As Mayor Charlie Hales continues his street-fee roadshow this week, he's challenged citizens to suggest alternative ways to fill the city's $910 million paving backlog.
One idea that keeps resurfacing: Why not use those piles of urban-renewal dollars?
Conservative radio host Lars Larson suggested to WW in May that city officials should take $50 million a year from urban renewal areas, run by the Portland Development Commission, and send them to street repair.
“Let the developers finance their own projects,” Larson said, “and pour that $50 million into bringing the streets back up to standard.”
Today, Portland economist Eric Fruits, who's been running a portion of the online "No Portland Street Fee" campaign, made a similar suggestion.
"Just under half of PDC’s budget is tied up in slush funds—business development and property redevelopment," Fruits writes. "That’s almost $120 million in slush. Can’t we shake loose a little of that slush to fix our blighted roads?"
PDC officials say the answer is both yes and no.
"To some extent, yes, and we're already doing that," says PDC spokesman Shawn Uhlman. "You can use for street work if it's in an urban renewal area. But you can't use dollars generated in the urban renewal area outside the URA."
Uhlman says there also also state restrictions against using urban-renewal dollars for maintenance—the paving would have to be part of a construction project.
One example of such a project is in the East Portland neighborhood of Lents. WW reported in January that the PDC has spent $7.9 million on the streets and sidewalks of Lents—much of it real progress, given that more than $1 million of the money was spent on paving the area’s dirt roads.
The PDC also made a $2.6 million investment in sidewalks, bioswales and plazas running along Southeast Foster Road. And Ulhman says the PDC is contributing at least $2 million more to the latest plans to improve Foster.
The paving may be only a fraction of the city's need. But as WW reported today, the city failed to slow the backlog's growth by increasing street repairs to keep up with transportation budgets.
The next town hall on the street fee is at 6:30 pm tonight at the Kaiser Permanente’s Town Hall, 3704 N Interstate Ave.