Merkley bill aims to better link transit, jobs

Merkley bill aims to better link transit, jobs

Senator accompanied Portland woman on 2 1/2-hour trip to work

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced Monday at the Hollywood Transit Center in Portland that he has introduced the Transportation, Access and Opportunity Act, to encourage and support local governments to better connect their transportation systems to jobs and economic opportunities in the region.

Increasingly, he noted, low-income Americans are living in the suburbs rather than in city cores, leaving them further away from good-paying jobs and reliable public transportation.

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of low-income Americans living in suburbs surpassed those living in cities, with 6.5 million low-income Americans moving into the suburbs during those years.

Without transportation systems that connect people from where they live to good jobs and other economic opportunities, low-income Americans are increasingly becoming stranded without a pathway into the middle class.

Even in Portland, which consistently ranks in the top 15 cities for transportation coverage and job access, low-income Americans are still struggling to get the transportation they need, the senator said.

The Transportation, Access and Opportunity Act aims to reverse that trend by ensuring that transportation systems give Americans the connections they need so that their hard work will pay off.

“The American dream is that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be able to be a part of the middle class and provide a good living for your family,” said Merkley. “But if you have no way to get to a good job – or if you have to get up in the middle of the night and use multiple modes of transportation to get there – it’s going to be much more difficult to ever reach that dream.

"We need to make sure our transportation systems are connecting everyone to opportunities that will help them get ahead and provide a solid financial foundation for their families.”

Earlier Monday morning, Senator Merkley joined Cazmine on her 2.5-hour morning commute from her house to her job in Northeast Portland. During the commute, Cazmine and the senator had to use three buses and one Max light-rail train to get to her work.

This was an opportunity for the senator to see first-hand the challenges that Oregonians face getting to work and the need for improving the interconnectedness of our transportation system.

The bill would establish a national goal of achieving an interconnected transportation system that connects people to economic opportunities such as jobs, job training, education and other critical services such as health care and child care.

To achieve this goal, it would set up a pilot project to allow ten Metropolitan Planning Organizations with populations over 200,000 people to identify and implement approaches to improving their residents’ ability to connect to opportunities through the transportation network.

“As The Portland metropolitan region recovers from the devastating effects of the Great Recession more jobs are being created. However, new jobs don’t help people who can’t get to them. That’s why we have to keep looking for innovative ways to better connect Oregonians to economic and educational opportunities,” said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen.

It would also help transportation planners better plan for connecting Americans to economic opportunities by creating a data support program to gather and analyze data related to this challenge.

Currently, much of this data does not exist or isn’t used prominently in prioritizing investments, making it difficult for the U.S. Department of Transportation, states, and municipalities to maximize how their transportation resources connect residents to jobs and opportunities.