It was a memorable day for the city of Wilsonville. The dream of a transit center to connect people with the city's commerce was finally realized.
The city’s Facebook page showed Mayor Tim Knapp and community leaders celebrating the grand opening. Total cost for the whole project was over $14 million.
The story didn’t make much news beyond Wilsonville that day. We first noticed it when we started looking into federal stimulus spending on recovery.gov. Some of the money to complete the project came from your federal tax dollars.
So we wanted to take a look at what the city bought.
The first thing that caught our attention was a beautiful clock tower built by an artist. There are also public restrooms and a bus driver break area. And you can't miss the craftsmanship, the creativity and the attention to detail put into two large passenger bus shelters that are stained glass.
Each one of the two decorative bus shelters cost $38,000. The money to pay for them came from the federal stimulus bill, which means even if you don’t ride the bus or live in Wilsonville or even live in Oregon, you paid for them.
“I think that’s an appropriate use of the money,” said Knapp in defending the spending on the bus shelters.
He said the federal stimulus money was intended to boost the economy.
"The federal transit authorities set out standards and goals as part of that project and some of those included providing amenities at transit facilities to encourage people to use those, relate well to them, and make them part of the broader community,” he said.
Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to get one of the regular shelters?
“You can always do it cheaper, yeah. It would be cheaper to not provide shelters for pedestrians or transit riders at all," the mayor said.
It would have been a lot less expensive to buy the regular, smaller bus shelters that are already in use at the transit center. They cost about $5,000 apiece.
Those decorative beauties cost seven times the price of a standard one.
And it did employ local people. The two artists who built the bus shelters received $74,000. A third Oregon artist got $145,000 for his work on the clock tower.
The tower does more than tell time, it has a PA system and security cameras to monitor the property.
"It's a judgment call,” said the mayor. “There's no bright line between too little and too much. Nothing is too little and you can certainly go over the top.”
In total, the city of Wilsonville got over $7 million from the feds in the 2009 stimulus for mass transit, low income and affordable housing and for road repairs.
But it’s the clock tower and the bus shelters that have many asking if it was worth the ride. But live here or not, you paid for it.
Email your story ideas directly to Steve Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.