Simply Living letter to the Ohio Department of Transportation
May 18, 2011
Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC)
Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)
Attn: Ed Kagel, PE
1980 West Broad Street
Columbus, Ohio 43223
Dear Director Wray and other TRAC Members,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide public comment on the rating and prioritization of ODOT-funded transportation projects in Ohio. The decisions made by TRAC influence not only transportation itself, but also the health, vitality and environmental integrity of Ohio’s communities.
Simply Living is a Columbus-based organization of nearly 600 members dedicated to sustainable living and environmental preservation. Transportation impacts everyone’s daily life. Most of our members use cars, although many also bike, walk and use public transportation on a daily/weekly basis. Many have expressed they would prefer more opportunities to use the latter three, non-car dependent mobility options. In an era of higher gasoline prices, these choices are all the more critical when being forced to choose driving. The high cost of fuel and car ownership when other options do not exist becomes the greatest “tax” on individuals and families.
The current TRAC guidelines reinforce the notion that economic development, community planning and development, urban vitality and environmental stewardship are interconnected to and dependent on transportation. The proposed new guidelines appear to diminish these priorities.
ODOT’s current TRAC guidelines state: “Our citizens demand a high-quality transportation system, put in place as quickly as possible with sensitivity to the environment. It is also the responsibility of ODOT to lead by example in reducing energy consumption in the era of steep energy prices, mounting environmental concerns, and persistent energy security risks. More than connecting points A and B on a map, our transportation infrastructure contributes to job creation. The investments we make are critical to generating long-term, high value jobs and the kind of economic development our state must support, as we work together to turnaround Ohio. In addition to safety and congestion, our criteria for project selection must include the benefits of economic development and urban revitalization.”
YES! Our members agree, and as evidence a number of them have worked to develop local policies related to complete streets (streets that accommodate all users/modes), to advance bicycling for transportation, influence zoning and development standards and decisions in order to improve walk-ability/pedestrian infrastructure, and to encourage better public transportation throughout central Ohio.
The new guidelines proposed for the “Major New Project Scoring Criteria” retain emphasis on economic development and access to jobs, but do not prioritize criteria that would prioritize projects that are most likely create jobs and destinations tied to access by pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users. The Functional Classification criteria, if retained, should be altered to ensure the criteria for all streets, roads and non-interstate/limited access highways gives priority to all users/all forms of mobility within these right-of-ways. We are pleased to see inter-modal projects and air quality remain within the criteria. However, land use that follows smart growth principles is one of the key approaches to ensure projects maximize both of these areas. Prioritizing land use would enhance multi-modal access, reduce family transportation costs, improve air quality, and reduce vehicles miles travelled (VMT) and decrease congestion, which in turn would improve environmental preservation and increase physical activity.
To focus on these attributes does not mean ODOT and Ohio’s communities should ignore the fix-it-first principles and allow Ohio’s road and highway infrastructure to crumble. In fact, quite the opposite is true. By using scoring guidelines that give priority to better land use, environmental preservation and stewardship, and reductions in VMT, Ohio’s existing network of roads can be fixed and improved to better accommodate all users such as pedestrians, bicyclists and riders of public transit systems.
Our membership encourages ODOT to revise the criteria to make sure the positive impacts created by these modes are prioritized. Thank you for your consideration.
2011 – A critical year for public transportation issues
The Active Transportation Project (ATP) of Simply Living represents transportation issues within Simply Living and to the greater Central Ohio community. The ATP provides education and resources to help SL members and others shift to walking, bicycling, and public transportation as more widely used forms of mobility. Eric Davies alerts us to upcoming opportunities to advocate for greater public investment in public transportation.
The loss of federal funding to build the 3-C passenger rail project that would have connected Ohio’s major cities by train stunned many proponents. However, other key transportation projects and legislation have major implications for Central Ohioans and all of Ohio. Within the next month the new governor’s administration will introduce a critical transportation bill that will set and fund the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) priorities, a bill that must be passed by the Ohio General Assembly by March 30. The transportation budget is separate from the General Revenue Funding (GRF) and is not subject to the $8 billion shortfall faced by the GRF.
Unlike many peer states, public transit systems in Ohio unfortunately do not have a dedicated source of funding and thus must compete with other GRF priorities, rather than exist on equal footing with roads and highways. Thus local public transit receives little state funding and relies heavily on local subsidies, mostly in the form of sales taxes. Yet ODOT efforts to gain public input, most recently through the GO OHIO initiative, have shown repeatedly that Ohioans want a balanced multi-modal transportation system that provides infrastructure to allow mobility through walking, bicycling, and public transportation, as well as by car.
On a larger scale the National Surface Transportation Act has expired and is due to be renewed by Congress. New legislation may be proposed within the next few months. This comprehensive legislation will set transportation spending priorities for the next decade and set guidelines for resource allocations for roads, highways, pedestrians, bicycling, and public transportation. Public and stakeholder input will be critical during the next two to three months on both the federal and state levels to ensure a complete, balanced and sustainable transportation system is advanced within Ohio and nationally.
Proponents of a balanced transportation system are encouraged to contact their state and federal legislators to emphasize that a multi-modal approach is key to the economic stability, vibrancy, and environmental health of Ohio communities. For background information, refer to two key documents released recently by ODOT:
In addition, Columbus was selected as one of the cities nationally to host a hearing on the Surface Transportation Authorization to gain input from local communities.
Locally, Simply Living’s Active Transportation Project (ATP) has seeded the formation of a new local transit advocacy organization to increase education and support for better public transportation in Columbus and Central Ohio, which will be formally launched in the near future. For more information contact Eric Davies <614-397-3569; email@example.com>