Illustration by Liz Meyer

HERE'S A $24 MILLION QUESTION: When blessed with flexible funds, should Metro spend the money on bike and pedestrian projects, or freight?

Freight advocates, with the backing of the Port of Portland and Portland Business Alliance, are eyeing a pot of money Metro splits between the two polarized transportation groups. In previous budget years, Metro has given 88 percent of the Regional Flexible Funds to "active transportation" projects like building trails and bike paths, and about 12 percent to freight. This year, though, freight groups are lobbying hard to flip those numbers, pushing Metro to give freight up to 75 percent of this $24 million fund.

Green leaders like Coalition for a Livable Future Policy Director Mara Gross are sounding the alarm.

"I'm concerned that there could be a significant loss of funds for active transportation," says Gross. "There are very few sources of funding for these kinds of projects—a little bit of money can go a long way." The cost of Portland's current bike network, $60 million, is the same cost as building one mile of urban freeway, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Arguing that Metro should let bikes and pedestrians eat up the majority of the flexible funding pie, livability advocates note that only one percent of state transportation funding goes to bike/ped projects. The other 99 percent goes to road projects, which help freight.

But the freight groups say they're not rolling in money, either.

"Is there a whole lot of money going to freight? Certainly not," says Corky Collier, chairman of the Portland Freight Committee, who penned a letter to Metro. "We want to lay out the facts. In the past, Metro's criteria haven't been as balanced as it could be."

Most of the facts in Collier's letter focus on jobs, saying congestion on Oregon roads will lead to losing as much as $844 million and 6,500 jobs annually.

"We need to fund projects that our businesses understand and support," reads a letter of support for more freight funding signed by a group of 17 businesses, including big employers like Columbia Sportswear and Fred Meyer.

Metro votes on the fund at its Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation meeting on July 8.