A press release from ODOT last week about a meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission raised eyebrows here at BikePortland headquarters. “There was consensus that funding for highway expansion projects should not be the priority of this flexible funding,” it read.
The funding referred to was the $412 million up for grabs thanks to the federal government’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Climate change and transportation reform activists have been outspoken about what should be funded and have asked the OTC to back projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve active transportation options around the state. At an OTC meeting last week, commissioners recognized this public consensus and indicated a desire to move away from traditional highway funding.
As we wrote about last week, OTC members have shown increasing skepticism for funding freeway projects like the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and I-5 Rose Quarter expansion.
During the IIJA discussion held later at the same meeting, all five OTC members called for deemphasizing enhancing highways in some capacity. Commissioners Julie Brown and Sharon Smith both showed support for a new plan that would combine the “Fix-It” and “Public and Active Transportation” scenarios, two of four funding proposals put together by ODOT. This allocation would maintain investments in fixing roads and bridges, but give more money to the Great Streets and Safe Routes to School programs (both of which emphasize non-freeway projects for people who walk, bike and take transit).