The Oregon Legislative session began on February 1st, but legislators are just now sharing details that might make up a statewide transportation funding bill. On March 23, during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization, State Senator Lee Beyer (D- Springfield) introduced a proposal package that would raise $131 million in additional funds that would improve active transportation such as biking, walking and public transit.
Statewide Transit Improvement Fund: $107 million a year
Legislators are seeking to create a Statewide Transit Improvement Fund to increase the frequency, quality and reach of Oregon’s urban, rural and intercity transit systems. This would be funded through a one-tenth of one percent ($0.001) employee payroll tax. These new funds would be in addition to existing funds, bringing the state’s share of transit funds to $135 million a year. This would be a much-needed boost for public transportation in Oregon.
Safe Routes to School: $15 million a year
Currently, the Safe Routes to School portion of the proposal would address safety issues for children walking or biking to school by providing sidewalks, bike lanes and safe crossings. The goals would be to complete Safe Routes to School networks within a ¼ mile of every elementary and middle school in the next 10 years. The current funding for this is $40 million (through federal, state and local funding) and this bill would add another $15 million a year through the State Highway Fund. As currently proposed, this would only fund infrastructure, but advocates are lobbying to ensure the funding package includes money set aside for education by introducing House Bill 3230, which would include funds for education and outreach programs. Such programs are very successful in Central Oregon and throughout the state to teach kids how to bike and walk safely in their communities.
Off-Road Biking and Walking Paths: $4 million a year
This portion would add $4 million to invest in off-road biking and walking paths to link local road networks and physically separate people biking and walking from motor vehicles. Funds would come from a Bike Excise Tax and Parks Lottery Receipts.
All Roads Transportation Safety Program: $10 million a year
This portion allows ODOT to identify the 450 most dangerous locations – for all transportation modes – on state highways within 10 years. The focus would be on three primary types of severe crashes in Oregon: roadway departure crashes, crashes at intersections, and crashes involving bicycles or pedestrians. The additional $10 million in funding would bring the total amount allocated to $45 million.
“This proposal is still in the early stages and could change as negotiations ensue, but we are exited to see more support for active transportation. Many of these changes could help central Oregon improve the safety and convenience of walking, biking and riding the bus,” says Jeff Monson, Executive Director for Commute Options.
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com.