Important Wonkdom: Transportation Planning Rule Update

Guest contributor Heidi Guenin is Transportation Policy Director at Upstream Public Health and a citizen representative on the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee at Metro.

Disclaimer: What you’re about to read is a seriously nerdy transportation update but one that may have a very large impact throughout the state.

What’s the Oregon Highway Plan?
The OHP is the long-range plan for the state highway system. The plan’s mobility standard policy (Policy 1F), sets the congestion and safety standards that state highway facilities are expected to meet. These standards are focused on volume-to-capacity ratios that tend to benefit projects that move more cars faster.

What’s the Transportation Planning Rule?
Oregon has 19 state-wide Land Use Planning Goals, one of which is Goal 12: Transportation. This goal calls on jurisdictions “To provide and encourage a safe, convenient and economic transportation system.” The TPR is an administrative rule that was adopted to help jurisdictions meet this goal. It provides guidance on required elements of Transportation System Plans, coordinating with Regional Transportation Plans, evaluating transportation system alternatives, and more.

One section of the TPR, 0060, comes into play when a jurisdiction proposes a zoning change or a plan amendment. TPR 0060 is designed to: make sure that land use plans and transportation plans are balanced together and support one another, support new development while minimizing traffic impacts, and make sure that necessary transportation improvements will be funded. First, planners must determine if a project will have a significant effect on a transportation facility’s performance, capacity, or function. If it will, then they must take steps to rebalance the land use and transportation outcomes. (Here’s a handy step-by step explanation of what that means.)

More after the jump…

What’s the Problem?
According to the testimony received by the state legislature and the LCDC over the past few years, two major themes concerning Policy 1F and TPR 0060 have emerged:

  1. The policies place transportation goals above economic development goals and can impede economic development.
  2. The policies do not provide enough leeway for jurisdictions to increase development intensities, which help meet several state goals.

As a healthy transportation policy advocate, both of these concerns are important to me. Access to a stable, living-wage job is an important predictor of health, so I’m concerned if our transportation policy creates unnecessary barriers to economic development. At the same time, “economic development” can cover a lot of ground and have very different meanings for different folks. There are times when transportation goals related to safety, health, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. should take priority.

A related issue is that, for some projects, the quick and easy fixes (a new traffic signal, better signal timing, etc.) have already been completed. In order to continue to develop in some areas, some very large and expensive changes must be made. At the same time, the last developer to show up cannot be held responsible for making the transportation facility meet the performance standards again if the only option left is disproportionately costly. In this case, even in an area with existing development, a new development that requires a zone or map change may not be able to afford to be consistent with TPR 0060.

As a Portland resident, I can see how the second problem could easily happen in our area. With highways and interchanges all over town, many major transportation facilities overlap with Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept Regional Centers and Town Centers, precisely the places we’d like to see more intense development.

Revision Process
Early this year, the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) and the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) created a joint subcommittee to study the OHP Policy 1F and TPR 0060 issues to develop recommendations and a scope of work for revising both. Upstream Public Health, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, and the Coalition for a Livable Future submitted a joint letter in favor of revising OHP Policy 1F to better facilitate investments in complete streets where pedestrian, bicycle, and transit facilities are safe, accessible, and desirable.

TPR amendments require a rule-making advisory committee (RAC) working in concert with LCDC staff. However, Oregon Department of Transportation staff conducted the OHP revision with limited outside review and comment coming from the TPR RAC. Upstream and Willamette Pedestrian Coalition joined the RAC as the only advocacy organizations (outside of Oregon Trucking Association, which I wouldn’t exactly lump into the same category). I’ll be focused on the TPR 0060 revisions, since I’m most familiar with those, but I’ll provide some OHP resources, too.

The Good
The draft TPR 0060 includes some changes that will benefit walking, biking, and transit planning and investment throughout the state. For example, a project can now use improvements for non-auto modes with permission from ODOT, even when those improvements will not result in meeting the congestion standards. This new provision allows flexibility for jurisdictions to use non-auto-oriented solutions to address projects that do not meet the OHP Policy 1F standards. The staff notes include an example: “… an amendment that would cause motor vehicle congestion could be balanced by constructing a sidewalk, adding a bicycle lane to the street,” or using other options. This new provision is great news for active transportation advocates.

Another new provision allows jurisdictions to define “multimodal mixed-use areas” (MMAs) that would be exempt from meeting the standards related to congestion. The Portland Metro region already has many areas where the planning foundation and built environment meet the definition of an MMA. This exemption from congestion standards does not apply within ¼ mile of an interchange exit ramp. Several Metro 2040 Regional and Town Centers, such as Clackamas Town Center, Gateway, or Washington Square may benefit from this change.

The Not-So-Good
A new section in TPR 0060 is designed to meet one of the specific recommendations of the joint subcommittee – to “exempt rezonings consistent with comprehensive plan map designations.” The subcommittee specifically recommended, “It will be important in the rulemaking process to define the type of level of prior planning and analysis that qualifies for this exemption, and it may be appropriate to define a time limit so that prior planning and analysis that is predominantly out of date does not qualify for the exemption” (emphasis added).

However, the majority of the RAC supported language that would allow a jurisdiction to find “no significant effect” as long as the jurisdiction has an acknowledged Transportation System Plan. This language does not meet the intent of the joint subcommittee’s recommendation. For example, the only citizen member of the RAC noted that the Transportation System Plan for Columbia County was from 1998 and did not reflect current conditions.

A minority of the RAC (myself included) supported language that would require some small check of a TSP’s currency in order for a project to receive what amounts to an exemption from the TPR. This language is included in the draft TPR 0060 as Option 2A in Section 9 and asks planners to compare the population and average daily traffic forecasts in the TSP with current figures.

The Ugly
Another new section in TPR 0060, Section 11, is designed to balance economic development with transportation mobility by allowing for partial mitigation of the effects. The primary focus of this provision is on projects that “create direct benefits in terms of industrial or traded-sector jobs created or retained.” A majority of the RAC also supported a provision that would allow small jurisdictions (those “with a population less than 10,000 and outside of a Metropolitan Planning Organization”) to include land for “other employment use” or “prime industrial land” as economic development.

According to staff notes on this option, “‘Other employment use’” means all non-industrial employment activities including the widest range of retail, wholesale, service, non-profit, business headquarters,” etc. “that are accommodated in retail, office and flexible building types.” I am in the minority of RAC members who does not believe the provision for smaller jurisdictions should be included. A project that takes advantage of this partial mitigation provision creates costs for the rest of the state through congestion or transportation costs. A broad definition of employment uses for smaller jurisdictions creates these costs without necessarily meeting other state goals. This broad definition may also displace jobs from other areas.

The joint subcommittee’s recommendations about this issue referred to “practical mitigation” and suggested that one way to provide a practical mitigation option. For projects that add traffic but for which there are no longer easy solutions, the developer could pay a proportionate amount towards the larger transportation project needed. In this way, developers would still be responsible for their project’s impacts on the transportation facility, and there would be also be a mechanism for funding these projects as more development occurs and enough mitigation funds are received.

This most recent revision of TPR 0060 was undertaken to make it easier for jurisdictions to balance economic development with transportation needs and to promote increased density in urban areas. Section 0060 only covers a small number of projects – those that require a zoning map change or a comprehensive map amendment. New provisions were created that, in essence, exempt some projects from having to mitigate for congestion impacts, allow projects to provide mitigation by improving non-auto modes, and allow some projects to provide only partial mitigation.

Projects that don’t receive exemptions or special mitigation options can still go through with a zoning map or comprehensive plan amendment – they’ll just need to take steps to “ensure that allowed land uses are consistent with the identified function, capacity, and performance standards of the facility at the end of the planning period.” The TPR does provide guidance on the ways to do that, and it will be even easier now than before, given the changes to the performance standards in OHP Policy 1F.

OHP Policy 1F changes include additional flexibility for jurisdictions to create their own alternative mobility standards and a move towards “targets” in place of “standards.” This small change in language orients the policy more towards future outcomes.

Overall, the changes will make it easier for the Portland metro to move towards our Metro 2040 vision. While I highlighted a few areas of dissent here, the RAC made several other changes to the TPR 0060 and did have many areas of consensus. We each came to the table representing different interests – large metropolitan area or small community, freight priority or livability priority – so even with a fair amount of consensus, you may hear other RAC members highlight different concerns.

Your Opportunities
The draft revisions for TPR 0060 and OHP Policy 1F are open for public comment now, until December 8th and November 21st, respectively. For comments on the OHP language, you can e-mail Michael Rock at ODOT. For comments on the TPR language you can e-mail Casaria Tuttle at LCDC. Please consider supporting The Good and providing feedback on The Not-So-Good and The Ugly.

With dwindling transportation budgets at every level, it is critically important that Oregon protect our strong land use and transportation planning traditions. There are some important benefits to active transportation in the OHP and TPR revisions. However, the revisions could also weaken our transportation planning system through the extension of three new categories that essentially provide exemptions or diminished mitigation requirements.

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