U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   08/14/2003
Sue Kupillas
Jackson County Board of Commissioners

TEA-21 Reauthorization

Senator Wyden and Members of the Committee on Environment and Public Works:

My name is Sue Kupillas, fourth-term county commissioner in Jackson County. I come before you today to represent both county and city transportation systems. I support the reauthorization of TEA-21 funding. It is important to our county and to all Oregon counties as it directly affects our economy and quality of life. Additionally, I am here to address another issue that will be considered by this committee, namely, Transportation Enhancement funding.

I thank you for the opportunity to familiarize you with the transportation issues critical to Jackson County in Southwest Oregon. Furthermore, I take this opportunity to thank Senator Wyden for your leadership in helping Oregon receive its current funding level. While we still have far to go in terms of transportation funding, we have a good beginning in the dollars presently provided by TEA-21.

I serve as the Chair of the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (RVMPO) which includes seven cities, the Rogue Valley Transit District, Jackson County and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Our role is to identify transportation policies, issues, and needs which are area-wide in scope, and to plan and recommend actions in areas of intergovernmental concern. The RVMPO’s responsibility is also to ensure that transportation decisions are consistent with area-wide goals and objectives.

Oregon counties are responsible for more than 27,000 miles of county roads; 6,580 miles of local access roads; and 4,000 bridges with one dollar in resources for every four dollars in needs. The counties have 15,600 miles of paved roads. Of that number, more than 13% of the pavements are in poor or very poor condition. In Jackson County we have 720 miles of paved road and 220 miles of gravel road. We have approximately $10 million in backlog of projects on roads which should be done in the next 5 years. Twenty-two bridges need repairs, totaling $44 million. Jackson County, like many counties in Oregon, is being significantly impacted by large population increases which are creating more and more congestion problems in our urbanizing areas. Jackson County’s population is growing steadily at over 3% per year.

Priorities for TEA-21 reauthorization are the following:

$ Increase Oregon’s annual highway formula funding. These make up the largest portion of funding in the bill.

$ Federal transit funding must be increased. Public transportation systems are vital to keep our disadvantaged citizens a viable part of our communities.

$ The funding guarantees and firewall provisions of TEA-21 must be continued. Assurance of continued revenues is vital to good planning.

$ The basic program structure of TEA-21 works and should be retained.

$ The Highway Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program (HBRR) is vital to keeping our roadways open. The cost to replace some of the bridges in poorly funded rural counties is nearly as much as an entire year’s road maintenance budget. The 20% match requirement on HBRR projects also places a burden on poorly funded rural counties. States like Oregon, with large amounts of federal lands have lower non-federal match requirements than other states on certain programs. These so-called “sliding scale” provisions should be extended to the HBRR program.

$ The federal Forest Highway Program as part of the Public Lands Program provides vital money for improvements to county roads and state highways accessing National Forests for recreational use and forest management. These are the types of projects that do not compete well for funding against high capacity urban highways. However, without these rural projects both the National Forests and the communities that support them would suffer.

Increased federal-aid for our rural roadways is vital for the safety of our citizens and the economic vitality and livability of our rural communities.

We thank you for funding past TEA-21 projects in Jackson County. In 1998, the North Medford Interchange was awarded $19.6 million dollars; the I-5 viaduct structural overlay and seismic retrofit received $15.4 million; I-5 Interstate Maintenance preservation project was $12.8 million and Highway 62 Linn-Dutton widening project was funded at $11.7 million.

A future priority in Jackson County is to widen Fern Valley Road to a five-lane section from Highway 99 eastward over I-5 to North Phoenix Road. It will add capacity on Fern Valley Road as well as provide safe vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle movements. The project is eligible for federal funds because of the need to build a new higher capacity interchange to meet the congestion needs of the area. The request for earmarked funds is $20 million. That, plus the state and local matches will total $36 million.

This Fern Valley Interchange (Exit 24) is the first truck stop from California into Oregon. Also, Exit 24 serves as the main link between the I-5 corridor and the City of Phoenix. The interchange is under pressure because of continuous growth in both Phoenix and Southeast Medford. The growth and large volume of truck traffic using the interchange (Petro Truck Stop) has created an unsafe situation. This has caused the Interstate ramps to fail. Also, the inadequate sight distance of the existing I-5 crossing is unsafe due to a high vertical curve.

Another priority is the Hwy. 62 expressway between Medford and White City. Jackson County has managed the Jackson County Urban Renewal project in White City for twelve years. This project is a significant economic development project, as the industrial park in White City is within the project boundaries. The industrial park is an economic engine for all of Jackson County providing hundreds of family wage jobs with benefits as well as manufacturing products desired all over the world. Rail and truck freight as well as efficient access to I-5 are key to the continued expansion of industry in White City.

Several projects remain a priority as improvements are made to the infrastructure by urban renewal within the project. One of the most important projects is the Highway 62 expressway designation from Delta Waters, Milepost 1.59 in Medford to Linn Road, Milepost 10.6 in Eagle Point. The highway is part of the National Highway System (NHS) from Milepost 0.41 to the State Highway 140 intersection, Milepost 6.03. Current average daily traffic within the NHS portion of Hwy. 62 is 43,000 vehicles per day. It is projected to be at 57,000 vehicles per day in 20 years. The service level at the Delta Waters intersection is failing now and is projected to be at a much lower service level in 20 years. The project proposes to restore the function of Hwy. 62 as an expressway within the NHS section, relieving the congestion and capacity problems.

The original project was initiated in 1997. Work on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the corridor was re-directed to focus on the I-5 to Poplar Drive area, designated Unit 1. Unit 1 will begin construction in FFY2003. The recently restarted Hwy. 62 corridor solutions process will complete the EIS in approximately 2 years. Current conceptual design estimates range from $130 to $200 million, depending on the alternative selected. This estimate is to build the entire corridor. The project could be phased in two units, however, phasing the project may create risk.

Attached to the testimony is a letter from Commissioner Dave Gilmour. He, with support from the entire Board of Commissioners, is renewing interest in extending Hwy. 140 through the White City area to the Seven Oaks Interchange north of Central Point. While this is not on a priority list today, it has been in the past. The connector would solve many congestion problems on Highway 62.

Another issue that the transportation committee should pay attention to is one created by an omission of the House Appropriations Committee, a separate matter from TEA- 21 reauthorization. Section 114 of the FY04 Transportation and Treasury Appropriations Bill would eliminate funding for Transportation Enhancements. I strongly urge you to restore funding for this important program before the Senate and/or Congress completes work on the bill.

Transportation Enhancement dollars have been put to good use in Oregon since the program’s inception in 1991. Over 70 Oregon communities around the state have benefitted from the transportation improvements made possible by this program—rural and urban communities alike.

Downtown “Main Streets” have been revitalized, bicycle and pedestrian access has been improved, and historic transportation landmarks are being restored for current and future generations of Oregonians to enjoy.

The Bear Creek Greenway project in Jackson County has benefitted not only county government, but also 5 cities, including Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland. Gold Hill, Ashland, Klamath Falls and Grants Pass have also secured Transportation Enhancement funds for other community projects.

The current 2.75 mile trail segment is the third Greenway project built with these funds. It is a good example of enhancement dollars serving to build a trail that can reduce the number of vehicle trips on roadways. It also is an excellent example of a private/public partnership that leverages both money and community involvement. We will need funding in the future to fund the gaps in the trail between Medford and Talent. When completed the Bear Creek Greenway will be continuous between Ashland and the Pine Street Bridge in Central Point.

A vision for people in the City of Rogue River is to bring the trail to Rogue River, with secondary trails including Gold Hill and Eagle Point. This vision is being studied by an independent group of citizens in the community of Rogue River .

Transportation Enhancement funding represents just 10% of the overall Federal Highway Bill but provides enormous direct benefit to local governments that cannot be secured anywhere else. Millions of dollars in on -the-ground projects are at stake. Safe, flexible, efficient transportation equity are all as important to non-motorized travel as to roads and highways.

The economic benefits of trails have been studied by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders. The survey report, Consumers Survey on Smart Choices for Home Buyers, released in April shows that 36 percent of 2,000 recent home buyers designated walking, jogging or biking trails as either an “Important” or a “Very Important” community amenity. Trail availability outranked 16 other options including security, ball fields, golf courses, parks and access to shopping or business centers. Only highway access beat out trails as 44% of the surveyed indicated.

Not only do home buyers like homes near trails, but motels, and other city restaurants and businesses like to locate near trails. It enhances the economic vitality of cities and businesses alike.

Finally, trails and greenways are a great economic boon to communities and add to the quality of life as we connect all our cities. It is not possible to build our way out of congestion. Meaningful alternate transportation options are the only way to assure any future quality of life. Trails move people at a slower pace, a respite from our pressured society. They provide excellent opportunities for our stressed, overweight, sedentary populations, without any fee.

Thus many enhancements not only contribute to Oregon’s livability, but also to the economy. Tourism is a major component of the state’s economy and many enhancement projects including trails, support local efforts to increase tourism. Given the downturn in the economy, supporting the state’s tourism industry and the many small Oregon businesses that make up that industry, is more important now than ever.

Oregon in the recent past had a jobless rate of 8.5%, a national high. It currently has fallen to 8.1%.

An infusion of transportation dollars into our sluggish economy will certainly give us a short-term boost, with the long-term benefit of more efficient systems to serve our rapidly growing freight industry and general population.

Thank you for allowing me to speak today. I will be happy to answer any questions.