Yesterday the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC), which is the citizen-appointed body that directs the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), voted on a new process for how they spend public resources. The OTC approved one process that will determine spending for about 80% of transportation resources, and tabled a decision on how they spend the remaining 20%. Details here.
The policy guidance for 80% of funding, the “fix it” category, essentially says that ODOT will spend the lion’s share of money fixing Oregon’s existing transportation system. This is great news. The policy for the remaining 20%, the “enhance” category, is where biking and walking advocates have focused attention and the BTA has been closely involved. These are the flexible dollars that have provided dedicated funding for biking and walking projects and remain a critical source of funding for active transportation projects in Oregon.
We actively sought a delay on this important vote regarding the 20% because we need time to grapple with some big details related to the new process. The BTA has three main areas of concern in the policy proposal. We need to address of each of these areas before moving forward.
Lack of dedicated funding for bike projects. The new process eliminates the ODOT Flex Fund program, which allocates roughly $20 million every two years to active transportation and transit projects. The BTA has put years of work into creating this program, helping establish criteria that make bicycle and pedestrian projects competitive, and serving as a member on the ODOT Flex Fund Committee to evaluate project applications.
Lack of adequate representation on the ACTs (Area Commissions for Transportation) from bicycle, pedestrian, transit, public health, and land use representatives. This new mandate to focus on multimodal projects is good direction from the OTC, however the ACTs must expand their membership in order to be successful.
Lack of good criteria. The new process could do away with state level review of projects and dedicated funds in favor of state level criteria administered through Area Commissions on Transportation (ACTs) in competitive grant processes that forces highway, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects to compete for limited dollars. We are worried that biking and walking projects will lose out in this process.
These are three significant areas of concern for the future of transportation funding in our state. The OTC is set to discuss the policy again at the next meeting on August 15th and 16th, so right now is really is the only time we have to take action. We need to ensure that the state of Oregon invests in modes of transportation that increase physical activity, decrease global warming pollution from cars and trucks, and creates a safe and accessible transportation system for all users of the road.
What you can do: take a minute to contact the OTC. Tell them why you feel strongly that Oregon should make sure biking and walking have strong support and funding. You can use these talking points to ask for dedicated funding, multi-modal representation in decision making, and strong project selection criteria.
1. We need to ensure there is dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Without it, we know that biking and walking will lose out on funding opportunities around the state.
2. We need to require that any new local decision making process include adequate multi-modal representation. ODOT has been working to improve their stakeholder outreach and engagement process through the ACTs and we ask that they continue by requiring explicit representation in the form of one seat each for public health, bicycling, pedestrian, transit, and land use representatives.
3. We are asking for criteria that help create healthy, livable communities. We are asking the OTC to create a project selection process that directs the ACTs to dedicate at least 50% of the new “Enhance” category of funds through a selection process similar to the very successful ODOT Flex Fund program criteria. If Oregon is to maintain its commitment to building a safe and accessible transportation system for everyone, we must prioritize projects that reduce our reliance on single operator vehicle trips. View BTA’s suggestions here.
Winning a delay yesterday means that biking and walking advocates have more work to do. Though the system is complex, now is the time to understand how we spend transportation dollars so we can ensure that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects win additional funding through the new decision making process.
Please, take a minute to contact the OTC. We understand that this is a complex topic but the outcome will literally influence billions of dollars of transportation investments over the coming years. Thank you for your consideration of the issue. If you have any questions feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.