Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Vancouver restarts grant program for slowing neighborhood traffic

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The city of Vancouver is reviving a program that provides grant funding for road projects that slow traffic in residential areas after taking a pause in a volatile 2020.

The Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program will allocate an estimated $300,000 to competitive grant applications in 2021. It was suspended last year due to COVID-19 and a since-overturned voter initiative that would have stripped the city of a portion of its transportation funds.

“The popular program was delayed in 2020 due to limited staffing, focus on essential services, and potential revenue shortfalls,” the city stated in a press release Tuesday.

Residents and neighborhood associations can now apply for the funds to complete a project that will slow traffic through their area. In previous years, qualifying projects included signing and surface striping, speed cushions, radar feedback signs and street trees. To ensure that multiple applicants can be accepted, the budget for a single eligible project must come in under $120,000.

Pre-applications will be accepted by the city through April 30. That form — and more details about the traffic calming grant — can be found at cityofvancouver.us/TrafficCalmingProgram.

Individual residents and neighborhood associations can submit one application per year. Schools, businesses and other organizations aren’t eligible applicants, though they can work in conjunction with a resident or neighborhood.

Projects that would add a traffic-calming device to the street must additionally show support from nearby residents, and meet certain speed and volume criteria.

Back from hiatus

The Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program launched in 2013 as neighborhood associations sought a fair way to address high-priority projects. Since its inception, the grant has covered the cost of 28 minor traffic-calming projects across the city.

The program is primarily funded through two sources: the city’s real estate excise tax, and Transportation Benefit District funds collected through car tab fees. Both sources were in jeopardy last year, throwing the program into a state of flux that encouraged city staff to hit pause.

COVID-19 threatened real estate excise tax collections. A month into the pandemic, Vancouver Chief Financial Officer Natasha Ramras was predicting a decline as the pandemic led to massive layoffs and business closures, financially squeezing some residents.

“With such high unemployment numbers, it is likely that there will be negative impacts,” Ramras told the Vancouver City Council in early May.

Those dire fiscal predictions never materialized, and the city’s economy proved more durable than initially anticipated. The city’s 2021-22 biennial budget bore a minor 3.25 percent dip, nowhere near the financial crater that leaders had anticipated at the start of the pandemic.

The traffic calming program had also been threatened by the passage of Initiative 976 in 2019. I-976 would have stripped the city’s ability to collect its $40 annual vehicle license fee, which raises around $4 million per year and amounts to around half of Vancouver’s Transportation Benefit District budget.

The Washington Supreme Court struck down I-976 in October, restoring the vehicle license fee as a viable pot of transportation funds.

However, last year’s upheaval also meant that construction on the two projects awarded in 2019 — installing speed radar signs along Northeast Hearthwood Boulevard and improving crosswalks at the intersection of Southeast McGillivray Boulevard at Southeast 136th Avenue — was pushed back. Those projects have been rescheduled for the upcoming summer.

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