By Don MacGillivray
Metro’s new council president, Lynn Peterson, was sworn into office January 7 to take over the region wide agenda of local government serving 1.8 million residents.
It is a big job. Portland is growing and there are many issues to face. With a national reputation for planning, sustainability, and environmental responsibility, the challenges are great.
She voiced the need for a new vision for the region’s growth along with bringing people together to develop new ways of addressing both old and new issues. With the housing bond successfully passed, transportation is the next big issue.
In the first six weeks, she has created a thirty-five member Transportation Funding Task Force that will identify funding proposals for a potential November 2020 ballot measure.
Peterson is described as one of the brightest people around, a “shooting star,” a driven change agent, and a politician with a progressive vision.
Metro has plenty of power if it chooses to use it. It is the arbiter of Portland’s urban growth boundary, it can heavily influence any city’s zoning codes. It supervises TriMet, initiates funding mechanisms, operates the Zoo, manages regional waste collection, and is involved with a myriad of environmental functions. Metro has been described as a mini United Nations for the regions twenty-seven local governments and a multitude of districts.
Peterson grew up in Wisconsin. At an early age, she chose to study engineering and received a civil engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin. Her first job was with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
After marrying an electrical engineer, she moved to Oregon in 1994 and settled in Lake Oswego. Her first job in Portland was with Metro and she went on to work for the Portland Bureau of Transportation in the traffic-calming program.
She found time to earn master’s degrees in civil engineering and planning at Portland State University and her first experience in local politics was in 2002 when she won a seat on the Lake Oswego City Council. After three years, she was elected to the Clackamas County Commission and became their first chairperson.
Thinking about running for higher office, she instead accepted a position as the top sustainability and transportation adviser for Governor John Kitzaber.
She oversaw transportation and energy policy, coordinated a statewide transportation funding discussion, worked on various other community priorities, and, helped manage the Willamette Valley Passenger Rail Plan.
She served as the Director of the Washington Department of Transportation in the administration of Governor Jay Inslee from 2013 to 2016 and the goal was to build a transportation system for the 21st century that more efficiently moves people and goods while reducing congestion and carbon emissions.
During her three years in this position, she lead the tolling program for one of Seattle’s floating freeways, revamped part of the ferry system, dealt with the Skagit Bridge collapse, and the Oso landslide.
The budget for the Transportation Department was the largest in the states history, and included significant funding for a variety of alternative transportation projects.
Unfortunately due to partisan political issues and controversial circumstances she was not reaffirmed for an additional term in office. Circumstances around the Columbia River Crossing may have played a part in this decision.
She was hired by Smart Growth America in Washington D.C. to consult on various national transportation and technical issues across the country. Prior to seeking the Office of Metro chairperson she served as the intern Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon.
Portland is at a turning point, and with the proper decisions, it will continue to be a model of sustainability, innovation, and ability.
The public needs a larger vision with practical ways to fund and implement it and not allow outside influences to determine regional priorities. The 1.8 million people in three counties and twenty-four cities in the region will need to be willing to put aside old models of growth and be able to accept a challenging future.
This past fall, regional voters approved a $652 million Metro bond for affordable housing, which was a big leap for both Metro and the region.
Another big lift is required for a bold comprehensive transportation funding mechanism and much of the focus of Ms. Peterson’s administration will be on the extended car-centric stretches of concrete and asphalt that are so important to well functioning cities.
Metro is expecting to place some kind of bond measure for transportation on the 2020 ballot. One of the big projects is the TriMet SW MAX extension connecting central Portland to downtown Tigard and Tualatin tentatively slated for 2027. Any transportation package must include millions to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion along the corridors.
There is also a costly fix needed for the aging Steel Bridge and there will undoubtedly be discussion about whether it should it be repaired, replaced by a new bridge, or possibly a tunnel beneath the Willamette River. A change in the configuration of the railroad might be considered too.
The biggest transportation undertaking will be a new proposal for the Columbia River Crossing This has the potential to take time and money away from many other important regional transportation concerns. The stumbling blocks of cost, transit, tolls, all remain up in the air and appropriate solutions must be found.
It needs to be accomplished with the participation of the many and varied local interests by finding new sources of revenue. State and federal infrastructure legislation would be helpful if they are controlled locally.
Peterson believes it will take empowered local leaders working together to lead the political establishment to fund the most appropriate solutions.
Her inauguration ceremony was indeed memorable with the past Metro Executive, David Bragdon, as master of ceremonies who is now the executive director of Transit Center, Inc. in New York City.
Three new board members and several past board members were also present including past Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts.