Oregon figures out how to spend $412M for transportation projects – Albany Democrat-Herald

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The Oregon Transportation Commission has approved how it should spend $412 million in federal flexible funds to help people and goods move around safely and with less damage to the environment.
In its vote Wednesday, March 30, the commission added a new pilot project to help people without cars get around — particularly in low-income and minority households — but also restored $50 million to complete two big highway projects.
Both projects were authorized but not fully funded by the 2017 Legislature in its state package. They are the Bend North corridor, which involves multiple improvements on U.S. Highway 97 and U.S. Highway 20, and the Interstate 5 interchange at Donald/Aurora, just south of Wilsonville and the Willamette River.
Oregon will get at least $1.2 billion for transportation over six years from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed on Nov. 15. The law earmarks most of the other $800 million for specific purposes, such as bridge repairs and electric vehicle infrastructure. Another $200 million goes directly to transit agencies such as TriMet.
The law also directs federal money to broadband expansion, water and sewer lines, electrical grid upgrades and other programs outside the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The next step for the commission is to approve specific projects funded from the various pots of money it just created, some of them as soon as its next meeting on May 12.
Though no public comment was taken at this meeting, the commission heard from people and organizations at several previous meetings and open houses — all online — and received numerous written statements.
After the commission vote, the Oregon Environmental Council criticized the $50 million allocation to highway “enhancements,” something the commission had tentatively decided against at its March 10 meeting, even though the bulk of the flexible funds will go to purposes other than highway construction.
“The OTC adopted a final ‘scenario’ for the flexible funds that does recognize a need for greater investment in public and active transportation,” a statement from the council said.
“However, the scenario does not go far enough to fulfill deep community needs. It also still allocates $50 million to the ‘enhance highways’ category of spending, underlining the missed chance for OTC to use these one-time federal funds to make ground on sorely needed climate-forward community investments.”
But ODOT officials say the extra money is needed for the state’s share of two projects that the Legislature authorized in 2017 but did not fully fund.
The Bend North project involves two traffic roundabouts and multiple-use paths on Highway 20, plus a realignment of Highway 97, for a total cost of $133.4 million. A federal grant of $60.4 million will be supplemented by $73 million from ODOT. The Highway 20 work is scheduled to start this fall; the Highway 97 work in about a year.
The Aurora-Donald interchange involves its reconstruction. Work started on the first phase in February. The eventual price tag is pegged at more than $70 million, some of which also comes from a federal grant.
While advocacy groups criticized the amount for highway enhancements as too much, commission members sought to add money for the proposed pilot project for “innovative mobility,” intended to focus on helping people without their own cars to get around. The commission increased the proposed amount from federal funds from $5 million to $10 million, to be matched from state sources yet to be specified.
Below is the complete list of how the commission allocated the flexible funds. Many of them were unchanged from an initial proposal back on March 10:

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