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March 22, 2021 4:45 PM, EDT

Oregon Transportation Commission Approves Program to Address Freight Issues

Oregon Traffic on an Oregon highway. (Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr)

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The Oregon Transportation Commission recently approved the Enhance Highway Discretionary Program, which is meant to specifically address congestion and freight mobility issues.

The commission set aside $65 million for a variety of projects to improve highway operations through measures such as auxiliary lanes, passing lanes, truck climbing lanes, truck parking facilities and intelligent transportation systems. Potential projects also include physical changes to corridors, such as vertical clearance improvements and curve corrections.

The four-member commission, appointed by the governor, is responsible for establishing state transportation policy. The members must represent different geographic regions and political parties.

In an effort to ensure balance, the commission made a goal of distributing projects across the state. A minimum of 30% of the total program funding will go to rural areas located outside the scope of metropolitan planning organizations.

“While funding is extremely limited, this program will allow us to make targeted enhancements to Oregon highways to improve our economy by addressing congestion and helping freight move more efficiently,” said Travis Brouwer, assistant director for revenue, finance and compliance at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Brouwer said ODOT has not explicitly limited the program to specific state highways, though agency discussions have concentrated on roads that carry a significant volume of passenger vehicles and trucks.

In order to be eligible for funding, projects must provide benefits in terms of reducing hours of delay on state highways or removing barriers to movement on key freight corridors. Relieving congestion and improving quality of life were priorities outlined in the Keep Oregon Moving Act of 2017, which was designed to rely on taxes and fees to produce revenue for transportation investment.

Brouwer

Brouwer

Although projects will be focused on congestion relief and freight mobility, ODOT also plans to consider safety, equity, climate and accessibility in its project selection. According to the agency’s announcement, ODOT intends to meet with Area Commissions on Transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to get input on priorities and proposed projects before bringing a final list of projects before the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Chartered by the Oregon Transportation Commission, Area Commissions on Transportation are advisory groups that focus mainly on the state transportation system. Area Commissions on Transportation play an important role in the development of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

ODOT will use data and consult with community members as it develops projects. The agency will present the draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program to the commission in early 2023, which will be followed by a period of public review.

In December, the Oregon Transportation Commission approved an initial plan to invest approximately $2.2 billion in future projects through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which accounts for 2024 to 2027.

The program dedicates funding for pavement and bridge maintenance, although some state highways are still expected to experience minor deterioration over the period covered by the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s Bridge Report, some 5.2% of Oregon’s bridges are classified as structurally deficient.

The commission formed its investment decisions based on the state’s Strategic Action Plan, which outlines goals to build a modern transportation system by preserving roads and bridges, reducing crashes, improving access to public transportation, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating growing congestion.

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