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Health and Transportation: Making the Connection

The Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division work collaboratively to identify, develop and promote connections between public health and transportation, and to find shared goals and ways to support one another. Through the use of collaboration on plans, projects, research, and data, ODOT and OHA are working together to improve decision making and find opportunities to improve customer service. 

Both agencies also work with others to support shared goals. For example, housing, affordability, access to employment and services, and good health for people and communities are goals of all Oregon agencies and the health, land use, transportation, energy, environment, and other agencies can find ways to work together to support these goals. There are more efforts to build shared workgroups and find ways to align efforts to further these goals. The video below provides a good summary of the ODOT-OHA partnership even though it is a few years old.

Transportation and Health

At a basic level, transportation provides movement to access opportunities from employment to housing to medical services to parks and recreation, in some cases, transportation such as walking and cycling provide healthy activities in themselves. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, and other leading health organizations have reviewed a large body of evidence related to transportation behavior and health outcomes and concluded that specific policies and investment strategies can indeed have measurable impacts on health. By getting more Oregonians walking, biking, and using transit,

we can:

  • Cut air pollution that contributes to respiratory and heart illnesses.
  • Reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries from crashes.
  • Increase physical activity to reduce rates of diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Alleviate the cost of transportation and health care on Oregon families.

Health and transportation also have a shared interest in serving vulnerable populations such as the elderly and persons with disabilities. Sidewalks that meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and quality transit and paratransit services are critical to these populations to maintain quality of life and ensure access to medical services, shopping, work and social engagement.

Planning for Transportation and Public Health

ODOT’s Planning Section coordinates the partnership with OHA; and the Public Health Division coordinates the partnership from OHA’s side. OHA puts together a State Health Improvement Plan regularly that ODOT participates in, and ODOT develops statewide transportation plans that OHA participates in and helps advise. These plans are developed with the public and other partners and guide the agencies’ investment decisions. Both agencies participate in the statewide plans and rules of other agencies that affect shared goals. Particular state agency partners are the land use agency, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), and the housing agency, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS). 

Local partners are important to the implementation of statewide plans. Their decisions respond to and help realize the goals and strategies of state plans. There are local health agencies, usually with counties and related agencies such as those for aging, and there are local housing agencies. Cities and counties do land use planning, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) do regional transportation planning. These agency’s plans and activities make local decisions and set frameworks for investment at the local level. To get involved, check with your city, county, or MPO for their regular planning processes and watch for the next state agency planning efforts. 

Public health is largely determined by the “social determinants of health” that include the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age, as well as healthcare systems and access to them, and the built environment in which people live. These circumstances are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social policies, and politics. Transportation relates to social determinants of health in several ways. For example, the availability of safe walking, biking, and public transportation options have different impacts on an individuals’ level of physical activity, weight, heart health, rates of vehicle fatalities and injuries, and mental health than auto use. 

These social determinants of health and all the factors above are related to the built and natural environment, which are all about transportation and land use decisions and investments. Your built environment, from a safe home to transportation facilities and services available to you, help shape the opportunities you can access and what levels of pollution, noise, and risks you regularly face. 

This is why there are multi-agency efforts to find and implement solutions that improve Oregon communities for all residents. You can take a look at the statewide plan implementation page​ to see many partnerships and activities underway by ODOT and others to further shared goals. See the Plan Implementation Partnerships section for more on how ODOT works with OHA and how both agencies work with others to accomplish state goals. You can also look for your city’s transportation and land use plans on their website. 

Emissions from combustion engines contribute to air pollution and can have serious health implications, especially for children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions, including asthma. Fine particulate matter from all air pollution sources, including transportation emissions, contributes to more emergency department visits, heart attacks and lung cancer. 

The Statewide Transportation Strategy (STS) is the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction plan. It notes that in Oregon the transportation sector is responsible for approximately one-third of all GHG emissions. A changing climate affects health through a variety of means including more extreme episodes of heat, cold, drought, floods, fires, and smoke. These also present problems for keeping the transportation system running efficiently and safely. Thus, ODOT and OHA have a shared interest in reducing air pollution and emissions and to implement the STS and comply with Oregon state legislation regarding climate change mitigation.

Which comes first is a chicken and egg problem, because transportation enables land uses and land use development necessitates travel. What is clear is that both need and reinforce one another. Consequently, ODOT and DLCD work closely together on many programs, projects, and initiatives to help make both land use and transportation efficiently support one another. 

ODOT and DLCD joint work includes implementing DLCD’s Statewide Planning Goal 12, Transportation (the administrative rules for this together are called the Transportation Planning Rule or TPR). The goal and rules and approval of resulting local plans are in DLCD’s purview, but ODOT creates a lot of the guidance for how to do Transportation System Plans (TSPs) and assists many of them with funding and modeling work. TSPs are an element of a local comprehensive land use plan, demonstrating that transportation considerations are a part of land use planning. 

TSPs are created by cities and counties. Metropolitan areas (MPOs) are areas with populations of more than 50,000. MPOs are federally designated with the Governor’s approval. Their transportation plans are called Regional Transportation Plans (or RTPs) and they are developed according to federal rules and requirements. 

The state-level TSP that ODOT develops is the Oregon Transportation Plan and its mode and topic elements. These plans meet both state and federal requirements for a long-range multimodal transportation plan. The TPR specifies that all levels of transportation plans should be consistent with one another. RTPs and the statewide transportation plans all consider how to support land use goals and other regional and statewide goals including GHG emissions reduction and supporting housing opportunities and economic development needs. All of these impact the health of residents via all the effects mentioned above. ​

Safety is a major focus of both ODOT and OHA and the video above describes this well. Both agencies work on different aspects of improving safety for Oregonians. ODOT implements transportation programs for safety with federal and state funds. These include engineering and design of roadways for improved safety, construction of missing components of the transportation system such as sidewalks and bikeways, and education and enforcement efforts. Priorities for action are established in the Transportation Safety Action Plan or TSAP, while the overall goal is always to reduce fatal and serious injuries occurring on the transportation system. Partners in implementation include OHA, cities, counties, and law enforcement at all levels.​

  • OR-Plan : Consolidates all of the policies and strategies from the all the statewide mode and topic plans and enables searching these by topic and key word. Plans include the Oregon Transportation Plan, Transportation Safety Action Plan, and Statewide Transportation Strategy. OR-Plan provides a comprehensive view of how the statewide transportations plans support one another and shows the policy framework related to specific transportation issues and modes.
  • Statewide Transportation Plans: this page houses all the statewide plans developed by ODOT, including the Oregon Transportation Plan and its mode and topic plans.
  • Oregon State Health Improvement Plan: Addresses the leading causes of death, disease, and injury in Oregon through evidence-based and measurable strategies intended to improve the health of all people in Oregon. Plans are also developed at the county level.
  • Oregon Statewide Housing Plan: Built with the input of stakeholders including partner agencies, the Statewide Housing Plan emphasizes data, research and customer service to respond to the needs of the state. The plan articulates the extent of Oregon's housing problem and what we can do to address it. ​​


EmailLucia Ramirez
ODOT Transportation Planning

EmailMichael Rock
Policy, Planning and Development Manager