(Update: Adding city news release)
Vote was unanimous -- twice; larger proposal fared poorly in voter surveys
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After some staff cost-shaving and one more fine-tuning go-round to achieve a hard-won consensus, the Bend City Council agreed Wednesday night to send an approximately $180 million transportation bond measure to the May ballot.
It’s difficult to think of that large a mountain of cash as the “low-cost” option, in anyone’s view. But after a sobering set of two-option survey results were presented during the evening’s work session, it was clear to every councilor that the longer list of projects -- and its higher price tag, of $270 million -- would slice the odds of success at the ballot box dramatically.
The higher bond figure got 57 percent approval in the initial phone survey question – but that dropped to 44 percent as soon as the voters were told it would cost the owner of an average home (valued at $220,000) about $270 a year.
Wednesday night's agreed-upon bond measure -- in not just one, but two unanimous votes -- puts that figure at $160 to $170 a year, which is $25 or more lower than the lower-cost option that fared much better in the survey.
As a consultant put it, the voters are “definitely cost-sensitive.” But they also list transportation as the city’s top priority, ahead of housing and other issues.
Still, even at the lower amount, the measure is a tall order and “heavy lift,” as some would say, not to mention a multi-faceted balancing act: including enough safety elements like missing sidewalks, improved transit and the like without too many voters feeling the key priorities of easing congestion and improving east-west connectivity got short shrift, sending everyone back to the drawing board.
You can see the full list as drafted, an interactive map (subject to some late revisions) and more details at this city web page: https://www.bendoregon.gov/city-projects/safe-travel.
City Manager Eric King and staff in essence “gave” councilors $10 million more to add things back in Wednesday night by outlining how they had been able to slice that much in administrative costs (overhead, you might say) from the original proposals, cutting the administrative costs in half, from 12 to 6 percent of the total, through things such as urban renewal funding of some Central Business District work, and trimming the number of additional staff to be needed from seven to 4.5.
In just over an hour of discussion, councilors divvied that up in this fashion: adding $5 million for Intelligent Transportation Systems capital projects -- the changes in timing and technology that can move traffic better on existing streets, as well as $1 million more for transit enhancements, $2 million more for the residential streets safety improvements program and $3 million for a Butler Market interchange frontage road (coupled with ODOT dollars, extending the parkway's southbound Butler Market Road off-ramp to hook up with Division Street, easing the crunch on Butler Market and Third Street, where there are high crash rates).
Councilor Bruce Abernethy expressed disappointment that the larger bond measure “didn’t poll better. But we’re realists, and we’ve recognized what the community wants, and what it can afford.”
Abernethy proposed the added $2 million to the residential safety improvements program after Mayor Sally Russell had suggested “we look really seriously” at adding funds to complete needed sidewalks along Butler Market Road, where rapid development has been occurring. Developers will need to contribute their share.
Toward the end of the meeting, Councilor Barb Campbell said she wants to be sure the voters are presented with projects map and list that also shows numerous road projects already underway with identified funding, that don't ask taxpayers for more.
And Russell thanked her colleagues for working through the issues and reaching consensus.
“Each of us probably have a different idea of what (the proposal) could be,” she said. “The power of what we did will be powerful for the community. We all leaned in and found middle ground.”
City staff will be back before councilors on Feb. 5 with a locked-in dollar amount, a proposed ballot title and language, and a resolution that lists the projects it will fund.
Here's the city's news release, issued Thursday morning:
Bend City Council Takes Another Step Toward May Transportation Bond Measure
On Wednesday, Bend City Council voted unanimously to prepare a funding measure that addresses Bend residents’ top concern: traffic congestion and safety.
The Council’s action is the result of two years of community involvement, including a 25-member Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee that developed a list of critical projects to improve travel safety and traffic flow across the city.
The motion passed by the City Council directs the City Attorney’s office to prepare a resolution and ballot title referring a measure of approximately $180 million for capital transportation projects to the May 2020 Primary Election ballot. The Council will consider the draft resolution at its Feb. 5 regular meeting.
Priority projects include better east-west connections that will reduce drivers’ time behind the wheel and improve Bend’s livability and safety—notably along Reed Market Road. Other priority routes targeted for traffic flow improvements include, U.S. 97/Parkway, 3rd Street intersections, Empire Avenue, Wilson Avenue, Butler Market Road and other key routes.
The project list also includes neighborhood traffic safety improvements:
· Safer crossings to access schools, parks and jobs
· A network of cross-town bicycle routes
· Completing missing sidewalks along priority routes
The $180 million transportation bond measure would be funded by a property tax. The average annual cost would be $160 to $170 per year, based on a home with a tax assessed value of $220,000, which is the assessed value for an average homeowner in Bend.
The Council’s action follows the results of a May 2019 telephone survey that found 72% of registered voters said the City of Bend should ask voters to consider a transportation funding measure.
A more recent December telephone survey helped affirm City Council’s direction. The survey of 304 randomly selected Bend voters tested two possible funding amounts, with a $190 million bond earning solid majority support.
In addition to the telephone surveys, an online “One-Minute Survey” conducted from October through December drew 3,493 respondents and more than 1,500 comments. When asked what transportation improvements they wanted, survey respondents listed traffic flow and safety improvement projects that closely aligned with the Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee and City Council’s priority projects.
Listening to voters’ input on the overall bond amount, the City Council reduced the amount by trimming administrative costs, phasing projects and finding additional cost efficiencies.
“Survey results show transportation continues to be the most important issue to our community members,” said Senior Project and Policy Analyst Susanna Julber. “The community is supportive of a bond to address traffic flow and safety improvements included in the package of projects the City Council is considering.”
For more information about transportation in Bend and potential bond measure projects, visit www.bendoregon.gov/safe-travel.