Portland’s City Council took the first step Wednesday to approve $50 million in new spending to repair and update failing infrastructure citywide.
The council approved a list of seven projects to fund, with a majority of the funding dedicated to street and sidewalk repairs.
The biggest awards include $15 million to fully renovate the Mt. Scott Community Center, $10.5 million to add curb ramps to sidewalk corners citywide, and $10 million for paving and safety improvements on Stark Street east of 108th Avenue.
It’s the first phase of an initiative Mayor Ted Wheeler has named "Build Portland." He hopes to raise up to $600 million in investments over the next 20 years to fix Portland’s infrastructure.
“In the face of declining federal and state funding, we intend to lead to revitalize our crumbling infrastructure and address long-deferred maintenance,” Wheeler said.
A recent financial audit of Portland found that some of the city’s assets, in particular the streets and transportation infrastructure, are “losing value faster than the city can make repairs,” and threaten the city’s long-term financial position.
More than half of Portland’s bridges, streets and sidewalks are in poor or fair condition. Many parks, community centers and other pieces of infrastructure are also in disrepair.
The city's bureaus initially proposed 25 high priority deferred maintenance projects for funding.
The city’s asset managers ranked the projects based primarily on measures of the risks posed by the aging infrastructure. The top seven projects are receiving funding.
Every year, the city skimps on its maintenance budget to meet other needs, and the damage gets worse and more expensive to fix.
Wheeler has proposed borrowing money to start tackling the maintenance backlog. Next week, the City Council is set to vote on issuing up to $52 million in tax revenue bonds to finance the first round of Build Portland projects.
The council isn’t authorizing any tax increase to finance the bonds.
In the near term, the city will pay interest on the Build Portland bonds using its existing general fund dollars.
Over the next 10 years, the city’s general fund is due to get a small windfall of tax dollars as Portland finishes paying off loans it took out to build parks and roads in the Pearl District and several other urban renewal areas.
Some of that windfall will repay the bonds the council issues to fund the first seven Build Portland projects.
By 2023, the city’s debt manager estimates that increased tax revenue coming from those expired urban renewal areas will enable the city to start paying down its loans.
“Portlanders have been paying taxes into urban renewal districts to get growth coming for decades, and now it’s time for some of that return to go back into the things that Portlanders expect: paying for the existing infrastructure and making sure that everyone has decent city surfaces,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, casting her vote in support of the mayor's Build Portland resolution.
Wheeler has proposed issuing additional bonds in the future and dedicating more general fund revenue that will return to the city as urban renewal areas expire. He said those efforts would help complete $600 million in deferred maintenance projects over the next 20 years.
Build Portland is the latest in a series of steps the City Council has taken to try to shore up funding for transportation and infrastructure maintenance.
In January 2015, the council passed a resolution that sets aside 50 percent of one-time general fund resources for deferred maintenance in parks, transportation and emergency management assets.
Voters have also recently approved a parks bond and a new gas tax to raise revenue for street paving and safety projects.
Below is a description of the first seven Build Portland projects approved by the City Council:
Mt. Scott Community Center Rehabilitation: $15 Million
According to Portland Parks and Recreation, the Mt. Scott Community Center is the only full service community center in Southeast Portland. Some parts of the facility, originally built in the 1920s, have never been updated to meet code, condition or functionality requirements.
Deferred maintenance needs include retrofitting the unreinforced masonry building to meet seismic standards, adding sprinklers and replacing the roof.
ADA-Compliant Ramp Improvements: $10.5 Million
An estimated 11,000 corners across the city do not have ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps. The request would fund $1.5 million of ADA-compliant corner ramp improvements citywide each year for seven years.
Outer Stark Corridor Improvements: $10 Million
Stark is labeled as a "high crash corridor" in need of safety improvements. This project would increase safety and capacity throughout, making signal upgrades and enhancing pedestrian crossings, and paving from 139th Avenue to 162nd Avenue.
Lents Town Center Improvements: $4 Million
This request serves the eastern half of Lents Town Center and includes improvements such as signals, better sidewalks, paving and bikeways.
Traffic Signal Reconstruction Program: $3.5 Million
Roughly 40 percent of the city’s traffic signals are in poor or very poor condition. Signal lamps across the city are going out. PBOT estimates it should be spending approximately $20 million more annually on signals.
Bridge Replacement On NE 42nd Avenue: $3 Million
The 42nd Avenue bridge is vulnerable to an earthquake and is on a recommended emergency transportation route, a key freight connection and a desired bike route.
North Lombard Main Street: $3 Million
This request will fund pavement reconstruction, crossings and bus stops on a main street within St. John’s Town Center.