Portland Transportation Bureau
Oregon lawmakers are urging state transportation leaders to dedicate a one-time influx of federal funds to walking, biking and transportation safety infrastructure in an effort to meet Oregon’s climate goals.
“Our state has been clear at all levels of government on the need to center our policymaking on equity and climate protection,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, who represents part of North Portland.
President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provided the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) with $1.2 billion in transportation funding. By law, much of that money — about $800 million — must be spent on pre-determined areas such as electric vehicle charging stations, natural disaster resilience and transportation safety projects. That leaves $412 million remaining to be funneled wherever transportation leaders see fit. The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) — five people who guide Oregon’s transportation decisions — is tasked with creating a fundraising plan for federal money.
The OTC can create whatever financing plan it deems appropriate, but uses four scenarios offered by the ODOT as a starting point. These four scenarios generally propose funding projects that repair highways, increase “active transportation” like walking and cycling, widen highways, or a combination of all three. However, a fifth scenario created by conservationists that would fund active transportation and allocate some of the money to local jurisdictions to fund community-preferred projects has emerged in recent weeks. The scenario was created in collaboration between the Oregon Environmental Council, 1000 Friends of Oregon, The Street Trust, No More Freeways, Verde, Climate Solutions and BikeLoud PDX.
The CTA heard from dozens of lawmakers, elected officials and members of the public on Thursday about where federal money should go. During public comments, Portland officials overwhelmingly endorsed the funding scenario created by environmental activists, called “Scenario 2B.”
“I strongly support the prioritization of Scenario 2B funds for public and active transportation that will support our shared goals of climate and equity focus while providing significant flexible funding to local jurisdictions,” Dexter said Thursday.
Oregon aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% below 1990s levels by 2050. With about 40% of state emissions coming from transportation, getting people to stop driving fuel-burning vehicles fossil will play a major role in achieving Oregon’s climate goals. .
Several other Portland leaders, like Sen. Akasha Lawrence Spence, Rep. Khanh Pham, and Metro Councilors Mary Nolan and Juan Carlos González, pointed out that highway projects already receive dedicated public funding through the Highway. Trust Fund of Oregon, which raises money from state gas tax and other driving fees to fund highway projects exclusively. Representatives argued that this one-time, one-time allocation of federal funding should be used for transportation projects that lack reliable funding, such as pedestrian and transit projects. Additionally, by donating money directly to local transportation services, proponents of Scenario 2B said communities can better meet their own most pressing transportation needs.
“For example, in my neighborhood, this money could be used to safety improvements on orphan freeways like deadly Powell Boulevard or 82nd Avenue that takes far too many lives,” said Pham, who represents parts of east Portland. “The money could be spent on sidewalks and interventions to reduce speeding so students like my daughter can walk to school safely.
ODOT generally prioritizes transportation projects that serve the greatest number of Oregonians, which is why highway and freeway projects typically receive the bulk of state transportation funding. However, local climate activists say prioritizing Oregon’s climate goals will ultimately benefit most Oregonians because it will avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.
“The heat waves that killed over a hundred people, the wildfires that decimated entire towns in Southern Oregon, the floods in Eastern Oregon, the droughts – we don’t only to begin in all the ways we are experiencing the repercussions of inaction and acquiescence to fossil fuels,” said Aaron Brown, an organizer with the environmental advocacy group No More Freeways. “OTC can push for reduction of VMT [Vehicle Miles Traveled] and invest in an abundance of irresistible transit options. You can be the heroes who say they saw what was coming and acted immediately to prepare for the storms to come.
While a large majority of Oregon lawmakers and regional officials in Portland who testified Thursday came out in favor of Scenario 2B, some officials from outside Oregon’s most populous city urged the ‘OTC to direct federal funding toward major highway projects, such as ODOT’s plan to widen Interstate 5 through the Rose District.
“Oregonians don’t care that opponents of these projects continue their threats, they care that not a single shovel of dirt has turned over into the worst bottlenecks in the country at the I-5 Rose neighborhood,” said said Representative Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany. “We need to spend those dollars where they will benefit most Oregonians, not just the loudest.”
However, representatives from less urban areas of the state cited their constituents’ interest in investments in active transportation that would reduce their reliance on the automobile. Aloha representative WInsvey Campos told the CTO that her district needs more investment to make it more walkable.
“As the youngest woman in history elected to the Oregon Legislature, I will likely see the climate results of the funding scenario you select in my lifetime,” said Campos, who is 26. years. “The era of freeway expansion must end, and we must work collectively to provide Oregonians with safer, greener, and more human-scale ways to get where they need to go.
The CTO will meet again on March 10 to refine funding options and is expected to decide on a funding plan on March 30. Written public comment will be accepted until at least March 8.