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Roadway fatalities have been rising for years, and data shows local residents are disproportionately affected.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Multnomah County will seek federal funding to develop a plan to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes in East County.Multnomah County transportation officials will seek federal funding to develop a plan to reduce the disproportionate rate of serious injury and fatal traffic crashes in East County.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year, is making $5 billion in grant funding available over five years to help local governments prevent roadway deaths and injuries.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners authorized staff Thursday, Sept. 8, to apply for $450,000 through the grant program, called Safe Streets and Roads for All.

The county would use the funding to create a transportation safety action plan for East County, designing strategies to prevent roadway crashes for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motorists, according to a staff report. The strategies would be informed by analyses of traffic data on roads with high injury crashes.

The county is pursuing the grant in partnership with the cities of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale and Wood Village.

Allison Boyd, senior planner with the county's transportation division, told the board Thursday that having a coordinated plan will better position the county to receive funding to implement identified strategies. The county can apply for additional funding in future years of the grant program, Boyd said.

Countywide, the number of traffic fatalities has been increasing since 2018. In 2020 and 2021, there were 83 and 84 traffic fatalities, respectively, official and preliminary data from the Oregon Department of Transportation shows. Between 2014 and 2018, the average was 46.

In 2022, there were 40 traffic fatalities through July, according to preliminary ODOT data.

A disproportionate number of those fatalities have occurred in East County, which has a traffic fatality rate of 8 per 100,000 residents compared to 6.7 per 100,000 residents in Portland, according to county data.

"The East County area has one of the highest traffic fatality rates and some of the highest concentrations of historically disadvantaged populations in the region," Boyd said. "The area has many gaps in safe and accessible pedestrian and bike facilities, limited crosswalks and high-speed (arterial roads)."

The county plans to prioritize engaging with specific cultural groups to collect feedback from marginalized communities.

Last fall, the county announced its plan to use a public health approach to examine the causes of traffic fatalities and identify ways policymakers can address them.

The plan was intended to expand on the findings of the county's Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) traffic safety report released in early 2021. The report found that death rates from crash injuries among Black residents were twice the rate of white residents from 2013 to 2017. Additionally, an analysis of roads with the highest numbers of traffic injuries showed that 77% of the length of those roads pass through or along census tracts with high concentrations of Black and African American residents.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann, a former Gresham city councilor, said seeking federal funding to develop an action plan is significant.

"We're actually going to get some funding to help drive policy with the hope that it will save lives," Stegmann said.

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