ODOT: Great streets make great communities
COLUMN: Kris Strickler's KEEP OREGON MOVING
ODOT's state highways provide vital connections between communities, efficiently moving people and goods across our state. They are the backbone of our economy and our local, regional and international trade depends on them.
But our state highways don't only exist in that big picture. In some communities, they also function as main streets that run through the heart of downtown.
When that happens, there can be a tension between moving intercity traffic quickly and smoothly and making sure that downtown areas are safe, accessible places where people can come together and businesses can thrive.
With our Great Streets program, we're working to make sure state highways, already great at connecting our state, can function as safe and multimodal main streets that connect a community.
In March 2022, the Oregon Transportation Commission allocated $50 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to create our new Great Streets program.
This new funding addresses a consistent frustration we have in designing our projects. Transportation funding is often broken into silos, which has made it difficult to coordinate among different projects. We might be able to resurface the roadway with one pot of money, install a crossing with another and improve lighting with a third. This $50 million will allow us to look at streets as a whole and make improvements all at once.
Great Streets aims to address safety and accessibility issues, making improvements for people walking and biking, and improve infrastructure so that people feel safe and welcome in the heart of their community.
As we launch this new effort, we're focusing on fewer projects with a greater impact as opposed to minor interventions. We're also committed to ensuring that small communities, as well as large urban areas, see the benefit of Great Streets funding.
Great Streets improvements could include:
A few months back, we encouraged our local partners to submit applications for this funding. We're reviewing the initial batch of applications now. There are a lot of good options. In the coming months, ODOT staff will engage in conversations with our local partners about what these improvements might look like and how they can best be designed to improve accessibility and safety.
We welcome input and feedback on the proposed projects from anyone who wants to have a say in shaping the future of their hometowns. Most people don't think too much about how a state highway functions beyond wishing there were fewer cars along the road with them. But all of us have likely had the experience of walking along a main street that felt much more designed for cars than for people. It's critical that we hear the on-the-ground experience of individuals walking and biking through their community to get this program right.
Projects will be evaluated on five criteria:
We're determined to do our part to help build safer, more accessible and more equitable communities where all road users feel welcome.
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