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Innovations and technology are changing ODOT'S response to Oregonians' mobility needs

Editor's note: Brendan Finn and Della Mosier wrote this month's column.

KRIS STRICKLERAs the Portland metro region grows, so do the challenges the Oregon Department of Transportation faces to increase accessibility for all transportation modes.

This means implementing technological advances that enhance safety and efficiency. This means using the latest data to better plan our systems. And this means we're always on the lookout for the latest transportation technologies that could help us here.

The Oregon Transportation Commission set the direction at the beginning of 2020 by establishing the Urban Mobility Office. So far this year, the Urban Mobility Office has embarked on efforts to increase mobility and keep our economy moving in ways that lessen our impact on climate change.

This starts with partnerships, increasing our understanding of different mobility needs and how to improve access to all transportation modes.

Here are a few examples of what ODOT's Urban Mobility Office has been up to since the start of the year.

New traffic and air quality sensors

BRENDAN FINNWe've been working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Multnomah County on the deployment of the latest sensor technologies that provide comprehensive counts of vehicles and other transportation modes and measure air quality in the central city.

The data from these sensors will allow ODOT to plan investments and better understand safety vulnerabilities, maybe before accidents occur. The air quality measurements will help us better understand the impact different modes have on our environment.

Innovations in congestion pricing

DELLA MOSIERIn 1919, Oregon became a national innovator in managing transportation systems by enacting the nation's first gas tax. More recently, Oregon became the first state to implement a voluntary pay-by-the-mile system as an alternative to the gas tax, called OReGO. And today, we are on the cusp of implementing a congestion pricing system that will also be a first of its kind in the country.

Over the next few years, ODOT will oversee large safety and mobility improvements around the Metro region that add capacity to our system as directed in HB 2017. As part of this, portions of interstates 5 and 205 will be priced to reduce congestion and provide more reliable trips. This method encourages drivers to consider other travel options or to travel at different times of the day.

Even if a small percentage of highway users choose another mode of travel or travel at different times, traffic congestion will be reduced for those unable to modify their trip. This benefits our economy and our climate goals.

I-205 and the Abernethy Bridge Project

Safety will always be our number one priority, and the RealTime sign program on I-205, now under construction, gives drivers up-to-the-minute information. This certainly assists in the flow of our system for daily commuters but also saves time for first responders and deliveries of critical goods.

As part of HB 2017, ODOT will also make major seismic and infrastructure investments to I-205 and the Abernethy Bridge, strengthening its value as a transportation lifeline in the event of a major earthquake. Overseen by the Urban Mobility Office, this project will include improvements to reduce congestion along this critical statewide corridor.

Buses on the shoulders in the Rose Quarter

In the Rose Quarter Improvement Project, the Urban Mobility Office and regional transit agencies have been examining the possibility of allowing buses on the new safety shoulders planned for I-5.

Relieving congestion means getting cars off the road, and transit is one of the most effective measures for replacing single-occupancy vehicles. With more buses becoming low or zero-emission vehicles, providing access to shoulders during peak hours is one of the most effective strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Our response to the mobility needs of Oregonians is evolving as new technologies and innovations present themselves. Autonomous vehicles and advancement in the electrification of our system are upon us, and our systems will adapt. New opportunities to advance our transportation system will undoubtedly present themselves and the folks in the Urban Mobility Office will do everything we can to be nimble in working with Oregonians to ensure the safety and prosperity of our state.

Brendan Finn and Della Mosier are the Director and Deputy Director of the Urban Mobility Office at ODOT. Comments can be directed to 888-Ask-ODOT.

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