The Future of PDOT

When Commissioner Adams was assigned the Portland Office of Transportation (the real name for the bureau we affectionally call PDOT), he took charge of an agency with two key staffing vacancies.

The director position is open, vacated as part of the Mayor’s ‘Commissioner of Everything’ period. Perhaps equally important, the Division of Transportation Planning is also missing a head, following the retirement of Laurel Wentworth.

These two positions will be critical for shaping the next phase of Portland’s transportation history. In particular, the Planning chief sits on TPAC (at Metro) and helps form regional consensus (to be backed up politically by Commissioner Adams sitting on JPACT). So the impact of these hires extends to the whole region.

So let’s help Sam with his hiring process. What kind of qualities should he look for in these two key hires? Do you have individuals you want to nominate?

15 responses to “The Future of PDOT”

  1. Is there any connection between the openings and why there was no traffic impact study done by PDOT for South Waterfront?

  2. I don’t believe so. Laurel simply retired and the reporting in the press suggested that Brant and the Mayor parted company over management style issues.

    I have worked with and respect both of them and have not heard anything to suggest the linkage you’re asking about.

  3. Qualities:

    1. Answerable and responsible to all Portlander’s. Although Vera Katz accomplished some good things I began to feel, as did others, that she was focused in on Central City concerns: waterfront, North Macadam, moving I-5, covering I-405. How about the rest of the city? Don’t forget them.

    2. Integrity in awarding contracts. Having worked in construction for nearly thirty years, I have seen some incredibly apalling things. On transit projects I do not have so much knowledge as in other areas, but I have seen, repeatedly, that public works contracts are routinely abused. The standard saying is ” But the government has LOTS of money.” You would not believe the waste and inefficiency that posseses workers when it is on a government contract. So I have become very disillusioned at the cost of publicly financed projects; people seem to assume that it is going to be a gravy train; and I fear that this extra cost is virtually assumed into the bids. Having lived within the Portland city limits since 1972 I have wondered why certain streets are continually repaved and reworked and others see no maintenace at all. The first time I really noticed it was on SE 39th-it was repaved but I had never noticed any problems with it! Now there is some repaving going on at SE Powell from Ross Island Bridge eastward. Again there was no problem, that I ever observed. I realized that sometimes traffic improvements require repaving.

    Some people have said, “They repave on a schedule.” So what! Is there an actual need? On the other hand, there are actual, tire-damaging, front suspension-wrecking, steering-busting holes and bumps that never get tended to and a number of unpaved streets.

    3. Not subject to any special interests. Certainly the highway construction industry in this area suffered a big setback when Portlanders rejected Robert Moses’ and PDC’s 1990 Transprtation Plan. Today, I don’t think anyone would dispute that this was a good move. As a member of the Carpenter’s Union I realize that many more construction jobs would have been created on the proposed freeway system than in building the light rail lines, but we are generally happy with what took place.

    However, once an institution has been created it struggles to perpetuate itself. This may be good or bad. I must now question whether the LRT institution is really promoting the best interests of Portland. Cascade Policy Institute raises some provocative questions about LRT; but the gist of it is that federal taxes are subsidizing it more and more every year, when there may be more cost-effective alternatives. So I would plan LRT lines very carefully, considering develoment strategies, and not assume that what worked at one time and in one place will always be appropriate.

  4. I’ve heard that the majority of residents on unpaved streets want them to remain that way.

    As far as federal subsidies, we’ve got a history of subsidizing transit at 50% and highways at 90%… but this has been talked about before on the blog, methinks.

  5. Commissioner Adams needs to put some folks in charge at PDOT who will really “walk the talk” of a multi-modal transportation system…
    1. Maximize the efficiency of the existing roadway network by expanding the Options group…making it the centerpiece at PDOT and TravelSmart a City-wide effort.
    2. Complete the bike network…still no signs, too many gaps.
    3. Keep Streetcar moving to the Eastside, including Eastside neighborhoods in NE and SE.
    4. Demand Transit Oriented Development along Main Streets, Streetcar lines and at MAX stations. No more New Seasons bailouts where parking was allowed next to MAX platforms.
    5. Show some spine with the so-called Freight Advisory Committee…a stalking horse for more roads…by upping the City’s commitment to a freight strategy based on real options for drive alone commuters.
    Lenny Anderson, Swan Island TMA

  6. There are subsidies and then there are other kinds of subsidies. I am certainly no expert, but how much of highway construction is paid via user taxes (fuel tax)? How does this compare to mass transit? On the other hand, mass transit should enable us to do away with other costs of hydrocarbon cunsumption, e.g. “acid rain,” health problems, neighborhood infringement, among others.

    The reason I cited Cascade Policy Institute is because one can learn even from the critics.

  7. The truth is we have a history of subsidizing transit at 80 percent
    and highways at 10 percent. In 2003, transit received $31 billion in
    subsidies, highways just $15 billion, even though highways moved a
    hundred times as many passenger miles (and millions of times as many
    ton miles of freight).

  8. To answer my own question:

    I think we need a director who can work with the Commissioner and the Council to get more resources, which probably means some new revenue source, which needs to go to both maintenace and alternative modes.

    For the planning chief, we need a visionary who can also be an evangelist at the regional table.

  9. Yes, we don’t have enough bureacrats working full time to find new ways to extract more revenue from the tax payers.
    And everything they are doing is working fine they just need more money.
    How fresh

  10. Ben, we’re facing a situation in which the legislature has not raised the gas tax to keep up with inflation in more than a decade. And that’s the source for maintenance dollars. It’s not a question of new revenue, but making sure the revenue keeps pace with the usage it’s intended to support.

  11. So let’s agree that VMT is a reasonable metric for the maintenance requirements for streets and roads. Even if gas tax revenue grew proportiantly to VMT (it hasn’t because vehicles have gotten somewhat more fuel efficient overall – even if not as much as we might like), you would also need to apply an increase factor for inflation, because a dollar doesn’t buy what it did in 1991, which is what the legislature hasn’t done.

  12. VMT is not a reasonable metric for maintenance. Road damage is caused by axle weight and studded tires. Rubber studdless tires have a negligible effect on damage.
    You can call AAA and get a copy of our weight-mile system which goes into detail.

    The referenced table has a column for inflation.
    If you look at the table, these things would be at your finger-tips.
    Revenue up 134% CPI up 59%

    Do you have the impression that people who compile this data aren’t aware, fail to consider or don’t bother with the elementary things you are raising?

    You seem to have bad case of the yabuts

  13. In the above discussion, we’re talking about two different types of subsidies: user subsidy (what others were talking about) and project subsidy (what I was referencing).

    For state and local government decision-makers, the incentive is to build more highways, as they only have to spend 10% of the cost from their budget. That sort of deal doesn’t foster thoughtful decision-making.

  14. Thanks, Ben, for your comments.

    You are right that gas tax revenues rise as VMTs rise. But as I suggested in the thread about the TPR, both inflation and rising average fuel efficiency have eroded the value of those gas tax revenues.

    I’ll illustrate the point with a simplified example:

    Suppose that 10 years ago there was just one driver in Oregon who drove 10,000 miles per year, getting 20 miles to the gallon and paying 25 cents per gallon in gas tax. So each year the driver used 500 gallons of gas and paid $125 in gas taxes.

    And suppose that today the same driver is driving more, say, 12,000 miles per year, is now getting 25 miles to the gallon but is still paying just 25 cents per gallon in gas tax. So now each year the driver is using only 480 gallons of gas and paying only $120 in gas taxes. Not only that, but due to inflation that $120 today buys only as much as $94 dollars bought 10 years ago.

    In brief, even though the amount of driving has gone up by 20% over the last decade, the total revenues have actually decreased by 25% in real dollars.

    And this is the problem. People feel like they are paying more at the pump because total gas prices have been increasing. But the amount available to actually fix and build roads is going down relative to how much driving is occurring. (One might wonder where the rest of the money paid for gas is going, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion forum.)

    Ben, you are right that when you use the actual numbers the total gas tax revenues have increased, even accounting for inflation. But it is also true that there are a lot more people in Oregon than there were before and that each of them is driving, on average, somewhat more than they did before.

    VMT actually is a fairly good way to think about total road costs. You are right that there are other factors to consider, such as number of axles, gross weight and so on. But all that complexity merely confuses the basic point. All other things being equal, more driving means more lane miles are needed (raising the cost of building roads) and more pavement will wear down (increasing the cost of maintaining roads).

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