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Health and Transportation: Making the Connection

The Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Health Authority - Public Health Division have entered into an agreement to work collaboratively to identify, develop and promote connections between public health and transportation. Through the use of shared research and data, ODOT and OHA are working together to improve decision making and problem solving, as well as finding opportunities to improve customer service.

How Transportation and Health Relate

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 which meet the 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Public health is largely determined by the “social determinants of health” which include the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illness 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 public health in several areas. For example, the availability and circumstances of walking, biking, and public transportation options and auto use have different impacts on an individuals’ level of physical activity, weight, heart health, rates of vehicle fatalities and injuries, and mental health (e.g. road rage, social isolation). Exposure to vehicle emissions is related to higher rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, climate change and environmental hazards (e.g. pollution, water quality, heat islands).​

A Health Impact Assessment, or HIA, is one way to characterize how transportation decisions influence health. An HIA is a formal, defined framework for bringing a comprehensive health lens to transportation decisions. HIAs synthesize evidence from across disciplines, stakeholder input, and current conditions to understand potential health impacts before decisions are finalized. This information enables decision makers to develop evidence-based approaches to promote health for all. HIAs improve decision makers’ ability to:

  • Formalize collaboration across sectors to resolve complicated challenges;
  • Analyze health impacts across a range of alternatives;
  • Avoid unintended consequences;
  • Engage affected communities and leaders;
  • Promote health, equity, and sustainability; and
  • Consider clear, actionable recommendations for improving health outcomes

HIAs focus on a specific decision or set of decisions. Successful and meaningful HIAs typically feature an engaged advisory committee and an assessment scope that emphasizes social and environmental determinants of health.​

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. As noted by the Statewide Transportation Strategy, in Oregon the transportation sector is responsible for approximately one-third of all Greenhouse Gas, or GHG, emissions. Thus, there is a shared interest in reducing air pollution and emissions and to reduce GHG emissions to comply with Oregon state legislation regarding climate change mitigation (HB 2001 and SB 1059).​

The Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between ODOT and OHA-PHD is a voluntary agreement between the two agencies to work collaboratively to identify, develop and promote the connections between public health and transportation.​

There are three sources of transportation funding: Federal, State and Local. Federal and State are largely funded by the gas tax. ODOT administers federal and state transportation dollars for most of the state except for the largest urban areas (over 200,000) which receive their federal dollars directly. Funds are pre-allocated into programs that determine what types of projects or programs they can be used for.​

The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, is Oregon’s four-year transportation capital improvement program. It is the document that identifies the funding for, and scheduling of, transportation projects and programs. The STIP is important because federal and state money cannot be spent on projects unless they are listed in the STIP. The STIP is “fiscally constrained” – it cannot contain more projects than there is money for. Before items can make it into the STIP, they have to be scoped to get a realistic idea of how much the project will cost.​

Cities and Counties are required to develop a Transportation System Plan​, or TSP, which is a long range 20 year plan that describes how the local transportation network will be built out and maintained. It should address all modes of transportation including cars, bikes, pedestrians and freight movement. The TSP is an element of the jurisdictions’ Comprehensive Plan, which addresses other topics such as land use.​

Metropolitan regions of over 50,000 are designated as Metropolitan Planning Organizations, or MPOs. MPOs are required to develop a Regional Transportation System plan which incorporates local jurisdictions.​

  • 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 by 2020. Plans are also developed at the county level.
  • Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan:​ Provides long-term goals, policies and strategies and near-term actions to eliminate deaths or life-changing injuries on Oregon's transportation system by 2035.
  • OR Plan​: Consolidates all of the policies and strategies from the nine statewide modal and topic plans, including but not limited to, the Oregon Transportation Plan, Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, Oregon Freight Plan and the Transportation Safety Action Plan into an online searchable tool. OR Plan provides a comprehensive view of how the statewide plans relate to one another and illustrates the policy framework related to specific transportation issues and modes.​​​


EmailLucia Ramirez
ODOT Transportation Planning

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