Changing the way Oregon funds transportation projects
When Governor Kitzhaber came into office, he issued a challenge to the Oregon Transportation Commission and ODOT "to revisit the underlying assumptions that have guided our policy and partner with all transportation users so that we can create a 21st century transportation system that best serves Oregonians." Governor Kitzhaber charged the commission with ensuring that projects meet a multitude of community objectives and move the state toward a more multi-modal transportation system.
Since that time, ODOT has been working to align its programs with this vision of a multimodal future in which remaining modal barriers are broken down and ODOT is a fully multimodal department of transportation. ODOT is working to develop processes that will identify and fund the best transportation project that solves a problem regardless of what mode—or multiple modes—it encompasses. In the future, ODOT will work with communities to take a holistic approach to funding projects, rather than seeing the world through narrow modal or programmatic silos.
To move toward this goal, ODOT has proposed that the Oregon Transportation Commission significantly modify the current way of allocating funding to projects in Oregon. The current system involves dozens of modally-based programs, each with their own narrow set of objectives and eligibilities—and limited funding within each separate pot that often precludes larger, more comprehensive solutions that address multiple objectives.
In place of this fragmented, siloed system, ODOT has proposed creating two broad multimodal categories: Enhance, for activities that expand or improve the transportation system, and Fix-It, for projects that fix or preserve the transportation system. Fix-It projects—including those that improve safety for all users of the transportation system as well as projects that repair bridges, sidewalks and bikepaths, pavement and other elements of the transportation system—would be selected through ODOT’s management systems that identify the highest priority investments; Enhance projects would be selected through a stakeholder-driven process through the Area Commissions on Transportation, which have proven invaluable in the selection of highway projects. This process is expected to be more responsive to local needs than the existing system, which requires local governments to apply for small amounts of funding from multiple programs.
Consider how bicycle and pedestrian projects are currently funded. ODOT currently has no less than four programs for active transportation projects, each with narrow eligibilities that make small grants for certain types of projects, such as on-road infrastructure, off-street trails, and safe routes to school. Projects often have to go to multiple programs for small pieces of their funding. Building larger, more comprehensive projects—such as ones that include both on and off-street infrastructure, connections to schools, and transit elements—is very difficult under this system. But under the new system, a project sponsor could submit a single application encompassing all of these elements.
The goal of the new process is to ensure that the state can make strategic investments in the transportation system based on community priorities that will address a wide range of issues effectively, from safety, mobility, and accessibility to economic development, sustainability, energy, health and community livability. In short, the agency will work with stakeholders to identify the most effective projects, rather than those that fit into prescribed programs.
The Oregon Transportation Commission is now considering how to move forward with this proposal. In July, the commission directed ODOT to begin the Fix-It process but asked staff to continue discussion with ACTs and other stakeholders prior to coming to a decision on the Enhance component. A final decision on the Enhance process is scheduled for the September 19, 2012 OTC meeting.