can’t afford to maintain, along with roads in Salem, Eugene and every major city and even more road miles in rural parts of the state. We should designate some of these roads as either toll roads, no longer maintained roads (i.e. close them unless a private entity wants to take responsibility for them) and especially in the city let’s figure out which roads we can cut out, stop maintaining, turn into parks, do turn outs or cut offs to improve neighborhoods and decrease costs or one of another zillion options. Simply, we have too much road infrastructure for a limited budget at the national, state and city and county levels. Let’s scale back appropriately. If motorists want to pay more to have more infrastructure, let’s actually foot the bill instead of continually pawning it off to bonds of various sorts that often end up in foreign hands. Our current road funding models are just insane, let’s budget what we can afford instead of living so far past our means. This would economically, environmentally and socially be logical as well as getting people to face the reality that we’re overbuilt on debt and poorly run infrastructure – we can do better.

That’s my top 4 that ought to have something done sooner than later. I’d love to see what your top choices would be. Leave a comment or three with your thoughts, I’ll put them into a larger write up that might even be put forth to implement. Cheers and happy riding!