1KF in the News: Salem Bridge Looking Shaky, and Questions in McMinnville

The dangers of building a bridge on unstable foundations, and concerns about converting high-quality industrial land for a big box development in McMinnville: 1000 Friends has been active in the Willamette Valley lately.

As the Salem City Council considers whether to move forward on the controversial "Third Bridge" project--which as currently proposed would consist of a six-lane bridge across the Willamette--our own Mia Nelson explained in a Statesman-Journal op-ed why the bridge's justifications are very questionable.

Mia writes:

When it comes to big transportation projects like bridges, taxpayers have several basic concerns. How much will it cost? Can we pay for it? How will it impact the community? Is it even needed?

Taxpayers expect elected leaders to clearly show they’ve asked and answered these questions before proceeding with such a project.

With Salem’s third bridge, however, residents have good reason for concern. The Salem City Council will soon decide whether to endorse the bridge. But it’s looking mighty shaky.

She goes on to cite how bridge planners have been relying on significantly outdated population and traffic models to justify the bridge's construction. As Marion and Polk counties experience less growth than previously expected, and local residents follow statewide and national trends of driving less, the bridge may not be as urgent as local planners have argued.

Of greater concern to Salem taxpayers, perhaps, finding adequate funding for the bridge may be difficult--particularly as tolls have been proposed to do so:

Economic analysis firm Standard & Poor’s tracked 100 American toll projects for over a decade. They found a consistent pattern: traffic volumes and toll revenues were much lower than official forecasts — when the projects opened and over their lifespan. The result was that tolls did not generate enough money to pay for the projects.

Salem should read one conclusion with great care: Communities new to tolling projects were especially prone to inflated projections, with an average 42 percent overestimate of traffic and tolls. This is consistent with recent West Coast toll projects, including Seattle’s Highway 520 Bridge and toll freeways in Orange County.

Finally, Mia writes, Salem residents should demand more of their local leaders as they consider the plan, as seven neighborhood associations have already done by formally opposing the project:

Given all these warning signs, Salem residents have a right to ask that the City Council slow down, pay close attention, and avoid driving too quickly onto bridge that could well be bigger, pricier, and emptier than needed.

Because if Salem gets stuck on a bloated, debt-ridden bridge, it’s local residents and businesses that will have to fund its rescue.

Read the full op-ed here.

Update, May 14: The City Council has voted to continue considering alternatives and will hold another hearing on June 24.

Questions in McMinnville: Losing Industrial Jobs for Big Box Sprawl?

In the last couple of weeks, a Draft Economic Opportunities Analysis has been released by consultants working for the City of McMinnville. Though that sounds like a dry document, they are very important for how communities make and justify choices about using land inside their urban growth boundaries, or expanding. So 1000 Friends pays close attention when they are released.

McMinnville's new EOA is particularly problematic. The Daily Journal of Commerce's Lee Fehrenbacher explains:

Oregon has a well-documented industrial land shortage. So, some land use advocates are concerned that a private developer and real estate company want to convert some prime industrial land in McMinnville into a regional shopping center.

But those advocates are bewildered that the city is updating its planning strategy at the development team’s request, and with the development team’s money.

...

At the heart of the matter is a 90-acre parcel of industrially zoned farmland that sits adjacent to the McMinnville Municipal Airport on Oregon Route 18 (East Salmon River Highway). McMinnville-based RPS Development and New York-based Kimco Realty, a real estate investment trust specializing in shopping centers, would like to build up to 600,000 square feet of retail space on the site...

For the project to proceed, the city must rezone the property for commercial use. It can’t do that without showing documented need for additional commercial space – hence the EOA.

And who paid for the EOA? RPS Development, the same company that would build the new project, which it is already advertising.

Of special concern is the proposed conversion of prime industrial land for a big box commercial center, especially at a time when leaders around Oregon--and in McMinnville--complain about a lack of adequate industrial land for development. The site in question is perfect for a large-lot industrial user, which is what has been intended for it. It is near a major highway, McMinnville airport, other industrial users. 

To justify its conversion, the EOA lowballs the percent of industrial jobs in McMinnville, and thus the land they will need. Fehrenbacher summarizes this, citing work compiled by our Mia Nelson:

With 4,092 jobs, McMinnville accounts for about 7.5 percent of the Portland metropolitan area’s industrial labor pool, according to Nelson. If Metro’s industrial job growth projections over the next 20 years hold true, and if McMinnville continues to capture 7.5 percent, Nelson said the city would not have a surplus of industrial land, but rather a 55-acre shortage.

“It pretty much shows how you can make these EOAs,” she said. “They are not dry and technical. They can easily be manipulated to say pretty much whatever you want them to say, unfortunately.”


These are the approximate boundaries of the proposed shopping center. View in a larger map. 

More than just one parcel, however, the McMinnville episode is part of a more troubling trend statewide. As 1000 Friends Policy Director tells Fehrenbacher:

“The drum beat has been consistent and loud about the need for large-lot industrial sites to (be) ready to go for industries that may want to locate in Oregon, but for the lack of large-lot industrial sites...All over the state we have heard this. At the same time, we have seen city after city convert good industrial land to other uses so that we have lost the best opportunities for large-lot industrial siting.”

1000 Friends is working with local and state leaders to demonstrate the problems with McMinnville's new EOA, and hopes to prevent the loss of this prime industrial land and the good family-wage jobs it can support, for another low-wage big box complex surrounded by acres of parking.

We believe in better jobs for Oregonians, and the best use of Oregon's land. This proposal promises neither.

Read the full DJC article here (subscription required).