Advocates hold commissioners’ feet to the fire

The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) voted last week to increase funding for more equitable, climate-smart transportation options in Oregon. The decision to increase “Non-Highway” transportation projects in the 2024-2027 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is a big win for climate and just transportation advocates, but more will be needed to address the urgency of the climate crisis and meet the demands of Oregonians.

Transportation is the single largest source of climate pollution in Oregon, and the OTC steers billions of dollars that flow through Oregon’s transportation system. The STIP makes up 20% of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) budget and–if allocated strategically–results in on-the-ground projects that can help our state’s climate goals, improve livability and air quality for communities across the state, and support local jobs. 

The next package of STIP projects – which will be built five years in the future, when climate change impacts are even more stark – will affect transportation behavior for decades to come.

Oregon Environmental Council has been tracking the current STIP process from the beginning, working with partners that share a strong interest in climate, transportation justice, safety for walking, biking and transit users, and environmental health. We’ve testified multiple times asking for the maximum possible investment in “Non-Highway” projects (transit, biking and walking projects), and we’ve organized with our members and allies to bring voices and perspectives from across the state to the table.

The OTC heard passionate oral testimony and received hundreds of pages of written comments supporting the STIP funding scenario that invested most in “Non-Highway”options. These transportation options will enable Oregonians of all ages and abilities to get safely, affordably, and conveniently where we need to go, while alleviating burdens on communities from air pollution, traffic injuries and deaths, and mitigating the harmful impacts of climate change. 

Not only are these strategies key for addressing the climate crisis, but they make sense financially and help traffic and freight flow better. Building and maintaining roads is expensive. We can use the existing space we have more efficiently and give people safe, convenient, affordable options. But that requires doing things differently — and not just at the margins. 

Despite ODOT’s own Climate Office recommending the maximum “Non-Highway” funding scenario after significant analysis of the climate and equity implications, the OTC’s final decision only increased “Non-Highway” spending by half as much as proposed in the original “Non-Highway” funding scenario advocates were pushing for. 

ODOT not only has a public responsibility, but a legal mandate under the Oregon Climate Action Plan (EO 20-04) to advance our state’s climate and equity goals through strategic investments like the STIP. This week’s decision was an opportunity for the OTC to demonstrate its commitment to reducing climate emissions and supporting equitable outcomes in our transportation system, but it fell far short of the major shift in direction that we need in transportation now.

Being a good custodian of public trust means investing in projects that not only help us reach our climate goals, but also improve the lives of Oregonians across the state. As the details of the 2024-2027 STIP package continue to develop, the projects put forward must continually be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Just and equitable. We need a system that allows Oregonians of all ages and abilities to get safely, affordably, and conveniently where we need to go, and that does not burden communities with air pollution, traffic injuries and deaths, or the impacts of climate change. 
  • Reduces greenhouse gas pollution. We must reduce vehicle miles traveled and the carbon intensity of fuels, and transition to zero-emission technologies.

In the coming months and years, the OTC will be faced with more and bigger decisions that will have a profound effect on Oregon’s future. The choice to take bold action toward a future that is cleaner, safer, more equitable, and more efficient will be on the table again and again. OEC and our partners will continue to show up and hold the OTC to account: business as usual is not good enough for Oregon’s future.

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