Thursday, July 22, 2021

Ignoring Climate: Highway Expansion at the MPO

With photos of flooding in China, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, and flooding in Germany, the Los Angeles Times today says, "dire climate predictions are becoming real around the globe."

Today in the LA Times

In a very great irony, on Tuesday the 27th, the Policy Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization will consider an "air quality conformity determination" for a new lane proposed on I-5 in South Salem and near Turner.

Air quality and a proposed I-5 widening

Strictly speaking, our Air Quality regulatory scheme right now looks only at Carbon Monoxide, ozone, and particulates, and does not include anything about Carbon Dioxide or other greenhouse gases. "Pollution is decreasing!" It is willfully blind to what is at the moment our most pressing source of pollution. In this narrow procedural and administrative sense, climate is not relevant. More generally, and obviously, that is wildly wrong.

The section of I-5 here has only two lanes and a project has been on ODOT's wish list for a while. A southbound lane is funded. Now they want the other side. See previously:

Notwithstanding a few posts, I have not spent a great deal of time on the project, and perhaps this has been a mistake. Here we focus on urban streets and not so much on the Interstate, which has a different set of problems and solutions. Safety at 60 or 70mph over tens or hundreds of miles is a different matter than safety at 20 to 40mph for a few miles. Regional travel is different from local travel.

But as we see in the way ODOT is handling the I-5/Rose Quarter project, ODOT is just simply not changing course, essentially unresponsive to climate, waving it away with the magic tech-bro utopianism of electric cars for everybody.

Meanwhile, there have been real, tangible costs to our inaction on transportation and emissions, and on climate more generally.

Early in July

Just last week, a large coalition of groups, both statewide and local, including our local chapter of, sent a letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission asking for reform and response at ODOT. They ask for a pause in "adding new capacity for single occupancy vehicles...[and] instituting equitable congestion pricing for demand management" and to "review current and future projects for impacts on Vehicle Miles Traveled and greenhouse gas emissions."

July letter to OTC - Oregon Environmental Council

It may be helpful to be consistent from city to city, and at different levels of local government, in applying pressure. These, then, are good requests to make at our MPO: (They might also inform trying to make another pass at stronger Goal 7 language later in the new RTSP process.)

Front page last week

Even on a "small" project here, we should hit pause on adding new lanes to I-5. 

Public Participation and Consultation Plans

Also, and also a little ironically, the MPO is considering the formal and general Public Participation Plan and a specific Consultation Plan for the next Regional Transportation System Plan.

"Mitigation" but not prevention

In the materials on the "Consultation" piece, perhaps because it is controlled by rule or statute, the list of agencies and groups to consult is narrow, and includes nothing about climate. The agencies also have a centrist, even conservative bias, and in general have not distinguished themselves on climate.

The "mitigation" phase also occurs after the project list has been developed, so the selection and scoring process is insulated from environmental or climate critique. The ordering ensures environment and climate is sidelined.

"Mitigation" after we've decided on projects

There might be other things to say on detail, but since the basic framework is messed up, it does not seem worth too much time on those details.

"users of pedestrian walkways
and bicycle transportation facilities"

The Public Participation Plan had been drafted to include language about soliciting comment from people who walk and bike, but SKATS finds the language "quite long" and proposes to substitute shorter, more general language.

But given the frameworks, how much does that matter?

The Policy Committee zooms at noon on Thursday the 27th. The agenda and meeting packet can be downloaded here.

Meeting info

1 comment:

Mike said...

This really chaps my hide. Not only is it destructive to Salem’s quality of life by inducing more traffic and supporting development at the far south of town, it goes against all of the fighting climate change talk we hear from the governor. Although I am repeatedly disappointed by Democrats in the legislature and the federal level reps too. As an example, I recently received an email from Rep Schrader talking about how we need to combat climate change. In the same email, he’s patting himself on the back for getting funding for the Donald/Aurora interchange.