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New “Active Transportation” section to be created within ODOT

Posted by on July 12th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

metro hearing on the CRC-6.jpg
ODOT Director Garrett says the shift will
help make the agency more “efficient
and multimodal.”
(Photo © J. Maus)

Matt Garrett, Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has sent out a memo via email to staff and stakeholders throughout the state that he is moving forward with a significant structural shift for the agency.

Writing that, “It is now time to take our first steps to pursue a more multimodal vision in operating and conducting our businesses,” Garrett says his move will consolidate separate programs — like the Bicycle/Pedestrian Program, Transportation Enhancements, and others — into a new, “Active Transportation” section within ODOT. (Note that a “section” is a less formal entity than a “division”)

Read an excerpt from his email below (emphasis mine):

“This is consistent with the direction I have received from Governor Kitzhaber and the Oregon Transportation Commission, and complements our efforts to “right-size” the agency, which I have spoken about before.

The funding picture remains as it was six months ago – declining on both state and federal fronts. It is even more important now that we get the most benefit from every dollar regardless of its cycle or source.

Our funding structure is overwhelmingly dedicated to highway programs, so we have to be imaginative in how we use discretionary funds and other funding that is directed to non-highway programs. The problem we have had historically is that programs, such as Scenic Highway, Bicycle/Pedestrian, Transportation Enhancement, and others have naturally operated independently based on their own funding cycles. While the state has invested in good projects that have contributed to the communities they serve in many ways, collectively they may or may not have contributed to strategic improvement of the transportation system.

I think by bringing more discipline to the process and developing a new frame of reference through which we see proposals, we can be more strategic and we can leverage the funds to get a bigger system impact.

The next step is to create a new “Active Transportation” section that will bring together separate programs into a more effective and efficient whole. Eventually, I would like to see a division reporting to the Deputy Director for Operations, but for now, we will start with a section.

The vision is to integrate programs and funding sources to support the selection and delivery of projects that are multidimensional transportation projects, not just a “highway” or “bikeway” or “transit” project. We want strategic project selection that provides complete transportation solutions for communities and takes advantage of the unique features of each program and funding source.

These changes should generate efficiencies and help us make sure we obligate all our federal funds in each program each year.

As a start to create this new section, we will combine various programs that involve local governments and some of the various transportation programs into a new section within TDD [the Transportation Development Division]… These include the Local Program section, Transportation Enhancement, ConnectOregon, Flex Funds, Bicycle/Pedestrian, Scenic Byways, and the Sustainability program, currently housed in the director’s office. We will integrate these to provide the best community projects we can from planning to delivery…

I believe these changes will advance the agency objectives of efficiency, make it more multimodal in nature and approach, enhance the agency’s ability to make strategic and cost effective project choices, and help us get to our right-sizing goals.”

Garrett says the management shifts would happen in August and should be in place by this fall.

Advocates and others around the state are likely to receive this news with some degree of skepticism. It’s no secret that ODOT has been a highway-centric agency in the past. However, there are strong signs that that culture is waning and they are truly committed to a new paradigm. How this all plays out remains to be seen.

I’m still tracking down comments and background on what spurred this shift and what it might mean for transportation policy in Oregon. Stay tuned.

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Comments
  • Marcus Griffith July 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Good step. For too long, Oregon’s Department of Transportation was as auto-centric as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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  • kiel johnson July 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    cool! that is quite the email

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  • dwainedibbly July 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I read this with a little concern, too, Jonathan. It sounds great, but really there isn’t much more than a lot of buzz words. Hopefully it’s a positive thing and not just an attempt to hide cuts behind a reorganization. (And I write that knowing that there will be cuts simply because of the way the state & federal budgets are.)

    “We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

    –Petronius, 210 BC

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      I share your concerns… which is why i’m talking and hearing from a wide range of people to get a better sense of what is really going on and why.

      I’ll have a follow-up story tomorrow with more thoughts and reactions from people around the state.

      My hunch right now, given what I’ve heard so far, is that — while obviously actions speak louder than words — this could be a very significant step toward a less highway-centric ODOT.

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    • q`Tzal July 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Most of the confusion and demoralization will come from those who will have lost their cash cow.

      Many authoritarians in the active transport community will be deeply angered that their funding, and thus power, is being diverted from themselves.

      The new way won’t be perfect but let’s not forget: the old way isn’t working and many have been calling for this change for a long time.

      At the very least it will visibly isolate the funding stream for cycle projects helping to reduce cries of “BIKES ARE STEALING MONEY FROM CARS!!!”.

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  • Joe Adamski July 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I do not have a sense of the culture at ODOT, but my dealings with them comes from individuals, not as an organization. My biggest concern is that this new section captures the excitement, vision and dedicated effort of the section and the State it serves,by staffing it with ‘True Believers’ who are very engaged in Active Transportation, rather than it being just ‘another department’.
    Unfortunately, I have not yet met any ‘true believers’ @ ODOT.

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