ODOT to get $1 billion in new funding from federal infrastructure package

Posted on in category Positive News tagged ODOT , Portland , Transit

If you ever drive up in Portland, you’re likely acquainted with it’s traffic. A federal infrastructure package will make improvements to various aspects of transit. Keep reading to discover where planning currently stands.

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A new surge of federal transportation funding could soon jump-start large and long-planned freeway and transit projects in the Portland metro area.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is poised to receive $1.2 billion in new funding from the federal infrastructure package approved by Congress on Friday. The money will go toward a variety of highway, public transit and clean energy projects.

Travis Brouwer, ODOT’s assistant director for revenue, finance and compliance, said the full impact of the new money remains murky. Even though Congress has passed the bill, federal transportation officials will need to sign off on funds for each state, and the Oregon Transportation Commission will weigh in on how to allocate the funds before it’s assigned to individual projects.

But what’s clear is that the infrastructure bill represents a windfall for Oregon’s highway agency, and to a lesser extent the state’s public transit agencies. Combined with federal funds already allocated to Oregon, the state transportation department now has about $3.7 billion that will go toward highways, bridges and electric vehicles, and another $746.8 million for public transit. The agency will distribute the combined $4.5 billion over the next five years.

And Brouwer said he expects that the agency may have access to even more funding in the long run. The infrastructure package also provides for $100 billion in federal grants that haven’t yet been divided among the states. Brouwer said that’s a significant increase from past grant funding.

Of the new funding, about two-thirds of the funding has been earmarked for certain categories, like highways and electric vehicle charging stations.
The highway programs include close to $200 million for highway safety improvements, $110 million for an air quality improvement program and $82 million for a carbon reduction program, which Brouwer said could go toward the electrification of buses, bike and pedestrian projects in the state’s three largest urban areas — Portland, Salem and Eugene. The agency has also earmarked $52 million to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations.
The remaining one-third, Brouwer said, is more flexible.

“That’s where we’ll spend a lot of time looking at where we should put that money, into bridges, pavement, transportation infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians,” Brouwer said.

Millions could also flow to big projects like the replacement of the Interstate Bridge over the Columbia River and expanding Interstate 5 through Portland’s Rose Quarter.

Brouwer said both the Interstate Bridge replacement project and the Rose Quarter project are good candidates for new federal funding. He said those projects could qualify for one of several grant programs, such as one for bridges and one for “mega projects.”

The Rose Quarter project, he said, could benefit from a grant aimed at reconnecting communities. The project includes a proposal for a freeway cap over I-5 to reconnect the Albina neighborhood, blocks of which were demolished for the construction of I-5 decades ago. That added costs for which the agency hasn’t secured funding.

The funding will also pump $200 million into public transportation in Oregon. TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt said the agency is still determining what local projects are eligible.

“TriMet has begun testing electric bus technology, and we’re hopeful the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help accelerate the development of zero-emissions bus technology so we can move closer to a clean energy bus fleet by 2040,” she said.

Brouwer said it’s possible that the infusion of funding could speed up major projects like the Interstate Bridge replacement and Rose Quarter expansion, but it’s too early to say for sure.

“The Rose Quarter project has a bit of a funding gap that we need to close up before we move forward,” he said. “So this could help us move forward more quickly if it helps us generate more money.”

He said there are also some smaller projects that could be expedited by the funding package, such as widening Interstate 205 in Clackamas County, making the Boone Bridge over the Willamette River in Wilsonville more earthquake resistant, or funding bike and pedestrian improvements in the metro area.

Brouwer said he had been fairly optimistic about the passage of the infrastructure bill, so he and his team had begun to plan planning ahead of time for the influx of funds.

“We set up an internal working group in September to start working through some of these internal issues so we weren’t starting from scratch,” he said. “We have already begun the work to make sure we can get this money out the door quickly.”

ODOT officials said they plan to consult several regional advisory committees, including bike, pedestrian and public transit groups, about how to spend the money. The agency also will take public comments on how the funding should be used before the Oregon Transportation Commission considers options in March.

—Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; jramakrishnan@oregonian.com; @JRamakrishnanOR