Salem-Keizer officials work to pare list to most practical transportation issues
By Thelma Guerrero-Huston • Statesman Journal
February 23, 2009
Even before the Obama administration rolled out its much-awaited $787 billion stimulus document, local officials were ready with a lengthy wish list of road and transit projects.
But like letters to Santa Claus, some of those wishes are likely to go unfulfilled.
“It’s all very fluid right now,” said Mike Jaffe, the program manager of the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, or SKATS. The group is part of the federal Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Salem-Keizer-Turner urban area.
Changes made to requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has officials returning to the drawing board to determine which projects will be a go.
Months before the bill’s passage, area jurisdictions submitted nearly 30 street projects totaling more than $20 million to SKATS for consideration. After making revisions, the list was pared down to 25 projects.
They consist of pavement restorations, sidewalks, signal updates, bike paths, school flashers, lead abatement for the Union Street Bridge over the Willamette River, and road upgrades for turn pockets or center turn lanes.
But with the Salem area set to get $6.1 million in stimulus funds — about $14 million less than what all the projects add up to — there won’t be enough money to go around.
In addition, Marion County will receive about $1.4 million and Polk County will get nearly $500,000.
On Tuesday, the SKATS policy committee will go back to the drawing board during a public meeting to discuss which road projects will be given priority.
The number is likely to be seven to nine projects, Jaffe said. A final decision won’t be made until about the second week of March, he added.
Still, Rob Kissler, the city of Keizer’s director of public works, is hopeful there will be enough money to accomplish at least one of his city’s priority projects.
“We’re confident the SKATS policy committee will affirm the Dearborn (Avenue NE) update, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Kissler said. “It’s a project that’s ready to go.”
If selected, the more than $750,000 Dearborn project would include upgrades to curbs, sidewalks, drainage, landscaping and bicycle paths.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed into law last week by President Obama, includes deadlines by which funding for infrastructure must be met.
Failure to meet those deadlines could result in the money being taken away and given to another jurisdiction or state that can meet the timeframe.
Local officials say they’re confident projects selected will meet the tight deadlines.
“Every project being considered is a straightforward, simple project,” said Mark Becktel, the parks and transportation services manager for Salem.
That means “none of the street projects being considered require environmental issues, which would delay a project for about a year,” he said. “They also don’t involve the purchase of property for right of way, which would also delay it.”
Road projects must be out for bid within a year.
Transit projects have 180 days to be out the door.
The Salem-Keizer Transit District is scheduled to receive an estimated $5.9 million in stimulus money, something that has helped soothe Steve Dickie’s nerves.
“It’s definitely going to help us, because the thing about this money is that there’s no local match required,” said Dickie, the district’s director of transportation development. “It helps because when you buy a $350,000 bus, 20 percent of that is still a fair amount of money that has to come out of local revenues.”
Another plus is that the district has an existing contract that allows for the purchase of additional buses, eliminating the need for a bidding process, Dickie said.
The district plans to buy at least six new buses, possibly upgrade some of its fare-collection equipment on existing buses, and possibly build a new transit center, he said.
Transit stimulus funds can go only toward capital purchases, such as replacement of buses, bus shelters, or construction of a new transit center. The funds cannot be used for transit operations, such as reinstating Saturday bus service.
The focus of the federal law is on quickly creating jobs.
Patrick Cooney, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Transportation, said 14 jobs will be created per $1 million spent on projects.
tguerrero-huston@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6815
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