Oregon's transportation crossroads: Creating options for the future – Statesman Journal

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Our state Legislature is tasked with passing a transportation package this session. In creating this package, there are choices. Do we simply expand roads and highways, locking in our dependence on single-user vehicles? Do we accept the consequences of congestion, pollution and lack of safety that come with this dependence?

Or do we seize the opportunity to create a modern transportation system with more choices for all — a balanced package that invests in well-maintained roads and bridges, convenient, well-connected public transportation, safe places to walk and bike and incentives to expand the fuel options for vehicles and buses? I strongly urge our lawmakers to choose the latter.

As president of Wildwood/Mahonia, a family of companies based in Salem, I see firsthand how sustainable systems are not only good for the environment, but help the bottom line. It’s no different with Oregon’s transportation quandary. The solutions we invest in now can help communities, protect air and create jobs.

A study of the job effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act found that investments in public transportation generated 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new road and bridge construction. A multimodal system will also spur economic development around rail stops, transportation centers and bus lines.

Our communities are not isolated islands. We are reliant upon other communities but our links are becoming dysfunctional. Salem’s vitality relies upon good connections to the rest of Oregon and the world.

As the owner of commercial, industrial and residential developments, I can attest to the fact that businesses and people are drawn to work and live where public transportation is well connected and easily accessible and streets and highways are not in gridlock. Investing in a modern transportation system with affordable options for all also creates more equitable communities.

Those who can’t drive — many elders, low-wage workers, people with disabilities and children — all benefit when we provide safe and convenient alternatives to driving. We know that expanding access to a variety of transportation options also creates healthier communities with better air quality, less chronic disease and fewer injuries and fatalities from car crashes.

How we power our vehicles also needs to change. Transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in Oregon. Alternative fuels, like the biodiesel produced right here in Salem from used cooking oil and waste grease, and electric cars and buses, are key to reducing that pollution. This conversion to clean fuels also creates jobs. For example, building electric vehicle infrastructure supports local electricians and other contractors.

Lawmakers have a historic opportunity before them: To fund a modern transportation system that will provide tangible benefits for today’s communities while creating an environmentally sustainable system for generations to come.

John D. Miller of Salem is president of the Salem-based Wildwood/Mahonia family of companies. He can be reached at john@wildwoodco.com.

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