An Equity-Centered Approach to Transportation Projects “How ODOT and WSDOT are doing things differently "

Session 7B | Thursday | 1:00 – 2:15 PM PT

Presentation PDF
About the Session

Transportation and infrastructure projects have historically impacted certain populations more than others, sometimes intentionally so. Through the Oregon Toll Program and the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBR), two of the region's largest projects, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Washington Department of Transportation are doing things differently. Equity and inclusion are leading the way and driving the planning processes. This session will contain a panel of four equity specialists working on the Oregon Toll Program and the IBR Program. The panel will describe the equity-centered outreach, analysis, and evaluation processes that are guiding these megaprojects. Garet Prior and Rebecca Steiner, with the Oregon Toll Program, will discuss the establishment of the Oregon Toll Program's Equity Framework - a multi-step iterative process to guide the Toll Program and ensure tolling on I-205 and I-5 in the Portland area will lead to equitable outcomes.

They will discuss the role of the Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee (EMAC) in shaping the Toll Program and providing equity recommendations directly to the Oregon Transportation Commission, the toll rate setting authority in Oregon. Garet and Rebecca will address how the I-205 Toll Project planning process starts and ends with equity and provide a detailed overview of the technical analysis for the I-205 Toll Project Environmental Assessment that is analyzing benefits and burdens to more people. Johnell Bell and Jake Warr will discuss how the IBR Program is committed to centering equity throughout every element of the program and all of its critical decisions and actions. They will discuss how the program is engaging the community by elevating voices of equity priority communities to understand and address the impacts of long-standing injustices disproportionately experienced by these communities.

This session is intended to achieve the following objectives: "Create an understanding of how ODOT and WSDOT are centering equity and prioritizing the voices of those historically and currently excluded from decision-making processes and underserved by transportation projects. "Discuss how the two programs are working to achieve process and outcome equity." Describe the process of incorporating an equity analysis, beyond the Federally-mandated Environmental Justice analysis, into the environmental review process.

About the Moderator

Nicole McDermott AICP

Nicole McDermott is a planner and project manager with WSP, USA based in their Vancouver, WA office. Nicole has been a professional planner for 15 years, working for the last 9 years in the Pacific Northwest with local communities to envision and plan their futures. Nicole is currently working on the Oregon Toll Program as the consultant team lead for the Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee (EMAC) and task manager for the I-205 Toll Project environmental assessment. In these roles, Nicole has had the honor to learn from EMAC's equity experts and is working to advance equity in the I-205 Toll Project environmental analysis.

About the Speakers

Rebecca Steiner

Rebecca Steiner is an Associate Environmental Planner with WSP in the Portland, OR office. After graduating from her Master of Urban Planning Program in 2021, she started her planning career with WSP. At WSP, she is working on the Oregon Toll Program on the environmental team of the I-205 Toll Project and the Regional Mobility Pricing Project. For the I-205 Toll Project, she is an author for the Environmental Assessment and is the I-205 Toll Project Environmental Justice Technical Lead. For the Regional Mobility Pricing Project, she is helping to coordinate the Planning and Environmental Linkages phase.

Garet Prior AICP
Oregon Department of Transportation

Garet Prior is a creative professional who is drawn to a community's most intractable challenges. Self-starter with technical and managerial skills in developing and implementing strategic plans for complex, large-scale projects. Servant leader, writer, and speaker on equity and advocacy in urban planning, government, and education. Garet has spent his career working to advance equity and advocacy in urban planning, government, and education. As the Oregon Department of Transportation's Toll Policy Manager, Garet leads the Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee. He has worked closely with the committee to build trust and ensure EMAC's voice is meaningfully incorporated into the Toll Program. A creative thinker and community organizer at heart, Garet truly believes in the power of doing things differently and leading with equity.

Johnell Bell
Espousal Strategies

Johnell Bell is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Espousal Strategies LLC, a boutique consultancy that provides government relations, and public and stakeholder engagement services to businesses, private-public partnerships, nonprofits, and government agencies. Johnell is a veteran government, public, and community affairs professional having served in various public policy, community engagement, and senior level capacities over the last 16 years. Mr. Bell currently serves as the Principal Equity Officer for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program where he leads the program's efforts to center equity in its processes and outcomes. Prior to founding Espousal Strategies, he served as State Field Director for U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, leading the senator's forward-facing outreach and state field operations. Mr. Bell also previously served as Director of Diversity and Transit Equity for TriMet where he acted as the agency's Chief Diversity Officer overseeing Title VI, D/MWESB, transit equity, diversity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

Jake Warr
Espousal Strategies

Jake Warr's career has focused on the connections between transportation and social equity. He currently serves as the Equity Lead for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, where he advises on a variety of program activities and decision-making processes through the lens of potential opportunities and impacts for communities of concern. Jake's experience in both the public and private sectors has equipped him with a range of skills including Title VI policy development and implementation; demographic analysis; diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and programs; transit planning and operations; public speaking; and community engagement. Jake is driven by the firm belief that accessible, reliable, convenient, and affordable public transportation options are crucial for communities to thrive.


Session sponsored by:

Back to Schedule