Proposed Portland-Area Transportation Measure Could Designate Half of Funds to Highway and Road Infrastructure

“I think the initial polling really is clear,” Lynn Peterson said, “that folks see a 50-50 split.”

The multi-billion-dollar regional transportation measure expected to be on the 2020 ballot may dedicate 50 percent of funds toward highway and road infrastructure.

Already, that split is attracting blowback in car-skeptical Portland, and shows the delicate balance the regional government Metro will need to find if it's going to pass the measure.

Metro president Lynn Peterson revealed that 50-50 figure at a "State of the Region" speech on Friday, April 19. During the question-and-answer session, following the speech, moderator and 1000 Friends of Oregon deputy director Mary Kyle McCurdy asked Peterson about how much money Metro would ask voters for and where that money would go.

Peterson declined to comment on how much the funding package would ask voters for, but did hint at how money might be distributed.

"In the polling," McCurdy asked, "did you get a feel for the percentage of whatever the total package is that might go to things other than roadways and freeways?"

Peterson responded by referring to polling Metro did in January.

"I think the initial polling really is clear," Peterson said, "that folks see a 50-50 split."

Peterson added that she "didn't want to get ahead" of the task force working on the measure.

"I am not willing to think about it in terms of money," she said, asking instead, "What is it going to take to get our region back on track? And then let's talk about how much we can pay for in this first discussion."

Those remarks were the first indication of her thinking on how the funding should be divided between cars and another forms of transportation.

While far from definitive, Peterson's remarks are already receiving pushback from environmental and transit advocates, who strongly oppose plans to widen Interstate 5, for example.

But Portland voters are also some of the most likely to vote for increased taxes of any kind. And Metro will have to balance the interest of regional commuters with advocacy for public transit.

"A package that included something approaching half of revenue for freeway expansion would get pretty loud opposition from transportation reformers in Portland," Michael Andersen with the sustainability think tank Sightline Institute says. "It's not easy to imagine a package passing without their votes."

Nick Christensen, a Metro spokesperson, now says the 50-50 split is no sure thing.

He says Peterson was referring only to polling results on Friday and that there is still "a lot of work left to do" before the ballot language is finalized.

"President Peterson has also made clear that she's not interested in using the 2020 measure to fund additions to Portland's Interstate highways," Christensen says, "a position also reflected in the broader Metro Council direction to the Task Force."