A few Oregon-centric ideas for the stimulus package

Leslie Carlson

One of the few things I feel safe predicting about President Obama's first term, once it comes, is that some sort of economic stimulus package will be on the table. Our local leaders think it's likely too, and recognized that Oregon has big needs in a press conference earlier in the week here in Portland.

I'm all for fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and I hope that mass transit is a big part of any stimulus package. But I also hope that we stay true to the state's acknowledged leadership in the sustainable economy and put an equal amount of money and time into green infrastructure as we do into traditional roads and bridges.

For example, why not make Portland--and any other city in Oregon that's up for the challenge--into world-class bike cities, on par with Amsterdam and Copenhagen? This might mean doubling or tripling the numbers of bike lanes, building "bike signals" that are tripped automatically and allow bikers to proceed through an intersection while cars are stopped, adding bike & pedestrian bridges where needed, or even segrating bike lanes on busy streets from car traffic. None of this is easy to do, but if done correctly, research has shown that driving less puts more money into the pockets of local residents, who spend that money locally, directly creating jobs.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are two other good target areas. I'd love to see a widespread energy efficiency campaign targeting homes and commercial buildings, something like what the Energy Trust of Oregon does now but on a much bigger scale. Energy efficiency inspectors would come to your home and business to tell you what upgrades you'd need to make; federal low-interest loans and federal & state tax credits would help pay for those upgrades. We'd need to employ a lot of energy efficiency inspectors and contractors to get this done, and economic stimulus funds could pay for the program.

And what about a 25,000 or 50,000 solar home program for low-income Oregonians? Particularly on the sunny east side of the mountains, this would make great sense--and really lower electricity bills. This could be a model for the country, similar to what California has done with its Million Solar Roofs effort.

Here on the west side (particularly in Portland) we struggle with stormwater for many months of the year. The City of Portland's Green Streets program provides a great model for another program that could be expanded from public right-of-ways to private homes, businesses, parking lots, etc. This would create more jobs and help cities like Portland deal with polluted waterways (think the Superfund site that is the Willamette River) at the same time. And again, jobs would have to be created to get the work done.

Obviously, I'm not an economist--nor do I play one on TV--but I do believe that green infrastructure ought to be just as important as fixing our roads. And I hope that we fix our roads and bridges in a way that will work in the new economy, where environmental and human health are just as important as moving cars quickly from place to place.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Why not a workable solar home program for ALL Oregonians? At last count it took about $20k to outfit a home w/solar. Now that is a huge amount of money regardless one's income. I would agree to a concerted effort to bring affordable solar to Oregonians.

    Then, how about finally clearing the way so that Oregon loggers can actually cut the type and amount of timber agreed to during the Clinton Administration?

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    I don't know how many of you have been able to see first hand how bad the road damage on I-84 east of I-205 is, but I have. One night there was an accident near the 181st exit, which turned the freeway into a parking lot.

    As we creeped along, occasionally making it up to a whole 3 mph, I had the opportunity to really look at the roadway in a way you'd never get to while flying by at 60 mph. And the roadway is awful. There are very deep ruts in the roadway, the pavement is extremely worn down, etc.

    You may wonder why this matters. Have you ever noticed the large pieces to the wind turbines heading down I-84? As the quality of the road gets worse and worse, it becomes increasingly difficult for these very large loads to use I-84.

    While increasing green infrastructure is definitely a good thing, we'd ignored our basic infrastructure for way too long. Fixing our roads and bridges that are falling apart is key to bringing in the businesses we need to support the green infrastructure.

    Here in Gresham, we're hoping to get quite a bit of businesses in the green industry to move into our new Springwater Corridor area. But until we can get a second decent interchange with I-84 into Gresham, we can't do that. Not to mention infrastructure needs along Hwy 26 and at the Corridor site.

    So I'm all for adding the green industry and infrastructure, but we have to make sure we take care of our basic infrastructure needs first so that we can get those businesses into our cities.

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    Leslie, I agree with you entirely. Let's not build too much infrastructure that ties us to the past but new, green, sustainable infrastructure. Let me add two additional thoughts: (1) Sam Adams has talked of making Portland a "center for electric vehicles." So let's build the infrastructure for electric vehicles in Oregon. (see here ) (2) Much of the talk about these stimulus funds emphasizes projects ready to go into construction. That kind of talk ties us to the past too much. Better to spend some of the money on developing new ideas. We want to bring creative, innovative knowledge workers to Oregon to build our competitive 21st century economy. So let's hire all kinds of engineers, planners, architects, economists, etc. to develop new ideas for sustainable projects and businesses.

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    Jenni, it's not just I84, it's 26 & 217 & 405 etc. At least part of this is our ridiculous use of studded tires in a city (ie the metro region) where we get very few days that require these destructive devices. Yet one can see vehicles -by which I mean passanger cars- running with studs for at least the allowed period (Nov 1 thru Mar 31) regardless of the weather. I have mentioned this on a few occasions to some of the Leg in Washington County and now that they are going to be heading into session soon I will bring it up again. Either a modification to the laws in the Metro areas, or a highway maintenance & county-specific surcharge for studs, or some other solution or mitigation is needed to help defray the cost of road maintenance. I have no idea if super-heavy vehicles like those carrying 500K lb windmill components pay an additional tax or fee etc. Anybody?

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    Definitely. We have a lot of highways, freeways, etc. that badly need work. I-84 was just an example, since not only do I know it well, but it is badly needed by places that are setting up wind turbines to create electricity. Every time I come into Portland I pass several large pieces of them heading east.

    Some of it is from studded tires, but a lot of it is from heavy truck usage and from bad upkeep. On I-84, the two worst lanes are the outer lane (slow lane) and the middle lane. If it was just studded tire use, we'd see the same damage in the fast lane, but its damage is only about half that of the other lanes.

    I do think we need to look at how we handle studded tire use, especially in the Portland metro area.

  • Anonymous (unverified)

    Leslie is the new Jerry Falwell of the far left, willing to use the power of government to make YOU live HER lifestyle. It's for your own good! And it'll create jobs! You don't get to make personal choices if you're just gonna make bad ones.

    Welcome to fascism with a happy face. You will jog for the master race. Or is that bike?

  • jrw (unverified)

    I agree with regard to the studded tires. Thing is, you can buy the snow tires WITHOUT the studs and then you have really good traction without needing to worry about road damage or swapping out the tires every spring and fall. Because I work in the mountains and go skiing regularly, I have the studless traction tires on a Subaru. What I've found is that those tires also work really, really well in early fall and late spring when we get those heavy deluges of rain. Yeah, the tire wears out a little bit sooner. I prefer not to worry about crowds at the tire places.

    And traction on snow and ice with those tires works right nice in some pretty challenging conditions--tested mine up on Timberline Road quite a bit last winter!

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    Yea, going up to Timberline last January, I saw a lot of people using those studless traction tires.

  • Brian C. (unverified)

    True, studded tires do chew up the asphalt and admittedly jerks like me are responsible for that. My trusty AWD Subaru performs better than the average vehicle with standard tires yet I still insist on installing my studs tires every November. My guilt quickly melts away when that first snow event or ice storm hits and I'm holding down the fort at work. Big picture, studded tires pencil out in terms of safety and the alternatives. I'll take a bit more wear & tear on roads over more accidents. Spreading deicing agents costs plenty and leads to terminal body cancer on vehicles. I'll take aggressive traction, thank you.

  • Jason (unverified)

    It has been a dream of mine to see the streets of Portland converted to smaller lanes hosting single passenger electric/commuter vehicles, made right here in Portland. I have thought that the rest of the country would soon come calling for us to provide a similar system for them. Watching the big three American automobile makers squash progressive technology and push instead large, cumbersome vehicles that eat up the natural resource with relish, has been painful. Knowing that they were shedding their workforce for NAFTA rich waters, and preparing to deliver their responsibilities to their health care and retirement programs for their workforce to the American tax payers, while asking the same tax payers for a large bailout (25 billion in loans given last month, much more to come), is enraging. It is time for Portland to become the next Detroit. The table is set here politically. We should take full advantage. The planet will thank us.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    I lived in Utah for years. I didn't know what studs on tires were until I moved here. You can't control weather and Portland doesn't know how to control (or drive) in it. I've seen at least 3 idiots with studs already on their tires already. Obviously that law needs to change.

    Second Obama needs to invest in public works projects on a scale we haven't seen since FDR. Maybe even more than that. Obviously we need road fixes...we also need a replacement bridge across the Willamette here in Oregon since the Sellwood will probably collapse before anyone agrees on a way to rebuild it. We have 1 million more people moving here in the next 10 years and we obviously need a very progressive transportation system. I'd love to see the streetcar expanded like crazy.

    Isn't it funny how they had it right a hundred years ago and then everyone bought cars and screwed it all up?

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    Leslie is the new Jerry Falwell of the far left, willing to use the power of government to make YOU live HER lifestyle.

    Really? Really! AWESOME! WAHOO!!!!

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    Thanks, Kari, I was up all night trying to decide how to use my newfound power.

    Love all the suggestions about electric cars. The question is, how do we make that happen with the federal stimulus package or with changes at the federal level? I'm assuming that venture capital for ideas like electric cars is way down, that they government may have to help fund some start-ups. What else can we do?

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    I agree with regard to the studded tires. Thing is, you can buy the snow tires WITHOUT the studs and then you have really good traction.....

    Actually, they don't really work that well unless you're .....say.......driving on flat, salted roads in Salt Lake City. As a former ski bus driver, I now live in the hills southeast of Sandy, and studless snow tires will not even get me out of my driveway. I've used both studless and studded and studs are far and away much safer in both driving and braking situations.

    I am one of the idiots that already installed my studded tires, and I would be totally happy to pay a surcharge for the damage that I do to the roads.

    Bring it on!


    Now, about infrastructure and Green......Whatever we do, let's make sure that some good green manufacturing gets done in the areas where the decline of extraction based economies has hit the hardest.

    Also, Obama is planning a fast internet build out for the rural areas similar to the old Rural Electrification Program. We are currently behind most of the industrialized world in teerms of tech infrastructure. Just getting caught up will offer lots of job oppos.

  • genop (unverified)

    Those drug dealers and possessors warehoused in our prisons should be provided training to construct solar panels and other forms of green technology. The output could be used to convert the prisons and other govt. structures. Upon release, they would have an alternative to crime and become productive. Think about it.

  • Amiel Handelsman (unverified)

    Leslie, thanks for the insightful post.

    Along these lines, Michael Moynihan of NDN (which played an important role in mobilizing the Hispanic vote in pivotal states) proposes funding what he calls "Clean Infrastructure." His proposal includes modernizing the electrical grid, providing tax credits to families to winterize their homes, and other measures we in Portland might recognize as "green."

    I think it's important to note the different language: "clean" versus "green." There is much talk these days about "green-collar jobs" and "clean energy." I've seen research suggesting that people who don't consider themselves environmentalists are more likely to vote for and buy "clean" than "green." The clean energy industry calls itself that more than the "green energy" industry. Just an observation...

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Oregon-centric or socialist-centric? More bicycle crap in Portland for freeloaders as long as somebody else pays for it? More mass transit that will increase ongoing long term operational subsidy debt for generations to come? Economic stimulus or just more taxes and increasing the costs of living here? Oregon is already in a socialist created recession due to government intervention in the marketplace and people are struggling to make ends meet. It is NO time for more of the same tax and spend policies that helped to create this downturn in the economy. If people want more bicycle infrastructure, it is time the freeloading pedal pushers directly pay for it with huge bicycle license and registration fees, maybe several times what it costs to license and register a car to make up for the motorist paid taxes that have already been extorted to fund the present day bicycle infrastructure. If more transit is desired, then transit fares must better reflect the true expenditures of providing the service, not just the current 21 percent of operating costs currently recovered through the farebox. Sustainability starts with financial self-sustainability. Until bicycle infrastructure is paid for by bicyclists and transit fares cover the costs for transit infrastructure and operations, neither are sustainable. Likewise with energy efficiency, green streets, etc. - it all should pay for itself with reduced energy costs, reduced run off expenditures, etc. - not by milking the taxpayers to fund subsidies.

  • Eric Parker (not related to Terry) (unverified)

    "More mass transit that will increase ongoing long term operational subsidy debt for generations to come"

    Not to mention the crime cause by bored, unemployed, and homeless street people that goes with it.

  • Building Inspector (unverified)

    I think you offer some very level-headed and realistic ideas. Hopefully we get some implementation of similar tactics so that that the economy in Portland picks up!

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I say, how about support and funding to make Portland a UN Urban Biosphere Reserve? Great ideas and all. But I would just hasten to add that all great Democratic administrations have had a larger vision, for the world, in their stimulus packages.

    While I agree with the topic's sentiment, and would also remind there was a lot of very green pork in the bank bailout bill, the last administration has put us too far behind the eight ball to catch up locally, first. If we don't embrace the administrations' negligence with the world, the consequences might far outweigh the benefits of immediate local stimulus.

    Just to put things in perspective, we talk about the meaning of "hope" and a new kind of administration. The Maldives have a lot of hope too. They are swearing in their first democratically elected President. His concept of hope for the Maldives is sobering. He is planning to divert a portion of the annual tourist income into a fund for buying a new homeland. The Maldives highest point is 2.5 meters above sea level and his message for hope is that they are taking concrete measures to deal with the day they become environmental refugees.

    How about reminding people during the inaugural about Jimmy Carter's thermostat grass roots action. As for local stimulus, why not support and funding to make Portland a UN Urban Biosphere Reserve? Brighton, UK has the right idea , but Brighton before Portland? Brighton in Sussex is a flock of starlings circling over the Kiss Me Quick pier. But they're inspired, and I guess I'm a little miffed at the idea we aren't as inspired, given our natural advantages. At least it combines the practical upshot of the post with my preference for global consciousness raising action.

  • Rob (unverified)

    Upgrade the NW "smartgrid" and export the technology, are we ready for plug-in hybrids, peak pricing? Green startup equity stakes Salmon habitat rebuilding, stream by stream. Statewide salmon zoning overlay Seismic upgrading Landslide insurance pool More wind power, extend the tax credit for 5 years Geothermal equity stakes, geothermal liability limits More insulation programs Marketing programs to export our LEED, bike, planning expertise

    All these are investments with good potential payback

    I think we overspend on roads, but it is easy to do so. I am all for more reflectors though!

  • Les Lambert (unverified)

    Leslie, good post. But upthread, someone suggested more tax credits. Tax credits tend to favor the well-to-do, at taxpayer expense. But they don't help low income, retired, or cash-starved people, or those who have a short time horizon (e.g. very elderly, renters, lessees), very much. Publicly financed loans, with low interest rates commensurate with secured financing, and amortization period selected by the homeowner, business owner, or landlord, would work much better. This re-frames the discussion from "how'd you like to invest in conservation?" to "how'd you like to lower your total utility costs?"

    Over the last eight years, I have put in a new heating system, windows, underfloor insulation (incredibly, my house - built in 1980 - had none)and insulated wells of skylights put in by a prior owner. All this cut my heating energy use in half. I also did some things (super-insulated water heater, low flow shower-heads with soap-up valves) to cut my indoor water use and water heating by over 40%. Total cost was about $8000, with me doing some of the work. I got some tax credits & energy trust subsidies, but had to front the $ to get the work done. If I had been living from check to check, this wouldn't have happened - tax credits & subsidies or not. Public financing would change that.

    Low interest rates on public financing, with collection of the principal & interest through either property tax bills or utility bills, would give many folks that otherwise would do nothing to save energy or water, an option not presently available to them. The funds could come from revenue anticipation bonds and would require NO NEW TAXES while creating new jobs for the building trades. With the no new taxes angle, even the resident trolls can't complain very much.

    <h2>Les Lambert, Bend</h2>

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