Spotlight: Aligning our transportation with climate priorities
As for most cities, transportation is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Ashland. So if we are serious about reducing our emissions, we need to start planning now for an Ashland that is less dependent on gas-powered automobiles.
Buying an electric vehicle or going completely car-free is not possible for most people. But communities can tangibly reduce their transportation emissions by implementing strategies that help residents feel more comfortable getting around town on foot, by biking, or using another personal transportation device more of the time. (Think scooters, skateboards, assistive mobility devices, etc.)
Over the next year or so, residents of Ashland will have opportunities to advocate for a local transportation system that aligns with our climate goals.
Here’s why: The Oregon Department of Transportation requires Oregon municipalities with more than 10,000 residents to create and periodically update its Transportation System Plan. The TSP should reflect how we want to get around in our city in the future. It should describe the local transportation system and outline projects, programs and policies to meet its needs now and in the future based on the community’s aspirations.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Ashland updated its Transportation System Plan, said Ashland Public Works Director Scott Fleury.
“Many things have changed since 2012,” said Fleury, including Ashland's 2017 adoption of its Climate and Energy Action Plan. The CEAP is “focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors with the knowledge that transportation has a large impact on GHGs,” Fleury explained. “The city has also updated sections of land-use code, and land use has a direct tie to the transportation network needs, which include parking, sidewalks, bicycle facilities and vehicular needs.”
Updating the plan would also mean that Ashland will increase its ability to tap into significant funding opportunities expected to come down the pike, said City Councilor Paula Hyatt, who serves as council liaison to the Transportation Commission. For one thing, Congress is poised to pass a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill. Some of that funding will be made available through the states, she adds.
“How we look at infrastructure will be changing,” Hyatt explained, comparing the TSP to a ticket to a sporting event. “When you apply for a grant they will look at when your plan was most recently updated, and whether it is supported by your community and your council. If you can answer yes to those questions, you improve your ability to use that ticket to attain grant funding.”
The kickoff for the TSP update was already delayed in 2020 because of COVID. As of last week, the TSP update is on hold again because of the challenges of having public forums while COVID cases are surging in Jackson County. Additionally, City Manager pro tem Gary Milliman sees possibilities that Ashland could tap into state grant funds for the TSP update itself.
“In my experience ODOT has often funded all or part of the cost of a TSP,” said Milliman. “In discussing this matter with ODOT region staff, they indicated that ODOT payment of 100% of the cost of the TSP utilizing Statewide Planning and Research grant funds would be ‘highly likely.’”
Funding would likely be available in FY 2022-23, added Milliman, and he recommended that the city apply for this funding.
“It is important that this TSP moves forward,” Milliman added. “I have also asked ODOT to let us know if any of the SPR-funded projects in the current year do not move forward, and to consider making those funds available earlier. They have agreed to make Ashland a priority for this funding.”
Transportation Commissioner Joe Graf urged residents to start thinking about local transportation needs and plan to get involved in public input opportunities on the topic.
“That is the time for citizens to have input,” he advised. “Once it is approved by the council, that’s the go-ahead to find ways to do some of the projects that are at the top of the list. If they're not at the top of the list, then they won’t be worked on.“
“If you wait until the project is started and then try to find a way to stop or change it, there’s already been a lot of resources put into that project — staff time, engineering studies, consultants, etc.,” Graf explained. And that’s just a waste of time and money.
Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. She can be reached at ACAPSpotlight@socan.eco.