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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

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Goal 3: Deliver smart investments to maintain our transportation system

Every day, Portlanders rely on our streets and other transportation assets to get where they need to go. These assets are valued at $13 billion and include: over 100,000 street signs; tens of thousands of streetlights and curb ramps; thousands of miles of streets; thousands of signals and bike racks; hundreds of bridges and retaining walls; hundreds of miles of bikeways; a dozen streetcars; six parking garages; and one aerial tram. Operating, maintaining, and planning for the upkeep of these assets is a 24/7 job and involves staff from all of PBOT’s six primary business groups. 

To support a prosperous city where all Portlanders can get around safely, easily, and sustainably, PBOT must fix the city’s crumbling and substandard infrastructure. Several factors make this challenging. First, population growth has put more stress on our transportation system. Second, funding has not kept pace with what we need to maintain the system we have. 

New funding in recent years is a step forward, but still insufficient to see a long-term, dramatic improvement or address our existing deficiencies. The result? PBOT currently faces a maintenance obligation of $3.5 billion, the majority of which has no committed funding. Continuing to defer the bulk of this obligation costs Portlanders more because providing maintenance on a deteriorating system costs more. What does this deferred maintenance look like? It looks like potholes, streetlight outages, temporary road closures, and other challenges that Portlanders encounter on their daily trips. 

PBOT is committed to reversing this trend and dramatically shrinking its growing unfunded maintenance liability. But we know that we cannot rely on funding alone. To this end, we will use the next three years to improve our bureau’s approach to building, preserving, and repairing our transportation infrastructure. In Moving to Our Future, we outline the way we will focus on this by improving how we manage our assets and by implementing modern, data-driven tools, programs, and policies. These advancements will allow PBOT to maximize our current funding across our assets, and to deliver a better-maintained, safer, and more reliable transportation system at a lower cost to Portlanders. 

What outcome do we want from this goal?

  • Performance targets for all PBOT assets which identify the gaps in funding for maintaining or improving these assets. 
  • A data-driven strategy for closing these gaps. 
  • A transparent and equitable process for selecting projects that builds public trust and support for future investment. 

How does delivering smart investments to maintain our transportation system advance equity?

  • Focusing on vulnerable roadway users. Asset management asks whether the condition and performance of our system meet Portlanders’ expectations. Our equity work asks the important question: which Portlanders? A high-quality transportation system provides access to jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. Assets that are in poor condition create gaps in the system that block people from opportunity. Addressing the condition of our assets, particularly in communities of color and for people with disabilities, supports a more equitable distribution of this public service. Moving to Our Future mobilizes PBOT to invest and reinvest in assets that are reliable, safe, and support the needs of all Portlanders, especially those who have been historically underserved.

  • Defining successful outcomes together. PBOT will use its Equity Matrix and other equity data tools to drive investment where the community needs it most. This will involve the broader community, and not just be driven by data. How we define asset performance, after all, is an expression of our values and the balance and trade-offs it may require. Without a conscious decision to engage historically underserved communities with transparency and accountability, we will continue to respond to the needs of those with more privilege and only measure success by their expectations. Changing this historic inequity will be a conscious exercise we will undergo in each asset decision. 

  • Disrupting intergenerational financial burdens. Sound financial stewardship is itself an opportunity to advance equity. By delivering systems that function over the long-term, we save residents money over a much longer timeframe, one that can span generations. This creates capacity to invest in a better future for Portlanders by taking care of our assets as we use them, rather than passing the bill onto future generations. Put another way, when we take care of what we have, we can both grow the system and sustain it. 

How does delivering smart investments to maintain our transportation system reduce climate pollution?

  • Sustaining performance. Modern asset management is an exercise in sustainability. It looks at the desired performance of our assets over the longest duration at least cost. This includes externalized costs to the environment and resilience in the face of climate change.

  • Environmentally friendly and socially responsible procurement and delivery. Asset management also contributes to climate action through maximizing the use of materials that have a long, functional life and low energy requirements, such as LED lights. We will procure materials with a low-carbon footprint in terms of emissions, transport costs, and sourcing. We will use recycled materials where possible. And we can minimize environmental harm through construction techniques like cold-mixing asphalt and through environmentally conscious waste disposal. Improving our practices these ways and maximizing our assets, will mean less failing infrastructure and less waste.

  • Smart technology and innovation. New smart city technologies and innovations offer additional opportunities for managing our assets in a sustainable way. We will evaluate these innovations and their potential for offering efficient infrastructure in a changing climate and also for PBOT’s own carbon footprint.