The bill, sponsored by House Representative John Lively (D-Springfield) and Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie), would take $12 million from the state’s General Fund and deposit it into a Safe Routes to Schools Fund that would be administered by the Oregon Department of Transportation and mandate that ODOT spends at least $20 million of their State Highway Fund allotment on the safe routes infrastructure projects. It would also prioritize the funding toward low-income Title I schools and require infrastructure projects to be coupled with educational and outreach components.
“We can pave roads and build highways, but that doesn’t really make a place. That doesn’t make a community.”
— Kim Curley, Commute Options
As we shared earlier this month HB 3230 is a major priority for The Street Trust and the For Every Kid Coalition — a group of over 100 organizations working to increase Safe Routes to School program funding.
At today’s committee meeting in Salem, Street Trust Campaign Director LeeAnne Fergason testified to lawmakers that the state needs to put money on the table not just for more crosswalks and bikeways near schools — but for the marketing programs to promote them. “We know infrastructure alone can increase walking and biking by 20 to 25 percent, but combined with education and encouragement programs we see 40 to 45 percent of kids walking and biking.”
Kim Curley, who works with Commute Options in Bend, also testified. She said transportation funding must mean more than status quo road projects. “We can pave roads and build highways,” she said, “But that doesn’t really make a place. That doesn’t make a community.” And she echoed the importance of coupling infrastructure spending with education and outreach. “If you build it, they will not come unless they know about it.”
According to Curley and Fergason, ODOT currently spends only dedicates $500,000 to safe routes-specific projects, or enough to reach just 20 per cent of Oregon’s schools. “We’re spreading the peanut butter very, very thin,” Curley said.
“If we don’t have safe bike pathways and places to walk to school… there are a lot of other expenses the state will be paying for.”
— Representative Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro)
After hearing testimony, committee Chair Caddy McKeown (D-Coos Bay) reminded everyone that legislators are also working on a transportation funding package that includes $15 million a year* for Safe Routes to School projects — which they say is enough funding to “complete the safe routes within a quarter-mile of all elementary and middle schools in Oregon in 10 years.” (*Would require a 40 percent local match.)
Only one committee member voted against HB 3230. Rep. Greg Barreto, a Republican who represents eastern Oregon, said, “This is a hard one. There are a lot of wonderful things; but those wonderful things have to be paid for. With the situation the state is in right now with the spending issue, I struggle with voting for more good things… I think these are good and admirable and even needed things, but it’s just a tough time.”
Rep. Susan McLain, a Democrat from Hillsboro said she’d vote yes because, “If we don’t have safe bike pathways and places to walk to school… there are a lot of other expenses the state will be paying for.”
In an interesting twist, Rep. Rich Vial, the Washington County Republican who pushed for a bill that would allow cities to form tolling districts to build new highways, made the motion to move HB 3230 to the Ways and Means Committee. A few hours later he shared via his constituent newsletter that his highway bill is dead.
HB 3230 will now move to the Ways and Means Committee. Rep. McKeown would rather pass Safe Routes funding as part of the larger, comprehensive effort. But she said she wanted this bill to sit in Ways and Means, “To act as a backup, just in case – God forbid – we aren’t successful with our transportation package.”