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ODOT Stiffs Environment, Locals on Stimulus

I-5 Beltline

The Oregon Department of Transportation has stiffed the local unemployed and the environment on federal stimulus money.

Out of $133 million, of federal stimulus money divied up by ODOT so far, only about 2.4 million will be spent in Lane County. The project lists are here and here.

At a time that everyone from Barack Obama to Gov. Ted Kulongoski to Mayor Kitty Piercy is calling for big steps to reduce oil addiction and global warming, ODOT will dedicate more than 90 percent of the stimulus money to highways.

The two local stimulus projects include $2.2 million for a city of Eugene Delta ponds bike path and bridge project and $180,000 for sidewalk and lighting work at the Eugene train station. The projects are scheduled to start in the next three months.

Lane County has about 9 percent of the state’s population, but ODOT allocated less than 2 percent of the stimulus money for locals. The county’s January unemployment rate of 11.9 percent exceeds the state rate of 10.9 percent.

ODOT did not dedicate any of the stimulus money for public transit. The state gave pedestrian and bike facilities only about eight percent of the funds.

Environmentalists had hoped that ODOT would dedicate most of the flexible federal stimulus money to greener transportation. A coalition of nine environmental groups delivered a letter and hundreds of petitions to ODOT’s Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) calling for spending the stimulus on a long list of ready to go bike, pedestrian and transit projects.

But the environmetal lobbying apparently had no effect. Bob Stacey, director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, emailed BikePortland.org to explain what went wrong: “The Transportation Commission got heavy pressure from pro-highway legislators, road builders, and Washington County and other local governments looking for road-building money.”

The OTC voted Feb. 27 to spend 90 percent on highways—about $64 million on paving, safety and enhancement projects and $41 million on road widening for more traffic.

The vote caused some blog commenters on BikePortland to accuse Gov. Kulongoski, who appoints the OTC members, of “greenwash.” Kulongoski has proclaimed soaring goals of reducing global warming, but has taken few concrete actions to actually reduce carbon emissions.

In a speech last year Kulongoski said, “I want Oregon to lead the nation in cutting greenhouse gases.”

But after his OTC voted zero stimulus for transit without a public hearing, the Governor proclaimed, "I applaud the speed at which the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Department of Transportation moved….This is exactly the intent of the federal stimulus dollars.”

Other states devoted a large share of their stimulus money to environmentally friendly transit projects rather than polluting highways. Maryland, for example, devoted 39 percent of its stimulus money to transit.

The transportation commission plans to vote March 18 on how to spend the remaining $100 million in federal stimulus that it controls. Oregon counties and cities will also share about another $100 million in transportation stimulus money and decide how to spend it. Some other federal stimulus funding may go directly to local transit agencies, bypassing ODOT.