February 19th, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall

Bike Plan for 2030: Internal Emails Show One Cost Estimate For Implementation at $1.5 Billion (Updated)

Saltzman City Hall

City Council adopted Portland's Bicycle Plan for 2030 with a unanimous vote on Feb. 11 after hearing the plan would cost $613 million to implement over 20 years. And although the plan does not commit city commissioners to spending that money, bicycle advocates have strongly urged them in recent weeks to do so.

New emails WW has obtained through a public records request show one city bureaucrat within the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Lola Gailey, estimated the bike plan would cost more than double the original estimate -- or $1.5 billion in 2008 dollars. Gailey was not immediately available for comment.

But Dan Anderson, a spokesman for PBOT, says Gailey's figure "was the product of a misunderstanding" based on two different understandings of what construction costs should include. He says the bureau's original $613 million estimate is both conservative and accurate. "The first number was correct," he says.

Yet the emails show that PBOT did not share Gailey's figure with Portland's Office of Management and Finance, the budget office that first raised questions about the accuracy of PBOT's financial estimates. OMF has the responsibility of giving financial impact statements to City Council before commissioners vote on various city projects. Anderson notes that commissioners weren't committing themselves to a financial contract when they considered the bike plan; therefore cost estimates should be viewed differently in the case of the Bike Plan.

The exchange from last week follows. On Feb. 9, two days before City Council adopted the plan, Gailey -- PBOT's "expert in costing out projects," according to another PBOT employee -- told colleagues that implementing the plan would cost $1.5 billion, once PBOT included non-construction costs like personnel and overhead. Lisa Shaw, referenced below, is a financial analyst with OMF who wanted to review PBOT's numbers further.

PBOT says Bike Plan could cost $1.5 billion

Here Ellen Vanderslice, a project coordinator, tells Gailey to consult Mark Lear, a traffic safety program manager who used to serve as a bureau spokesman. Additionally, Vanderslice tells Gailey to do this before talking with OMF.

Email from Vanderslice to Gailey

Gailey then tells Vanderslice she's "not looking to upset the apple cart here."

Apple Cart

Following an internal discussion, Vanderslice says PBOT's original $613 million estimate is sufficient "at a planning level."

Vanderslice's explanation of decision

But, according to an OMF email to PBOT the following day, no one from PBOT let OMF in on the internal discussion about the $1.5 billion. UPDATE Saturday: PBOT denies this. "I talked with Mark Lear after our conversation," Anderson, a bureau spokesman, writes in an email. "Mark said he showed Lola's estimate to OMF's Lisa Shaw." If so, that means PBOT would have shown OMF's analyst the $1.5 billion figure on Wednesday after transportation officials decided on Tuesday that that number was, as they say, not accurate. OMF has not responded to a request for clarification.

UPDATE Monday: PBOT and OMF officials met Monday morning to review what transpired at their meeting Feb. 10. They now agree no one from PBOT ever said the words "$1.5 billion." But PBOT employees did discuss the math that lead to that number, PBOT says.
OMF's response to PBOT
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