May 24, 2006
Balancing Regional Transportation Outcomes, Priorities, and Costs
An important component of Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan update is to plan for outcomes, not just develop a project list. Metro’s Discussion Draft 2035 RTP Update Work Program states:
The clear desire is to move away from a plan that is a compilation of locally desired projects with an unfunded cost, to one that focuses on delivering specific results (e.g., outcomes) that citizens value (e.g., priorities) at a price they are willing to pay.
Will Metro be able to do this? Not only is this politically difficult – every jurisdiction and modal advocate wants their project – but it may not be realistic – the ability to post outcomes might not match up with the public’s priorities and willingness to pay.
Consider this very realistic scenario, public opinion research shows that people want:
- To move freely around the region;
- Without congestion; and
- At virtually no additional cost.
No implementation strategy could meet the public’s desires and willingness to pay. The public would have to pay a lot more, double or triple current levels, in order to scratch the surface of congestion in order to meet these desired outcomes.
What should Metro do? I believe that Metro will have to objectively look at the strength of the public’s desires and match them with certain price tags or other regulatory / programmatic approaches. If the public really, really, really wants no traffic Metro will have to create scenarios that could post these results. Metro should analyze innovative and cost-effective techniques that we don’t currently use and move past just lane construction. Of course these tools might be unpopular with the public; what a quagmire.
Metro should also get behind funding approaches that leverage public investments the furthest. For example, due to the way ODOT funds its regions, Metro should push for regional bond measures and pricing tool over state tax increases. Metro should leverage outside sources such as federal monies; in the past this has made light rail and transit a good deal because the bulk of these funds flow right from the USDOT to Metro or the transit agencies. Metro should also analyze how different types of transportation investments create other economic and development investments that could ease traffic congestion.
What are your ideas, how will Metro solve this inevitable rift of public desire, project effectiveness, and willingness to pay?
May 24, 2006 10:20 AM
This is my suggestion:
widen the sidewalks, because they ain't gonna be drivin'!
I can't really think of any other 'modal transportation system' that can have infinite capacity without serious congestion.
Other than that, I'm sure Metro could draft up a multi-trillion dollar 'super freeway plan' wherein all streets & roads in the Metro area are replaced by 34 lane freeways. Then they could average it out to the average taxpayer (ie, $1 million per house/year?)
May 24, 2006 10:21 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
I think the "public' is smarter than given credit for. I think they can perceive that some projects, pushed by a segment of the areas' residents can become too much of a speciaized, vested interest. The bottom line is that if they see one project becoming overly expensive--or even seeming to be so-- they are going to scream "Why???" Its comparable to seeing outrageous lawsuit awards and settlements.
I'm not going to get more specific; I have already done so frequently on this blog. But I do know that any transportation solution that starts to become an institution--where bureaucracies are formed, where career interests are dependent, where contracts become routine or unions have an interest--can become a vested interest. We need to have a balance--I am always favorable to alternative transportation--but I don't think we will ever get away from the mixture of solutions that have been working for the last few decades. We need to keep that mixture cost-effective and not let one lobby dictate the policy.
May 24, 2006 4:28 PM
I am starting to agree more and more with the Libertarians on this one. I say privatize all transportation, roads, rails, MAX, bus, etc. and allow them to actually compete with each other. give the tax money back to the tax-payer and allow him or her to choose where to spend their transportation dollars, on highway tolls, or on transit with higher fares than we have today. Along with this needs to be the elimination of any tax incentives to businesses and city codes to provide parking or alternative transportation.
I know Adron and others have been saying this for a while and a lot of people have exclaimed that transit shouldn't be subsidized, but subsidizing one (roads) and not the other (transit) would just kill the other. (And don't tell me roads are not subsidized). If we're not going to do it all, we might as well not bother doing any of it.
PS. To any Libertarians out there: Is there a way to privatize local city streets? Doesn't seem possible to me, but I've heard it suggested.
May 24, 2006 5:44 PM
Michael Wilson Says:
Isaac I don't know if I qualify as a Libertarian, or not, but yes you can privatize the streets.
The importnat question is, I believe, do you want to "privatize" them so that they can be closed at the desire of the owners. If that is the case then it happens frequently.
There are variations on the idea though. In Houston the property line extends to the center of the street. The government just maintains the
road surface. Underneath much of downtown houston is an extensive tunnel system, which includes shops, and businesses, some cafes, as I recall, and people walk thru the system to get to the other side of the street, or uptown without going out into the HOT SUN. And it is misery in Houston in the summer, the sun that is.
You can alys contract out the maintainance of the roads to private concerns. We have an extensive history of private companied building roads in America, from a good deal of industrial land in and around Chicago as well as parts of Kansas City, to a long hisory of privately maintained toll roads.
May I suggest that you get a copy of the book "The Voluntary City" from the Independent Institute. It is a history ofhowvluntary groups handled many of the services we now expect from government.
Pardon the typos. Something is wrong with my computer.
May 24, 2006 5:52 PM
Michael Wilson Says:
Here is a piece on the Houston Tunnel, which I understand cannot be built in most cities because of the way proerty lines and the streets are set up. A lawyer would be better at answering that though. Just Google Houston Tunnel for more info.
"Where Is the Tunnel?
Set about twenty feet below Houston's downtown street system, today's seven-mile Tunnel is a series of underground passageways which, with above-ground skywalks, link office towers to hotels, banks, corporate and government offices, restaurants, retail stores, and the Theater District. Only one building, Wells Fargo Plaza, offers direct access from the street to the Tunnel; otherwise, you must enter the Tunnel from street-level stairs, escalators, or elevators located inside a building connected to the Tunnel. Most of the Tunnel is not owned by the City of Houston but by building property owners who lease space in their buildings' lower levels to retailers. Costing up to $15,000 per linear foot to build, links to the Tunnel are an enormous advantage when leasing office space. In fact, many property owners decorate their sections of the Tunnel with unique recessed lighting, display windows, and art, so you can usually tell when you are leaving one building for another just by noticing the change in Tunnel decor.
What's In the Tunnel?
Just about every service - with the exception of a major supermarket - is available via the Tunnel. In addition to seven major food courts, you will find dry cleaners, shoe repair shops, sandwich shops, quality restaurants, snack bars, gift shops, specialty shops, clothing boutiques, copy and printing services, post offices, express mail services, banks, flower shops, dentists, doctors, clinics, drug stores, optometrists, eyeglass centers, beauty salons, and barber shops. The Tunnel is also connected to the Theater District's performance halls and Bayou Place, as well as to downtown's only shopping mall, Shops at Houston Center. For a current Tunnel map and more information about the shops and services in the Tunnel and downtown Houston, check out www.houstondowntown.com."
May 24, 2006 6:18 PM
Michael Wilson Says:
For Isaac and others who may wish to pursue
information of "private streets" here is a book from the Independent Institute. Soft cover is $29.95 and hope I got the URL thingy right.
Street Smart examines private, market-based
alternatives for road services, both in theory and
practice. The book explores at least four such
possible directions for private services,
including testing and licensing vehicles and
drivers; management of government-owned road
facilities; franchising; and outright private
ownership. The book further traces the history of
private roads in Great Britain and the United
States and examines contemporary examples of
entrepreneurial innovation in road pricing,
privatization, and marketization in environs as
diverse as Singapore, California, Ghana, Norway,
The main obstacle to private road services rests
with political classes reluctant to give up their
lucrative sources of power, wealth and influence
through current government road monopolies.
However, those seeking responsive road services
determined by the free interplay of consumers and
private suppliers will find Street Smart making a
powerful and authoritative case for the need for
change and provides essential understanding of the
complex issues involved.
May 25, 2006 8:51 AM
Ross Williams Says:
There is nothing particularly unique about Houston in having tunnels between buildings. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis have "skyways" that run for miles through private buildings in their downtowns connecting almost every building to every other building on the second story. In some places these are augmented by tunnels.
As for the idea of private streets, outside of libertarian fantasies, there have not even been realistic proposals for private competitive transit. John Charles with the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute was reduced to proposing government sponosored monopolies on transit stops to resolve the problem of competitive transit operating along the same routes.
The fact is that transportation is a public service whether it is provided by private operators under government sponsorship or directly by government agencies. There may be parts of the system that work better with more private operators participating or where parts are more open to competition, but an entirely privatized system where decisions are vetted by choices made in a marketplace is pure fantasy.
May 25, 2006 10:11 AM
Lenny Anderson Says:
Let's see, PGE, a private utility, has the dirtiest powerplant in the region, which dumps all sorts of garbage into so called pristine wilderness areas of three states. It also just increased salaries for management by 60%.
No, I don't think I want the private sector mucking up our transportation system. Indeed I look forward to public ownership of Portland's electrial grid.
Now back to Metro's RTP Update.
My concern is that this will turn into a public relations campaign for more money. Already the hand wringing has begun with the "Cost of Congestion" study...a questionable piece of work that is cited repeatedly.
We should welcome and be energized by the one million new residents expected in the coming decade or so...we need their ideas, vision and outside perspective.
The RTP should be guided by the following:
*recognize the success of the multi-modal strategy the region has fitfully adopted since the mid-70's.
*make due with the resources we have, increasing efficiency of system.
*insure environmental sustainability...improving air quality, water quality; protecting wild and human communities.
*allow land use to drive tranportation planning
*do not limit economic development analysis to freight movement issues...some of the largest traded sector employers do not ship much at all into or out of Portland. "Talent" may well be more critical to our economy than moving things.
May 25, 2006 10:45 AM
Scott Bricker Says:
On privatization – ODOT is actually looking at three private-public toll roads. One problem is that the corporate interests will require a certain return, or revenue stream. This will impact land use and the 2040 vision, it will also negatively impact the ability to manage a system for congestion rather than required revenue levels.
At today’s JPACT Finance committee there was talk about increasing gas taxes by $.35 - $.55 per gallon for 20 years to raise revenue to cover a small number of mega projects. Wow!
The JPACT group is avoiding the revenue vs. operations debate. I believe that we must identify mobility / congestion goals and figure out how to best get there. Susie Lahsene, Port or Portland, talked about how a company would take stock of its current assets and prioritize managing it efficiently; they would not just build $4 billion of new infrastructure.
The management discussion is being skirted for political discussions and legislative strategies to get more money. And, because this discussion is being skirted we really don’t know what the operational benefits from raising the gas tax $.50/gallon are.
The current discussion is stuck in the late 1950’s, the Eisenhower Highway Program era. We need to develop a new paradigm. No metro area has built its way out of congestion. Let’s hope the New Look and the RTP update gets us there.
May 25, 2006 2:24 PM
Lenny Anderson Says:
Actually, the new paradigm is in the energy sector where conservation is the first option, with renewable capacity second and massive powerplants a distant third.
Its been around since the 70's, but can't seem to gain traction in the transportation sector, at least when the public trough is involved.
Hmmm, if half of a JPACT $4Billion fantasy package went to remove the Eastbank freeway and bury the UPRR mainline (I think $4B of WA's $9B gas tax increase is for replacement of the Alaska Way viaduct), I'd be tempted.
Seriously, all the hand wringing around freight is aimed at getting the public to buy in on some gas tax increase. Beware!
May 26, 2006 11:35 PM
Ray Whitford Says:
Here Here Lenny! If the Eastbank Freeway (underground to the east) and the UPRR Mainline (underground one block east?) were moved for around $2 Billion, I would also think people would understand the reasoning.
Reclaim the Eastbank for people and support the CEID to envision an industrial live/work community.
Toll all the freeways and drop the local speeds to 40mph and 20mph. Intercity state highways are the only exemptions. Start taxing the most energy inefficient.
But use the funds to make the Freeways safer and get moving on true High Speed Rail and the Applegate Trail along the I5 Corridor. We should have three inter-woven systems (roads, trails, and rails) that can get anyone from the ocean to the mountains within one of the systems. And travel from Astoria to Ashland within one of the systems. Currently only roads allow this movement.
May 27, 2006 9:04 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
Where do we get a figure of $2 billion to relocate those major routes? Isn't this part of a major project that also gets rid of the Marquam bridge, replacing it with a tunnel, I presume, and then reroutes Amtrak as well? Would I-405 be affected in the process?
Let's get a true estimate. Simply acquiring the land alone, on both sides of the Willamette would be 2 billion. Then you have to get UP to be interested in the project. The Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle (4 billion you say)is less than three miles long. And when do costs remain at their projections?
May 27, 2006 1:57 PM
Ross Williams Says:
I think if you just got rid of the east bank freeway, rather than try to move it, you would actually make money from the waterfront real estate you would have when you were done. That is not likely to happen, but it is feasible.
The real problem is getting the railroad's support and burying its track. I wonder if a "tunnel in place" that builds up land over the track rather than moving and burying it wouldn't be more feasible.
I doubt the region is going to find the money to tunnel I5 under the river with all its other transportation needs.