Transportation Project 101By Mike Montero

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When traffic backs up most of us think “Why don’t they do something about this?” Then, an agency recognizes that a project is needed and thus begins the planning process for a transportation project.

It may come as a surprise that it is not unusual for project planning to take much longer than actual project construction. It may also surprise many that planning for large projects is a major investment itself and requires thousands of hours of staff, consultant and volunteer time. Many people are also appalled at the cost and length of time that it takes to see a transportation project come to completion. This begs the question, why? The following illuminates the challenges for transportation planning and its return to the public.

The traveling public who will use the new project want to make certain that the project benefits its “users.” To illustrate, pedestrians, bicycling, autos, transit busses and trucks are all “transportation users.” It is obvious, given the differing size and operational needs of each user, great care and planning needs to occur to ensure that the project can meet the varied user needs provided by these different modes of transportation.

Agencies responsible for the planning, selection and funding of these projects are required to navigate through an array of agency-specific rules which reflect each institution’s regulations. For obvious reasons some conflicts can and do occur and must be reconciled through the planning process. One regional project recently constructed in the Southwest Oregon region had to comply with the specific rules of in excess of 35 federal, state, tribal, environmental and local agencies.

Even though the city benefits as a whole when a project is proposed in an urbanized area the neighborhood in which the project is to be constructed experiences the actual impact. As a result, conflict can occur even within the same community.

Communities have transportation personalities just as the users do. Transportation agencies as well as elected officials are responsible to ensure that the community personality is taken into account while ensuring that its citizens have an opportunity to be informed and their input is incorporated into transportation decision making.

In spite of sufficiently advertised and conducted planning meetings, it is not unusual for third parties to register concerns and, in some cases, legally challenge projects into which the public has made a major investment of scarce taxpayer resources. Project construction delays can result during project planning designed to navigate a process intended to make the best use of public funds while being mindful of user needs and neighborhood impacts. As an example, delays caused by challenges to several regional projects, have stranded the public’s investment in planning where impasses have occurred. In other delayed projects, the unintended consequences have been expressed in substantial cost over-runs when higher commodity prices for steel, concrete, asphalt and fuel surcharges had to be absorbed.

Does this mean that transportation projects should ignore any of these issues? Absolutely not! Transportation infrastructure is a precious community asset. Comprehensive transportation planning is the public’s investment with the goal to best plan and construct community assets while balancing the needs and impacts to users and the community.

About Mike Montero
Co-chair and founding member of RVACT, Mike Montero is principal of Montero & Associates, LLC., an urban development consulting firm.
Mike is chair of the Transportation Action Team for The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

About RVACT
The Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation was charted in 1997 by the Oregon Transportation Commission. RVACT address all aspects of transportation (surface, marine, air, and transportation safety) with primary focus on the state transportation system. The advisory body considers regional and local transportation issues if they affect the state system. RVACT plays a key advisory role in the development of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which schedules funded transportation projects. RVACT establishes a public process for area project selection priorities for the STIP. Through that process and following adopted project eligibility criteria, they prioritize transportation problems and solutions and recommend projects in their area to be included in the STIP.

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