Dear friends & neighbors,
The question isn’t if, but when.
As we’ve learned more about the seismic vulnerabilities of our region and the fragility of our infrastructure to a quake we’ve made important upgrades. The Sellwood Bridge, our new Health Department Headquarters, and our soon to be completed downtown courthouse will all be more seismically resilient than the structures they replaced.
But perhaps no seismic project is more important than the Burnside Bridge. As of today, none of the downtown bridges - not even the newly completed Tilikum Crossing - are expected to be usable immediately after a major earthquake. And it could be weeks or even months before a crossing is functional.
The lack of a crossing would be devastating for emergency responders searching for and treating those injured; for families, tens of thousands of which may find themselves on the wrong side of the river from their children and homes; and for recovery efforts, as we try to dig our way out of the rubble, rebuild our community, and recover economically.
We must have a bridge that will withstand an earthquake - it will quite literally help restitch our community together.
As you know, Multnomah County has been working on creating an earthquake ready Burnside Bridge for several years now, and as we move forward we are taking the necessary steps to finance such a large and important project.
This week, the Board of Commissioners will consider increasing the local annual vehicle registration fee (VRF) by $37. Vehicle owners pay the VRF every two years as their license plate tags expire, and Multnomah County currently has the lowest local VRF in the tri-county area. This proposed increase would help fund the next stages of the project, including design and right of way acquisition. As co-chair of a task force looking at a potential 2020 Metro transportation measure, I have also fought to ensure that $150 million is included in that measure for the Burnside Bridge project. We will also be seeking local, state, and federal funding for this critical project, recognizing the regional significance of this bridge as well as the economic importance of the Portland region.
You can share your thoughts on this project and on our funding plan. The Board will hold two public hearings on the proposed VRF increase on Thursday, November 14th and Thursday, December 5th at the Multnomah Building. Board meetings begin at 9:30 am, and you can find additional details on those meetings here. If you can’t attend those meetings, you find additional information on the VRF and provide feedback to the board online.
The Dangers of Vaping and Flavored Tobacco
With over 2,000 confirmed and probable cases and 39 deaths from respiratory illnesses tied to vaping the Multnomah County Board is examining steps to better protect people from flavored tobacco products. The leading cause of premature death among residents in Multnomah County is cancer, and a primary cause of cancer continues to be tobacco use.
The board is looking at several policy options, including banning all flavored tobacco products (which often appeal to youth with candy flavors, while menthol and mint flavors have historically targeted communities of color) or restricting sales to stores that only serve those 21 years of age or older. The Board is seeking public input on these proposals and others at two public hearings in the coming weeks:
- Tuesday, November 12rd, 10 am-11 am, Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland
- Tuesday, December 3rd, 4:30-6:30 pm, Multnomah County East Building, 600 NE 8th Street, Gresham
Providing Preschool for All
I recently had the chance to share our Preschool for All plan for universal preschool with the Portland Public School Board. I shared the challenges our community faces when it comes to early childhood options: the high cost of quality preschool, a significant teacher shortage, and extremely low wages for early childhood professionals, and talked about the solutions our plan offers.
Our vision is that all children in Multnomah County have access to a preschool program that is right for them and all families can afford it. I was pleased to see that the PPS board agrees with this vision and is committed to expanding preschool access for children in Multnomah County. I’m looking forward to more conversations with education leaders about how to accomplish this goal.
For more on our vision and plan to get it done, you can read the full Preschool for All Task Force report here.
Every month, I participate in multiple transportation related events, and this past month included two particularly great events.
First, I was thrilled to celebrate the new transit-only lane and bike lane improvements on the Burnside Bridge with The Street Trust, BikeLoudPDX, Better Block PDX, and other community partners. The transit-only eastbound lane and new candlestick barriers will provide commuters with more reliable and more attractive alternatives than single occupancy vehicles. Both improvements are part of the Burnside Bridge maintenance project, which will ensure the bridge is in working order while we complete work on an earthquake resilient bridge (see above).
Second, every month Commissioner Lori Stegmann and I co-convene the East County Issue Forum, a gathering of east Portland and east Multnomah County community members, activists, and leaders to discuss the issues impacting our communities.
This month we focused our conversation around transportation issues, and the work we are doing regionally and locally to improve our transportation system. For me, that means: making our system safer and more reliable; increasing transit and travel options to reduce our carbon footprint; and focusing on equity and better serving communities, particularly low income and communities of color, that haven’t received the same level of investment as others, such as east Portland.