By Don MacGillivray

Gov. Kate Brown’s signed the new state $5.3 billion road-and-bridge funding bill that will provide “congestion relief” at The Rose Quarter, where the state plans a $450 million project adding lanes to I-5 to reconstruct the I-84 interchange, funded in part by new tolls authorized by the bill.

The project will conduct planning, engineering, and environmental studies for the improvements on the connection between I-84 and I-5, as well as the access to the Lloyd District.

It will be necessary to acquire additional right-of-ways to begin construction of the various safety and operational improvements at a cost of $450 million.

The “No More Freeways” coalition made up of OPAL (Organizing People/Activating Leaders), Environmental Justice Oregon, the Community Cycling Center, Neighbors for Clean Air, the NAACP, and the Audubon Society believe this is the wrong project at the wrong time.

They believe that freeway expansions won’t solve the congestion problems and will not significantly improve traffic safety. It would, however, provide excessively costly infrastructure that is both outdated and unnecessary. Even city staffers agree that the benefits will not be worth the cost.

These advocates believe this major project should not be initiated until “road pricing” is implemented and the results evaluated. Road pricing has the potential to solve many of Portland’s transportation issues without costly road improvements.

Road pricing is another term for congestion pricing which is, in effect, a road toll. Conservatives have long been against this concept simply because it is a new tax, but there needs to be more funding for transportation.

Congestion pricing not only provides needed funding, but it encourages fewer cars to use the roads.

One of the big arguments against congestion pricing is that it is unfair to the poor and low income citizens. Of course this is true, but when you consider that the roads are free then one realizes that this encourages their excessive use.

It is the middle and upper income citizens that are most likely to take advantage of this free commodity. Those that need to use the roads will do so even if there is a charge. Others that can do without a needless trip may decide to bundle their trips together.

Roads have a carrying capacity and they work fine until that capacity is reached. A few more cars can cause severe congestion and as the use increases, traffic becomes slower. Congestion pricing will encourage use at an appropriate level and there are a number of ways to reduce the cost to those that can’t afford the fees such as lanes that are free or times when they are free.

When we consider the extreme cost of new road projects and their repair, it seems that paying for their use may be a better option than trying to expand them.

The cost of the land adjoining existing freeways as well the cost of construction are exorbitant. How many government or private sector commodities are based on free use and access?

London, Stockholm, Milan, and Singapore all have successfully used this method of reducing congestion and raising money for road maintenance and repair.

Commission Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, is in favor of congestion pricing. He clearly states that before the I-5 / I-84 project breaks ground, this new proposal should be evaluated for its impact on congestion and its environment effects.

In fact, the recently passed Oregon House Bill 2017 state transportation funding package for the I-5/I-84 project, mandates that value pricing be implemented as part of this inner NE project.

People probably don’t realize that the yearly cost of operating a new automobile is, on average, almost $8,500 or just over $700 per month according to the American Automobile Association.

This includes: depreciation, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and fuel costs. Trucks are the most expensive and small cars are less expensive. Electric cars cost more, but over time they are a better investment.

Highway congestion adds significantly to the carbon emissions. Cars idling or traveling at low speeds pollute more. Adding more lanes to overcrowded highways only stimulate an increase in driving without reducing congestion.

In California, environmental concerns with car usage are undergoing great changes in regulations, subsidies, and performance standards. This involves the decarbonization of automobiles.

Their gross domestic product has grown by nearly $5,000 per person, double the national average, while carbon emissions have dropped by 12 percent per-capita.

This has created an employment bonanza. For every job lost in the fossil fuel industry 8.5 jobs have been created in the field of renewable energy. The gas guzzler will become a thing of the past and it will be replaced by electric cars. Soon this reality will migrate to other states like Oregon.

California’s largest city, Los Angeles, is struggling with their Vision Zero attempt to eliminate all traffic deaths. Los Angeles has the highest number of traffic deaths in the United States, double that of New York City. They hope to end road deaths in eight years.

The major means will be to lower traffic speeds by redesigning roadways. Their traffic deaths cost the city $300 million a year.

Bump outs on city streets and more traffic enforcement by police will be helpful in achieving this goal.