Portland's Metro Shows How Much It Cares about Commuters

by Randal O'Toole
The Thoreau Institute


Metro, Portland's regional planning agency, says in its regional transportation plan that Portland-area commuters can expect to waste more that four times as many hours sitting in traffic in 2020 as they did in 1997. No wonder: Metro's plan calls for spending nearly all of the region's transportation dollars on things other than road-capacity improvements.

On June 19, the Metro council voted to spend $54.2 million in federal funds during 2006-2007 on the following transportation improvements:

Bike/trail projects $1.7 million
Boulevard improvements 4.0 million
Green streets improvements 1.2 million
Freight projects 6.0 million
Planning programs 2.4 million
Pedestrian improvements 3.3 million
Road modernization 5.3 million
Road reconstruction 2.5 million

Regional transportation options
3.0 million

Transit-oriented development
4.0 million
Transit improvements 20.8 million

How much of these funding will actually increase road capacities and relieve congestion? No more, and probably less, than $7.3 million, or less than 14 percent of the total.

* "Boulevard improvements" consist of converting four- to six-lane arterials into three- to four-and-one-half lane arterials (a half lane is, for example, an intermittent left-turn lane);
* Green streets improvements similarly consist of reducing capacities on two-lane collectors through various traffic calming measures;
* Regional transportation options are programs designed to discourage driving and encourage transit;
* Road reconstruction consists of repair work that may include capacity reductions through traffic calming but no capacity increases;
* Transit-oriented developments, transit, bike/trail, pedestrian, and planning projects speak for themselves.

This leaves "Freight" and "Road Modernization." Of the freight funding approved, $3 million is for studies and data collection, $1 million is for "town center pedestrian improvements," and $2 million is for preliminary engineering work. Only the last $2 million might be counted toward "capacity improvements," but of course it will not itself increase capacities.

The road modernization funding consists of four projects, mostly on suburban collector roads. Averaging less than $1.3 million each, these projects will do little to ease congestion in the Portland area.

Metro is squandering much of the rest of the funds on projects that will do more to increase congestion than reduce it.
* The boulevarding and other traffic-calming measures are specifically designed to increase congestion;
* The $4 million in subsidies to transit-oriented developments
(actually $6 million since $2 million are included in transit) will concentrate people, and their automobiles, in corridors that are already heavily congested;
* Most of the transit money is going for a commuter rail project that will carry few people but which may frequently block road crossings.

All of these projects are funded out of federal gasoline taxes and other highway user fees.

So, if you are a Portlander, and someone says Metro cares about congestion, you can answer, "Yes, they care so much they want to make more of it." If you live elsewhere and someone says your city should follow Portland's example, you can say, "No, thank you, we have enough congestion already."

Randal O'Toole
The Thoreau Institute

If you do not already have your copy of The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, order it now for only $14.95 plus $4 shipping in the U.S. ($7 in Canada and Mexico, $9 elsewhere). You can order by responding to this email with your name and address; we will send you the book with an invoice. For more information, see http://www.ti.org/va.html.

Most back issues of Vanishing Automobile updates are posted at http://www.ti.org/vaupdates.html. Also see
http://www.ti.org/urban.html for articles and op eds and http://www.ti.org/urbanmobility.html for other analyses of urban issues.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site