Big Look and Transportation: Part 1

Taking a “Big Look” at Transportation and Land Use in Oregon – Introduction

Senate Bill 82 established the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning (OTFLUP), commonly known as the “Big Look” Task Force, to study Oregon’s land use planning program and make recommendations to the 2007 and 2009 legislatures.

But which land use program should the Task Force look at: the one people worry about or the one that matters?

The program many worry about is Oregon’s regulatory land use program, the one Governor Tom McCall established in 1973 with Senate Bill 100. The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) plays a big role in the regulatory program. DLCD’s budget for the 2005–2007 biennium is $18 million. Through Goal 12 (Transportation) and the Transportation Planning Rule (TPR), the regulatory program requires the State, metropolitan areas, counties and cities to adopt transportation system plans (TSPs) that “establish a coordinated network of transportation facilities adequate to serve state, regional and local transportation needs.” As a result, governments spend a lot of time developing TSPs. Planning for the future makes sense, right?

But the program that matters more is the follow-the-money land use program—the one Deep Throat would point us to. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) plays a big role in the follow-the-money program. ODOT’s budget for the 2005–2007 biennium is $2.9 billion, i.e., roughly 160 times as much as DLCD’s. An additional $661 million is passed through to other agencies, counties and cities. The state transportation portion of the follow-the-money program is embodied in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The basic, albeit unstated, goal of the follow-the-money program is for jurisdictions to get as much money as they can for their projects. The rules aren’t always clear, but participants talk about “horse trading.” Special interest lobbyists play a significant, if often hidden, role.

In truth, both programs are important, but the follow-the-money program matters more than the regulatory program. Large sums of money trump weakly-enforced regulations, and larger agencies dominate smaller ones.

For example, the Damascus/Boring Concept Plan developed by elected officials, citizens and technical experts envisions how this part of Clackamas County can develop as the newest addition to the Portland metro area. But the plans will turn into reality only if there is funding to build the new streets and other public facilities and services necessarily to support the development that is planned.

For example, the Newberg-Dundee Bypass around the existing Highway 99W southwest of the Portland metro area has been “planned” for decades in the sense that the TSPs for Yamhill County, Newberg and Dundee list this as a desirable project. But Yamhill County, Newberg and Dundee have nowhere near the $300+ million needed to build this project. (For that matter, neither does the State, which is now considering allowing a private Australian firm to build the bypass as a toll road.)

For example, Bend is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation. With all that new development, you’d expect Bend to be building new local streets like crazy. In fact, Bend doesn’t get enough money from the follow-the-money program (and other sources) to build enough new local streets to meet the demand. Predictably, some of that new traffic is clogging up the state highway bypass intended for through traffic.

All around the state, local jurisdictions are “planning” to build transportation projects far in excess of the money they—or the state—can reasonably expect to have. According to the draft Oregon Transportation Plan (OTP):

“In 2004 dollars the transportation needs analysis found more than a $1.3 billion per year gap in the funding needed to adequately maintain and expand the publicly funded transportation modes.”

Goal 12 and the TPR notwithstanding, local jurisdictions have no meaningful ability to “plan” projects they have no money to build. But real development, as is occurring in Bend and elsewhere, is depending on these “planned” projects. This kind of “planning” makes little sense, right?

Alex Marshall explains in How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken:

“The structure of a human settlement rests on a three-legged stool of politics, economics and transportation. … If we seek to change our world, it’s these interconnected levers that must be pulled. … Of these, transportation is the most visible and active in shaping a place. It’s a simple rule: How we get around determines how we live. But it’s a rule we still haven’t grasped. Transportation determines the form of our places.”

In other words, the follow-the-money transportation program determines not only the shape of our transportation system but to a great extent the shape of our communities. If we are interested in how Oregon grows, we should take a “Big Look” at the follow-the-money program even more than the regulatory program. We should take a look at investment policy as much as regulatory policy.

Monday, I will talk about what makes sense and what we can do.

3 responses to “Big Look and Transportation: Part 1”

  1. Rob brings up a very, very good point. Land use follows transportation. If there’s no road, it’s hard to build a subdivision. If there’s no transit, it’s hard to build a TOD (Transit Oriented Development). If Oregon is going to “grow smart” and accommodate most of its future growth through infill, transit-oriented and other sustainable development strategies, it will be essential to take a very close look at every transportation expenditure to determine how it fits in with the goals necessary to achieve the land use plan.

  2. Monday, I will talk about what makes sense and what we can do.

    Posted by Rob Zako at 12:00 AM

    So what Monday is this occurring?

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