Salemites take advantage of nice spring weather to ride their bikes over the Union Street Railroad Bridge. Whether to include more funding for bike lanes is among the questions city councilors will consider in an upcoming bond package (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem city leaders want to get a better sense of whether voters will support a $300 million infrastructure spending package before finalizing a list of projects to be included on the November ballot.

Following a Monday night discussion, the Salem City Council unanimously agreed to engage polling firm DHM Research for a survey of Salem voters starting Tuesday.

It’s the second such survey the city has undertaken as councilors work to finalize the details of the bond, which is intended to help repair city roads and sidewalks, add features to some parks, replace aging fire trucks and update the city’s information technology infrastructure.

READ MORE: Committee floats street repairs, land for libraries and fire stations in infrastructure bond

The bond is being considered as several of Salem’s existing bonds are expiring, allowing city leaders to take on new debt without raising tax rates. If voters approve the package in November, property tax rates won’t increase as a result.

A city-sponsored poll that surveyed 400 registered voters in January found 60% supported the bond measure after they learned it wouldn’t increase taxes, up from 49% at the start of the survey. 

That’s despite 62% of those surveyed saying Salem was on the wrong track, compared to just 18% saying the city was headed in the right direction.

Most respondents rated the quality of the city’s infrastructure as poor or very poor, with about half saying it’s getting worse. Street, sidewalk and bridge repairs were the most popular items in the proposal with 73% of those polled ranking the need as “high” or “very high.”

With a more detailed list of possible projects finalized, and breakdowns of how the money would be spent, councilors said they now hope to get a better sense of whether the current project breakdown would win approval from voters.

The current project list would allocate over half the money, $157 million, to street and sidewalk repairs, including some specific larger projects and a pot of money that would be divided up later.

“I want this thing to pass, so I want popular projects, plus I want some of the important projects that we just need to do even though they’re not sexy,” said Councilor Chris Hoy, the city’s mayor-elect, during Monday’s city council meeting.

A poll could take several days or last over a week depending on how long it takes DHM to contact a representative sample of Salem voters, said Courtney Knox Busch, the city’s strategic initiatives manager.

Once councilors get that information back, they’ll work to adjust the list of projects as needed, with the goal of approving a final package likely to win voter approval.

“If we see categorical challenges, we’ve got to really think fast,” Mayor Chuck Bennett said.

That approval must be done by the council’s July meeting in order to qualify for the November ballot, Knox Busch said.

Bike lanes

Among the tweaks discussed during Monday’s meeting was allocating additional funding to construct more protected bike lanes across the city - something Councilor Virginia Stapleton has championed.

Stapleton worked with two civic leaders - Ian Davidson, chair of the Cherriots Board of Directors, and Dylan McDowell, vice chair of the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, to put forward a vision for a linked network of bike paths and lanes set apart from the flow of traffic along major city arterials. It’s intended to make it easier and safer for people to commute by bike around the city.

Stapleton on Monday proposed allocating an additional $10 million in the bond toward that bike infrastructure while cutting funds from some other proposed road projects - chiefly bridge repairs.

Her proposal garnered support from Councilor Tom Andersen, but Stapleton ultimately tabled her motion after Bennett suggested such tweaks should be made after the city has polling data in hand and is taking a more detailed look at specific projects. The motion will instead be considered at the next council meeting in June.

Whether protected bike lanes increase voter support for the bond is among the questions the city intends to survey voters about this week, Knox Busch said.

Stapleton said she hoped fellow councilors would consider the public comments the council has already received supporting the bike plan as they’ve worked to finalize the list of bond projects.

“It’s great to get more feedback but I want to highlight the fact that we have heard from a lot of people already,” Stapleton said during Monday’s meeting.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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