Population Growth and Regional Traffic

Yesterday’s Oregonian had a good front page story on traffic, capturing the essence of the issues facing this region and others: roads filling up as population and rates of car ownership increase along with the decline of major national investment in new transportation infrastructure.

Whether you think these trends are “good” or “bad” the key to smart, sustainable decisions is recognizing that this is the new reality. People will continue to move to large urban areas, mostly on the two coasts (the southern coast shouldn’t be so attractive one hopes after two devastating hurricanes). Most transportation tax revenues will go to maintaining an aging system rather than building new.

As Mr. Dylan said, “The times they are a’changing.” Our responsibility is to see these changes clearly and be willing to decide to do things differently in response. The goals remain the same: getting people, jobs and stuff together efficiently and safely–its the means that must change.

Currently, work is underway to update the Oregon Transportation Plan, being led by Oregon Transportation Commission member, Gail Achterman. A broad steering committee, with support from an array of technical experts, has been working for over a year transforming what is mainly a departmental workplan into a strategic plan for the state, laying out threats and opportunities for enhancing the economy and protecting our quality of life focusing on the issue of transportation. The full Commission will hear and refer the draft OTP out to the public for comment in November.

A key conclusion of this work is that we need to pay much more attention to how our transportation system, especially roads, is used to maximize our huge investment. A main promoter of this idea is Duncan Wyse, representing the Oregon Business Council.

In a refreshing change from the common theme of government failure coming from many in the business community, Mr. Wyse has pushed the very business-like idea of wringing more out of what we already have before buying more, very expensive facilities. In a strange confluence of interests, we have libertarians like John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, business interests and environmentalists calling for tolling roads as a way to increase efficiency and save money.

Are we at that tipping point? Will $3 a gallon gas, anti-tax and anti-sprawl attitudes and good business sense combine to give us a new paradigm for transportation? Stay tuned.

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