Transportation and Economic Development

In today’s tight fiscal environment, governments are seeking ways to generate “economic development” through transportation projects. Many of the flexible funding and state-generated transportation finance programs now focus on economics.

This is a shift. Transportation used to be measured in capacity and funding went to increase movement of cars. In the 1990’s, Portlander’s talked about livability and funded plans and projects to promote that end. Now it’s all economic development.

A major problem is that very little research exists on the topic of economic impacts of transportation investments. More notably, public officials and transportation engineers have no clue where to best place $1 of public transportation dollars to best leverage Return on Investment (ROI) from the private sector.

My favorite transportation project is the removal of the Lovejoy Ramp of the Broadway Bridge. For $20 million this project removed a local truck bridge to open up the entire North Pearl District to over $1 billion in new construction investment. This project used existing utilities and infrastructure to create a huge local economic surge. The emerging South Waterfront is another area, with over $1 billion of planned development on less than $100 million of public investment, including Streetcar.

Perhaps focusing on ROI and Economic Development is not so bad for alternative mode advocates. Consider that foot traffic, not car traffic, is the key to retail business and proximity advantages provided by clustered business districts.

What’s your opinion? Do you have any insight on the hazy issues of ROI and Economic Development? Do you have a favorite project that supports my supposition of alternative mode projects being good for the economy or dare you beg to differ?

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