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Column: Cleaner air and a redution in traffic are just two of the benefits of ODOT's focus on climate change.

COURTESY: ODOT - Amanda Pietz is director of the ODOT Climate Office. Comments can be directed to 866-Ask-ODOT.Exhaust from cars, trucks, and other transportation activities is the top source of pollution in Oregon — pollution that is literally changing our climate.

As we look around, we see the very real and dramatic impacts of climate change in Oregon, from flooding in the east to landslides along the coast. These events shut down roads, slow commerce, obstruct the delivery of critical services, and frustrate Oregonians.

KEEP OREGON MOVINGOregon's livelihood is at stake, and the Oregon Department of Transportation recognizes action is needed to reduce pollution, stop conditions from worsening, and keep our transportation system functional.

ODOT Director Kris Strickler took a bold step in March 2020 by creating a Climate Office to address how greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate affect our state's transportation system, its communities, and economy.

The Climate Office marks the start of a long-term effort to apply the climate lens to how we plan, invest, build, and maintain our state's transportation system. This won't be quick or easy. But it will have a real impact on ODOT's carbon footprint and transportation future.

ODOT will consider climate alongside other important objectives like safety, equity, and the economy.

We will also look at how climate intersects with other objectives such as equity, known as climate justice. Climate justice recognizes that people least likely to be responsible for pollution and climate change are most likely to be negatively impacted. We will consider and engage these frontline communities, including tribes, low-income individuals and communities of color, to prioritize ways to reduce transportation pollution and ensure people and goods can continue to get where they need to go.

Some of our immediate efforts include:

Utilizing partnerships

Although ODOT is a key player in reducing transportation pollution, other state agencies, local jurisdictions, and the private sector all play a part. To recognize these shared responsibilities and to foster greater greenhouse gas reductions, ODOT works closely with three other state agencies to implement ODOT's carbon reduction roadmap, the Statewide Transportation Strategy. We have developed a two-year work plan that prioritizes actions such as cleaner vehicles and fuels, strategies that reduce drive-alone trips, and local planning for pollution reduction. For more information, check out the "Every Mile Counts" website.

Supporting transportation electrification

We know we must invest in clean travel such as biking, walking, and public transportation, and that strategies like pricing, the location of jobs and housing, and managing demand across the system are all key. But one of the most effective ways to reduce near-term pollution is to address exhaust from every mile driven. Transitioning to more electric and cleaner vehicles is key to a cleaner future. ODOT will take a lead role facilitating action across the state, partnering with other agencies, utilities and the private sector to enable more people to travel by an electric vehicle, be that truck, car, bike, or bus. To do this, we will understand charging gaps and barriers across the state, identify and build out electric highways and corridors across modes, raise awareness of charging options, and seek funding and support.

Integrating emission reductions into our decisions

ODOT is working on a process to evaluate the pollution and climate adaptation impact of major investments. We'll select future projects understanding the tradeoffs across objectives, including climate, equity, safety and the economy. Our goal is to select a suite of projects that do not continue to lead to more pollution, but instead, start to cut emissions long term. Adding climate into ODOT's decision-making process will go beyond project decisions and will also include ways to lower our carbon footprint as we construct and maintain the system, test innovative technologies, and pursue other actions in our Statewide Transportation Strategy.

Adapting to climate and extreme weather

ODOT will create a roadmap to help us better understand where and how the threats of climate change and extreme weather impact the state's transportation network. This roadmap will guide the agency in its policies and investments to be more resilient to climate impacts.


Amanda Pietz is director of the ODOT Climate Office. Comments can be directed to 866-Ask-ODOT.


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