Do your eyes glaze over when we talk about the Federally mandated update of our Metropolitan Planning Organization’s fiscally constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan? Probably not, you transportation wonk you. 

It may sound like bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, but right now a planning process is underway that has the potential to decrease health disparities and improve access to opportunity in the Puget Sound. 

You may not be familiar with the work of Puget Sound Regional Council (our region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization), but they are doing important work and our work with them this year is one of our top priorities.

Puget Sound Regional Council
By the year 2040, the Puget Sound region is expected to grow by roughly 1.5 million people and support more than 1.2 million new jobs. These new people and jobs will boost travel within and throughout the region by about 40% and helping plan for that demand falls under the jurisdiction of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). 

PSRC oversees transportation planning, growth management, and economic development for the region covering Pierce, Snohomish, King, and Kitsap counties, working with local governments, business, and residents to build a cohesive vision for the region’s future. 

Transportation 2040 
PSRC’s long-range transportation plan, Transportation 2040 (or “T2040”), sets policy goals and identifies transportation investments to support our expected growth and improve transportation outcomes in central Puget Sound region over the next 30 years.

The T2040 plan is currently being updated to reflect changing attitudes about transportation, new technologies and trends, and the large infrastructure investments the region is now expecting (e.g., Sound Transit 3!). During this process, which began in late 2016 and finishes in 2018, PSRC will also develop and refine a set of guiding policies and criteria for future transportation investments.

The PSRC planning process has a huge impact on our region not just because of the magnitude of investment involved (millions of dollars are funneled through PSRC from the feds and the state to local jurisdictions each year), but also because transportation infrastructure investments are some of the most long-term decisions we make; the choices we make in the next two years can profoundly impact land use patterns for the next 30 years. By increasing transit, pedestrian and bicycle investments in dense, transit-oriented communities, we can reduce the need for cars, encourage active transportation, and make it quicker and easier for all residents to get around.

This means that the T2040 update is a great chance to better understand the impacts of transportation on health and equity in our region, and improve these outcomes for all.

Planning for Health and Equity 

Transportation Choices Coalition has spent the past few years focusing on how we prioritize the use of state and regional transportation dollars to achieve better environmental, land use, equity and health outcomes. PSRC has responded to this advocacy by making a strong commitment to a more inclusive decision-making process and building momentum towards including health and equity in its performance measures. In late 2014, PSRC held an “Elevating Health in Transportation” event, focusing on how and why health is important to transportation decision-making and soliciting input on how to measure public health and health equity in transportation planning.

More recently, the Transportation Policy Board (a group of elected officials and other stakeholders that guide the development of the plan) directed PSRC staff to add “health” as a regional outcome. This means that future transportation projects could be selected for funding partially based on their ability to help move the dial on health. 

What’s Next? 
Currently, PSRC is developing performance metrics for health and equity. The underlying questions are: how do our transportation investments affect our residents’ health and access to opportunity, and what is the best way to measure that impact? The next Transportation Policy Board meeting will kick off this discussion on April 13, at 9:30am (you can watch online!).


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