"I'd rather invest that money in sidewalks, in safe ways to school, and in paving streets and reducing traffic congestion and improving traffic safety throughout the city," Mayor Tom Potter said during last week's city council meeting, following a heated discussion on whether or not to spend $5.5 million to move the retired Sauvie Island steel bridge to NW Portland, where it would become an iconic recycled bike and pedestrian crossing over I-405 at NW Flanders.
It's nice spin. But it's too bad Potter—who joined Commissioner Dan Saltzman in voting no on the project, sinking it for now—is flat out wrong.
Sure, sidewalks and reducing traffic congestion are worthy goals. But the money that Commissioner Sam Adams cobbled together to move and reinstall the bridge can't be used "throughout the city" for basic things like sidewalks or street repairs.
Two million of the Sauvie Island bridge funds come from River District Urban Renewal Funds—tax increment money collected in the neighborhood, for use in the neighborhood. River District money can't be spent for sidewalks in SW Portland, no matter what Potter says (or how much he prefers Adams' mayoral opponent, Sho Dozono).
Another two million is from transportation "system development charges"—fees that developers pay to help offset the cost of new transportation facilities. Developers in NW Portland have paid over $4.3 million in those charges since 1997, but only $740,747 has been spent in their area. The city has a list of 43 projects to spend the money on over the next 10 years—"capacity-increasing projects for future users," according to the city ordinance—and the NW Flanders crossing is on that list. Potter should know that—he voted to approve the slate of projects last October.
Another million in the bridge project budget is from a pot called "transportation enhancements," a program the state administers, giving federal cash to "innovative projects" that "strengthen the cultural, aesthetic, or environmental value of our transportation system." Like... a salvaged steel bridge for cyclists and walkers.
Finally, half a million in Adams' proposal would come from his Safe, Sound, and Green Streets package—or from community fundraising, if that street fee proposal doesn't eventually pass. (Hey Potter! If you're so concerned about "reducing traffic congestion and improving traffic safety"—two of the core tenets of the $464 million street fee plan—then why the hell did you oppose it?)
Fortunately, it seems everyone sees through Potter's shameless attempt to play politics with a project that garnered unanimous support from the folks who turned up to testify.
"The mayor's using this as an opportunity to make Sam look bad. It's pure mayoral politics," says Karl Rohde with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which plans to continue pushing for the project—possibly focusing on Saltzman, who expressed reservations over the project's contract but overall support for the idea. Here's hoping Saltzman—unlike Potter—is actually being honest with his objections.