Friday, May 11, 2018

Comment on Proposed Rules for New Safe Routes to Schools Funding

Part of the omnibus transportation package passed by the Legislature last year was an annual allocation for Safe Routes to School.

In order to distribute the funds, ODOT needed to make some rules.

The draft of those rules is out and the Safe Routes to Schools folks, who were part of the rule-making committee, suggest some comment.

From their release:
In 2017, the Oregon State Legislature dedicated $10 million annually for Safe Routes to School infrastructure. The Oregon Department of Transportation just released the final rules that will allow communities in Oregon access to tens of millions of dollars to spend on needed street safety improvements within a mile of schools -- including sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

One of our major concerns about the program is the very high 40% cash match requirement for funding. Throughout the SRTS rulemaking process, we have advocated for the reduction or elimination of this cash match requirement, so that as many communities in Oregon will be able to access these funds, make needed safety improvements around schools, and provide safe travel routes for Oregon students. In some circumstances, the match will be reduced to 20%, but we have already heard from many communities that even this requirement will be a prohibitive burden. Specifically, this may mean lower-income schools, and those communities with historical under-investment in transportation safety projects, will be unable to apply for funds.

Until May 31, you have the opportunity to help shape Oregon's new Safe Routes to School program by sending in your comments. Read more about the SRTS infrastructure rules, funding opportunity, upcoming workshops, and how to comment.
They say:
The commentary focuses on the local match amount. For context, a lot of Federal programs require about a 10% match. So a 40% match would be much higher and represent a meaningful deviation from current custom.

At the same time, the match amount is almost certainly a reflection of a desire to make the annual allocation go as far as possible - a distribution more broad and thin, rather then narrow and deep.

It is a consequence of the politics. The program was the product of horse-trading. The Street Trust (and allies) caved on highway expansion in exchange for this SR2S fund. During the sausage-making and afterwards, the Street Trust trumpeted it as a colossal achievement and game-changer, but really, it's swamped by things like the I-5 Rose Quarter expansion and other road capacity increases in the legislation. (See this recent  twitter exchange for some typical and critical comment on the trading.)

Moreover, the total amount will be distributed statewide, and once all the applications are submitted and we see the total need, the allocation will seem very paltry.

Collaged (with comments in red)
from the May 8th slide deck and presentation
at the Legislature last year
The allocation is something, it's not nothing it's important to say, and as a percentage change from the previous level of funding the delta is huge, but in absolute terms it's still very small. It's still an instance of non-auto transportation fighting over table scraps. (You may say this is an ungrateful "half-full" perspective, but until we are more serious about not just providing "options" on the fringes, but have a core commitment to reducing drive-alone trips with things like decongestion pricing and an end to subsidized free parking, small increases in programming like this won't produce the aggregate change that is needed.)

While the advocacy task immediately at hand might be to reduce the match amount, the real project is for the Legislature in the next year or two to expand the program, not to be content with $10 or $15 million a year, but to see the need to multiply that and expand it with more funding and juice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's a public hearing today. Safe Routes has more on facebook...

It's a 5pm at the Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry, 626 High St NE - corner of Union and High.