A personal message from Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder

Last week, the Portland metropolitan region’s transportation leaders put their stamp of approval on a transportation and livability blueprint for this region – a proposed list of projects and innovative policies collectively known as the Regional Transportation Plan. And today the Metro Council – in its federally recognized role as this region’s transportation planning agency – also gave its approval to this plan.

Adoption of the RTP marks a major milestone in Metro’s Making the Greatest Place effort. We now have a bricks-and-mortar plan shaped by values created by the people – not traffic models – that will  create a sustainable region through smart investments.

There will be many challenges ahead associated with increasing population, rising petroleum prices, shortages of public funds and, in particular, reducing carbon emissions.

This plan sets us on the right path toward a sustainable future through projects and policies that help us use land inside the urban growth boundary more efficiently, which prevents sprawl, protects farm and forest lands, attracts jobs and housing to urban centers, encourages more transit use, and creates places where people can choose to walk and bike for pleasure or to meet everyday needs.

This  RTP reduceson a per capita basis – carbon emissions from where we are now.

It also helps a rapidly growing population sustainably thrive. The smart investments and policies in this plan will create vibrant, bustling urban centers where we want them, and keep farm and forestland protected from undesirable and expensive sprawl.  Its policies on freight mobility support our economic competitiveness.  It also commits more resources to safety, high-capacity transit, and pedestrian-oriented projects than ever before. It prioritizes $1 billion in bicycle investment opportunities alone.

However, aggressive targets for reducing GHG emissions – in Oregon’s case, a 75 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 – puts tall demands on even the greenest of future plans to be even greener. Even with technological advances in cleaner fuels and engine efficiency, we will constantly need to improve our plans and practices.

I believe we can get there. This RTP not only continues our strong legacy of sustainability, it also improves our strategic position.

To begin with, we can all be encouraged that the Portland region already leads the United States in reducing transportation emissions. Our vehicle miles traveled per capita have been declining, transit and bike use are increasing, and we enjoy shorter trips due to our compact urban form. So we’re already on the right path. Because of Metro’s smart land use and transportation policies the average resident drives 17 percent less here than our counterparts around the country. That’s big savings in money, too, estimated at over $1 billion a year!

Furthermore, this RTP puts us ahead of the national curve by putting carbon emission reduction explicitly and directly into our planning so we can address any state or federal requirements without delay.

Just a few weeks ago after discussions with other regional leaders we adopted a “RTP Climate Action Plan,” which outlines additional steps to be completed by January 2012:

Despite all this trend-setting work and positive results, we will need to do more. I welcome efforts to push even harder to reduce carbon emissions.

Fortunately, with a plan in place that improves upon our solid foundation of sustainability, we’ll be able to meet immediate needs and make real-time adjustments, whether with new ideas, technologies or economic trends, to bridge the gap toward increasingly climate friendly practices. And that, ultimately, will help us turn our current and planned per capita decline in carbon emissions into drastic overall reductions in order to meet our aggressive goals.

I am very proud that the Metro Council has adopted this plan and I look forward to working with my Metro Council colleagues in the years and months ahead to keep this region at the forefront of sustainability.

Learn more about the Regional Transportation Plan

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