Sandra Gangle, Transit Study Chair
The Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS) is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)  for the Salem urbanized area. The SKATS Policy Committee, whose representatives include the cities of Salem, Keizer and Turner, Marion and Polk Counties, Oregon Department of Transportation, Salem-Keizer School District and Salem-Keizer Transit District, submitted a draft Regional Transportation Systems Plan on May 24, 2011. The Plan is intended to guide the region’s investments in transportation infrastructure — road systems, bicycle routes, public transit and traffic signal control systems — from 2011-2035.
Goals, Policies and Expected Outcomes
The overall goal of the SKATS Regional Transportation Systems Plan is to plan and implement regional investments in an efficient and cost-effective manner and in compliance with all applicable federal , state  and local  regulations. Once the Regional Plan has been finally adopted, all local transportation systems plans will be required to be consistent with it throughout the relevant period.
The policies which have guided the Plan are known as the “7C’s”: Continuing, Consistent, Coordinated, Comprehensive, Cooperative, Coherent and Cost-effective. In pursuit of those policies, the drafters designed a set of common objectives for principled decision-making that they believe will result in “seamless” transportation development across the region and avoid inefficient transportation patterns and conditions. Among those objectives are:
- Minimize fatalities, injuries and collisions;
- Provide a Multi-Modal System to decrease congestion and reduce pollutants; and
- Protect the environment, including air and water and endangered species.
The Plan also recognizes that federal law (SAFETEA-LU) requires the regional Plan to address the following considerations:
- Financial constraint ,
- Environmental impacts,
- Socioeconomic impacts ,
- Equity ,
- Multimodal systems , and
- Energy consumption.
The Plan includes the following as desired outcomes for an effective system:
- Able to meet the region’s accessibility  needs for the next 20 years; Multimodal and comprehensive, moving goods and people by the mode of their choice;
- Designed with the safety of all users in mind;
- Equitable for all users ; and
- Efficient to use.
Public Transit Issues Identified
The Plan states that the current fixed-route system of Cherriots carries an estimated cost over the next 25 years of $870 million. The Plan anticipates a deficit of $234 million (27% of the needed amount), however, and states that the Transit District will be forced to do one or more of the following to continue to provide existing services:
- increase fees,
- pass an increase in the property tax base,
- find additional funding streams (none are specifically proposed), or
- reduce services further than they have already been reduced.
The Plan acknowledges that the Cherry-Lift demand-response service is consuming an increasing amount of the Cherriots’ operating budget although Cherry-Lift ridership is only a fraction of the total Cherriots’ ridership. The Plan also recognizes that ballot-box failures in recent years have resulted in service cuts. It concludes,”Additional sources of stable, or at least counter-cyclical, funding are necessary to allow the Transit District to provide the level of service required to provide the residents of Salem-Keizer an option in their travel.” (Plan, p. 4-15)
Other Deficiencies of the Current System
The Plan acknowledges that several deficiencies in the current transportation system impede the efficient movement of people and goods around and through the Salem-Keizer area and limit the mode selection choices for travelers. The deficiencies include:
- traffic congestion from bottlenecks, incidents and bad weather;
- increasing population (projected to be 283,104 in 2020 and 333,696 in 2035) and employment in Salem-Keizer, which will lead to further increases in vehicular traffic, thereby increasing the traffic congestion, especially in the afternoon commute hours;
- gaps in the system for modes of safe pedestrian and bicycle travel caused by incomplete networks of sidewalks and bicycle routes;
- gaps in the transit system, such as the reduction of services and loss of some routes after the tax-levy defeat of 2008; (see #) and
- gaps in the adequacy of some roads and sidewalks to meet current standards.
# The Plan drafters state affirmatively that SKATS will collaborate with the Transit District, the local jurisdictions, the State of Oregon and federal partners to “seek, identify, evaluate and recommend appropriate new funding sources for funding operations.” (Plan, p. 5-5)
New and Continuing Projects Recommended by SKATS
The Plan identifies 39 transportation projects and programs for development in the region during the initial five-year period (2012-2017) that the Plan’s policies will be in effect. The first 18 proposals involve new road and bridge construction, totaling $69 million. The Minto-Brown pedestrian bridge and a West Salem pedestrian path are included, but they are inexpensive compared to the other projects.
Two new construction projects will benefit Salem-Keizer Transit program, as follows:
- Keizer Transit Center Construction Completion ($3.5 million)
- Enhanced bus shelters, improving ADA accessibility to stops along River Road North, Broadway, Market and Center Streets and improvement of signage ($775,000).
In addition, four Cherriots programs that are already in operation will be continued, and there is provision for replacement of some old buses. (The combined cost of those programs is $5.1 million, including the new buses.) The programs that will be extended are:
- the Regional Rideshare Program (known as Vanpools),
- the Demand Management Program,
- New Freedom Formula Program for people with disabilities,
- Job Access Reverse Commute program , and
- Preventive Maintenance and Mobility Management (travel-training) Program.
The complete list of projects may be seen at: http://www.mwvcog.org:8080/2/document-folder/skats/transportation-improvement-program-tip/TIPPublicBrochure_12-17_Draft_5.pdf
There is no clear explanation on the website as to how the planners concluded that the designated projects met the criteria set forth in SAFETEA-LU, especially the law’s requirements of positive socio-economic impacts and social equity, or how they are projected to fulfill SKATS’ desired outcomes for an effective system, especially accessibility, equity and efficiency of services to the whole Salem-Keizer community.
- Areas with a population of 50,000 are required to have an MPO to ensure that federal funds are allocated in compliance with the “7C” process defined within. Areas with a population exceeding 200,000 are required to meet additional responsibilities.
2. These include: Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, 1998 (TEA), and Safe, Accountable, Fair Efficient Transportation Equity Act- Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)
3. These include the Oregon Land Use Planning Goals, Oregon Benchmarks and Oregon Transportation Plan.
4. These include the Salem-Keizer Transit’s coordinated plan known as SAMTD Specialized Transportation Plan and Strategic Plan (2010).
5. All approved projects must have identifiable funding sources that are known to be available.
6. This category includes safety and health issues and preserving integrity of neighborhoods.
7. This category includes availability of various levels of service to meet social needs, comparability of service utilizations and equality of access to job opportunities and destinations through various forms of transportation. It also includes certain intangible factors such as value to the community and value to the individual.
8. Coordination of transportation routes and services for pedestrians, bicycle riders, transit users and motorized vehicle users.
9. Accessibility is defined as “the ability to reach goods and services” which is “essential for a person to meet many of life’s requirements, such as going to shop, to work, or to recreate.”
10. Equitable is defined as “that the benefits and burdens of the transportation system are not disproportionately distributed, but are equally spread in the region.”
11. This is defined as “provides the greatest benefits to the users of the system with projects that are cost appropriate.”
12. Section 5316 funds, in the amount of $250,000 for FY 2011-12, have been given to Cherriots to provide access to jobs and job training for welfare-to-work participants, including those who need to get to jobs in the opposite direction of the normal commute pattern.