By Don MacGillivray
Portland has serious transportation issues growing in ways that concern everyone, especially commuters. The cost of traffic congestion averages $1,200 annually in wasted time and fuel for American drivers. This adds up to billions in losses for the national economy. Business as usual will not solve this problem.
New on the scene is Business for a Better Portland (BBP). Formed in 2016, they expect to play a major role in local politics by gathering together businesses that do not have strong voice.
Even though Portland Business Alliance has been the primary voice of business in Portland for a very long time, governmental actions that are needed are not happening fast enough. There are situations new to everyone and the problems seem to defy solution.
Recently BBP held a general meeting about the future of transportation in Portland as a way to find out what is going on from those that are knowledgeable about the subject and looking for responsible solutions.
There is a call for a new vision regarding transportation as much concern is being expressed over the inaction regarding the current situation. Many believe the Portland region is falling behind on duties to improve our transportation infrastructure.
In previous years, Oregon was a leader in these areas. The defeat of the Mount Hood freeway and the building of the MAX Light Rail system gave Portland a national reputation for success. Our mayor at the time went on to be the United States Secretary of Transportation.
Times have changed. No longer does the federal government subsidize infrastructure such as transportation, housing, and major facilities like it did in the 1970s.
In a growing city with congested roadways, how can Portland better manage these situations? The region is not able to agree on a vision. Often the many interests won’t come together because of their own priorities.
To do things piecemeal won’t work. A large integrated plan must be created that is supported by the collective community interests.
The city has plenty of plans. The question is whether all these plans make a coherent system that will provide what is needed. What is needed is a way for everyone to get some of what they need and for transportation to function better for everyone.
Portland has a one billion dollar backlog of needed road maintenance and while this is happening, the city is implementing the Vision Zero project to end all traffic fatalities. High on everyone’s priority list is improving traffic flow in Portland, especially during morning and evening rush hours.
With the current funding situation, stringent priorities must be made and large-scale projects are not realistic. The business community must be a leader in finding solutions and this means making hard decisions that will not please everyone or perhaps anyone at all.
Large projects have winners and losers and the opponents’ acrimony is louder than the proponents’ approval. There needs to be common consent over a larger picture that will provide necessary funding and allow the work to progress out without objections.
So until there is a clear vision, the situation will not see the improvement everyone wants. The vision needs to be a description of a systemic change that will address most if not all the issues. After all transportation is one of the few public functions that unites everyone.
Many believe that widening roadways is the answer, but new roads will bring the cars that avoided congestion, making a newly widened road as clogged as ever. About 25 percent of the cars on clogged roadways during rush hour are not commuters, but people doing their everyday errands and shopping.
Major highway projects not only are very expensive, but they can take ten years or more to build and cause major disruptions during their construction. The I-5 Columbia Crossing is a good example.
The expense of widening freeways would be horrific. Another example of this is the I-5 – Rose Quarter project expected to cost nearly half a billion dollars.
If building wider roads won’t solve it, what will? With Portland’s population expecting to double over the next thirty years, there will be 20,000 new residents arriving in each of those years.
The only serious alternative seems to be “value pricing” or more commonly know as “congestion pricing”; a form of paying for road use. It allows incremental changes to be paid for modestly and improves the management of excessive traffic volume.
This has worked in many places around the United States and around the world. In Singapore congestion declined by 45 percent and in London it was reduced by 30 percent. This reduces automotive carbon emissions by 20 percent and allows us to continue to meet our Climate Action Plan goals.
This may be the only solution that can realistically solve the congestion problem and it will do it better for less money than any other way.
The general meeting of the new Business for a Better Portland organization was a huge success. They are likely to lead the city toward making transportation changes required for the City of Portland to prosper.
Prior to the May election, six weeks from now, a forum about local transportation issues will take place sponsored by OPAL, the Community Cycling Center, Oregon Walks, the Street Trust and Young Professionals for Transportation.
City Council candidates Stuart Emmons, Jo Ann Hardesty, Loretta Smith, Andrea Valderrama, and Felica Williams are all running for Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s position in charge of transportation.
The transportation forum is scheduled for Thursday, April 5 at 6 pm with a moderated panel discussion followed by questions from the audience. Held at the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall at 1945 NW Quimby St., it should be a lively event.