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Metro Seeks Funds To Develop Land Within Urban Growth Boundary

Metro Council’s top administrator says it’s likely the urban growth boundary will need to expand to meet future housing demand. That’s the boundary that curtails development onto farmland. But even inside the current boundary, he says there is room for growth.

Laying the groundwork for that development costs money. As Rob Manning reports, Metro has started to look at how to raise those funds.

A map of the urban growth boundary for the Portland metropolitan area


The question of how to raise money to develop land inside the growth boundary isn’t a new one. It was on Mike Burton’s agenda 15 years ago, when he was developing the 2040 growth plan, as the top executive at Metro.

Mike Burton: “I used to sit down with my staff on that and said ‘you know, we’re going to have a whole bunch of very pretty plans, here, but the real issue is going to be how to implement that’.”

Burton says one problem was getting local leaders and citizens to agree on what growth would look like.

Mike Burton: “But the other part of it was how do you pay for those things, because building a good community costs money. It’s not something that just happens.”

Fast-forward 15 years, and Metro has a new top executive, but the same problem. Chief Operating Officer, Mike Jordan, says the costs of building and improving roads, bridges, and other services within the current boundary could be as high as $41 billion over the next 50 years.

Jordan says the region might have half of that.

Mike Jordan: “We’ve got a significant challenge we face. And when I say ‘we’ I mean with a capital ‘W’.”

Jordan wants to get local leaders of government, business, and non-profits to help find a solution. He says the consequences of failing to fill the funding gap are not pleasant.

Mike Jordan: “I would like you to take a trip to Detroit. And I would like you to look at a place that stopped investing. It is now a wasteland. They’re seriously talking about taking downtown blocks and turning them into agricultural uses – because no one will use the land!”

Jordan intends to announce a task force next month that will sketch the beginnings of what he calls a “community investment strategy.”

Jordan is asking three questions: what projects needs to be paid for, where will the funds come from, and who’s going to decide what gets paid for.

Jordan says there are two answers. The first is that the region needs to raise more money. And the second is that the region needs to coordinate spending better.

Mike Jordan: “If there was a predictable, regular source of flexible funds to match federal grants – we would actually be able to plan for those things in advance.”

Jordan says the Portland area recently missed out on a $75 million federal grant. That’s because there weren’t local dollars available to match it. 

He also criticized the siting of light rail along Interstate 205.

Mike Jordan: “It’s in the wrong place to be optimized for a public investment. It should run down 82nd Avenue. It would’ve spurred incredible redevelopment on 82nd Avenue. It would’ve raised a place in this region that is woefully in need of raising.”

Jordan says instead, local funding sources dictated the siting along I-205.

Meantime, federal spending is shrinking. The latest light rail effort – the Milwaukie leg – is now short of money, because the feds aren’t expected to spend what local leaders had asked requested.

Jordan’s investment strategy wouldn’t just look to Washington, D.C.. It would have to look locally, too. That’s why he wants to create a council that represents local interests.

Lynne Peterson chairs the Clackamas County commission. She’s one of dozens of elected officials in the 28 cities and counties around Portland who’d have to support any new regional approach.

Lynne Peterson: “An important piece of the conversation comes down to ‘what’s the benefit Clackamas County will receive out of a regional partnership, what’s the benefit Washington County will receive, and Multnomah County?’.”

And that’s the question: will officials with varying interests be able to work together.

Metro’s Mike Jordan points out that local officials have agreed at times to delay their own transportation projects, so that others can get federal funds. But Jordan’s predecessor, Mike Burton, isn’t sure how far that goodwill would go.

And Burton says even if local officials are on board – local voters are another story.

Mike Burton: “The real question to talk to the public about is ‘what are you willing to invest’ and we can demonstrate that the investment in whatever way we’re doing this is going to be of value to you, your family and your prosperity. That’s a tough thing, because people have a tremendous distrust of what government has done in the past.” 

Local officials have been warning about problems related to inadequate spending on roads and other infrastructure for years. And now, with a sluggish economy, local spending is constrained even further.

Metro’s Mike Jordan is hoping that’ll put pressure on governments to come up with a strategy to start solving the problems throughout the region.

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