Archive | January, 2006

Setting Course for the 22nd Century

Metro is just beginning an update of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).

Every four years, Metro is required to update our transportation plan to comply with state and federal planning requirements. I’m excited to announce that this update will be done in a different way than past updates, and, hopefully, give us some direction out of a future increasingly congested, consumptive of time, energy and dollars

Instead of providing a long (and unfunded) list of the transportation projects based on traffic projections, which past updates have done without regard for whether we can pay for them, this RTP update will ask you what your transportation priorities are and what are you willing to pay for. What is more frustrating than a long shopping list and an empty wallet?

You may have read stories in the newspapers about a new report that found congestion in the region negatively affects businesses and residents in the region and statewide. This report, entitled “The Cost of Congestion to the Economy of the Portland Region,” found that the congestion will only get worse as more people move to the region unless we either raise significant new revenues for more highways or adopt new strategies such as congestion pricing or beefing up non-auto choices.

Because it will start with the fact of limited resources, this RTP update will force us, as a region, to determine how much we are willing to invest in improving our regional transportation systems or open the conversation on trying new approaches that achieve our goals.

What are some of these promising new approaches? Some are familiar, like using land use to ensure that there are employment, stores and schools located closely to homes and others are more adventurous, like tolling the freeway system to manage traffic and using cell phones and PDA’s to set up “smart” carpooling. As a short feature in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine lays out, “controlling” congestion finally being recognized as impossible. Indeed, the places with the most congestion in the country have spent the most on highways (the top 5: Los Angeles area, San Francisco, DC area, Atlanta and Houston).

Other new trends that the new RTP will have to address in addition to funding constraints are rising oil prices, continued high population growth and implementing an updated 50 year land use plan. In addition, it will also be a good time to examine and update regional decision making and governance (e.g., why does Multnomah County have responsibility for 5 of the 12 bridges across the Willamette River? (the rest are ODOT but one. Can you guess which?)

Over the next few months,we will be ironing out the details of this update, including a public involvement plan. This update will be closely coordinated with the work that we are doing with the 2040 New Look and by 2008 we will have a new 2035 RTP incorporating new policy direction stemming from the 2040 New Look. But I expect there to be lots of interesting output during the coming year, as well. I urge you to stay tuned for next steps by checking out the RTP web page or by calling call Regional Transportation Planning at (503) 797-1839 or send e-mail to The hearing impaired can call (503) 797-1804.

The Oregon Business Plan and Transportation

Today was the big Oregon Business Plan Summit. Besides a fun session in which Harvard’s Michael Porter analyzed the plan (more on his presentation in another post), of course I immediately went to the transportation section of the plan. Beyond the predictable priorities like the Columbia Crossing, there were some encouragingly progressive ideas:

Yesterday was the big Oregon Business Plan Summit. Besides a fun session in which Harvard’s Michael Porter analyzed the plan (more on his presentation in another post), of course I immediately went to the transportation section of the plan. Beyond the predictable priorities like the Columbia Crossing, there were some encouragingly progressive ideas:

  • Celebration of the “Connect Oregon” package of non-road multi-modal projects passed by the last legislative session.
  • A call for accelerated implementation of congestion management tools, including ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) tools.
  • A call for examination of a combination of mileage taxes and congestion pricing as an alternative revenue system:

    “Oregon was the first state to adopt the gas tax. We should set a goal to be the first state to replace it with a modern system for revenue collection.”

I like the attitude!

Thoughts on the Regional Business Plan, released at the summit, tomorrow.

Congestion = Prosperity?

Rex passes along the following link from yesterday’s NY Times Magazine: The Way We Live Now: Speed Bump

While talking about tolling as the increasing preferred approach to deal with congestion, it suggests this newly emerging perspective:

The overarching new credo is that gridlock shouldn’t be conceived of as a problem or a mark of social failure. According to authorities like Anthony Downs at the Brookings Institution, the author of “Stuck in Traffic” and “Still Stuck in Traffic,” a bumper-to-bumper crop of cars is a byproduct of the very prosperity, mobility and individual flexibility modern citizens value: where traffic is at a standstill, it generally means business is humming. The best we can do is try to keep the traffic jams from growing exponentially worse, and give those who are in a real hurry the chance to buy out of them.

My Commute: A New Year’s Resolution

Hi, I’m Willow, and I write a blog for Urban Honking called perfect heart. Jessica asked if I would do an entry here about one of my New Years resolutions.

This is actually a resolution I set for 2005, and didn’t even come close to accomplishing, so I put it at the top of my 2006 list and went real public with it, in hopes that I’ll do a better job this year.

My goal is to have one drive-free day a week. I know that seems really little and manageable, but it’s actually a lot tougher than I anticipated. I live in North Portland, and I work as a teacher in Beaverton and go to graduate school at Lewis & Clark in SW. I’m not a strong biker, especially when it’s raining, and I always have lots and lots of stuff to cart between work, home and school. I do carpool every day, but the people I carpool with live in NW, so I have to drive over there every morning no matter which one of us does the main drive.

I could take the Max or the bus, but the stops are a little too far to walk with all of my supplies, and then we’re back to the me-not-being-a-strong-biker issue. So basically weekdays are out, for now. Once grad school is over I’ll look for a new job, and hopefully I can find one that is more convenient for alternative transportation.
I’m willing to change neighborhoods too, next year, if it means I can drive less.

So, yeah. All of that stuff means that if I want to do a drive free day, it has to be on a weekend. I know I can do it if I get more organized. If I plan to do my grocery shopping and banking and other errands on Saturday, for instance, I can keep my motor off on Sunday.

I tried this last year, as I mentioned, and I completely failed. In the winter the weather made me lazy, so I put off my goal until the summer. And I definitely drove a lot less in the summer, but there were very few days when I didn’t drive at all, and those days were incidental, not intentional. Then Fall came, and Winter, and I put my bike in the basement, and now I’m driving more again. But I want to be better!

I’m hoping that going public with this goal will help me be more motivated. Last year I didn’t really tell anyone that I had made this plan, because I didn’t want to seem wimpy. This year all of my friends know that I’ve set this goal, and they are being very supportive and helpful. Jessica and I were talking the other night about asking people to hold you accountable for things, and how awesome that can be. I’ve been driving a lot less since I told my friends about my goal. But today marks the end of the first week of 2006, and I am sad to report that I have driven at least once every day.

Today it was suggested to me that I change the wording of my goal. I could say that I want to drive 20% less in 2006 than I did in 2005. I could keep a log of where I drove and why, and also record the times I chose not to drive, and what I did instead. Even though that’s a lot of work, I think it might be more attainable. There are definitely ways I could trim off a little bit of driving each day, and making charts is fun.

Ultimately, I just want to feel like I’m moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, even if I’m moving awfully slow. For the environment, for foreign relations, and for my pocketbook I want to lessen my reliance on the ol’ Volvo wagon. I like the idea of one drive free day, because then next year my goal could be 2 drive free days, and then 3 and 4 and 5 and 6, and who knows? maybe one of these days I’ll get rid of Volvo the Volcano altogether. That would make me pretty happy.

In the meantime, if you see me at the Fresh Pot on a Sunday morning, ask me how I got there. And feel free to scold me if I tell you I drove. Because really, I know better.

Updated: A Pain the Bridge


This weekend’s closure has been postponded due to the weather, and tentatively rescheduled to next weekend

For those of us who just finally got that sense of relief that two years of maintenance on the Broadway Bridge are over (or who suffered through the projects on the Hawthorne or Ross Island bridges before), here we go again. The press release for several years of work on the Burnside Bridge follows.

This raises a couple of questions in my mind:

1) Is the stretched out process of doing the work while keeping some travel lanes open really worth it? I know the County has done good community outreach on this question, but I still have to wonder…

2) The drain on Multnomah County to keep the Willamette bridges in good condition is enormous. Isn’t it time to recognize that these are really regional resources (how many folks from Washington, Clackamas and Clark countries travel them every day) and figure out a way to share the load? Maybe that would let us actually get to replace the Sellwood…

What do people think?

Two years of Burnside Bridge lift span repairs begin with weekend bridge closure

The Burnside Bridge will be closed to road traffic from 8:00 pm on Friday, January 6 until as late as 6:00 am on Monday, January 9 to allow a contractor to set up traffic control and a work zone for a two-year construction project that begins this month. Pedestrians and bicyclists can cross the bridge but may experience brief delays this weekend. TriMet bus routes 12, 19 and 20 will use the Morrison Bridge during the closure. The bridge will reopen before Monday if work is completed early.

The $9 million project will complete two technically challenging repairs to the lift span. The concrete deck of the lift span is worn from 79 years of use and will be completely rebuilt. The Burnside Bridge has one of the largest concrete decks of any bascule drawbridge in the world. At less than five inches thick the deck is also extremely thin for a concrete deck that is stressed and flexed by regular openings.

Rebuilding the deck while keeping the bridge open to road and river traffic is one reason the project will last two years. The contractor, Advanced American Diving Service, will need to keep one leaf of the lift span operable so the bridge can open for river vessels. In order to keep the bridge open to road and river traffic, the new deck will be built in four stages (two per lift span leaf). Each stage will require one month of curing time before the new concrete is hard enough to handle the stress of traffic and bridge openings.

Multnomah County and the City of Portland studied the option of closing the bridge to traffic to shorten the construction schedule. A traffic study determined that other bridges could not absorb the 45,000 vehicles that use the Burnside Bridge each day without creating an unacceptable level of gridlock across a wide area.

The project’s most difficult stage will be the replacement and repair of mechanical parts that help open the bridge. One eighty-year old hinge that attaches the 3.5 million pound counterweight to the lift span has broken and cannot turn freely. Stress from the frozen hinge is causing the eastern leaf of the bridge to open slower than the western leaf. If the hinge were to fail, the leaf would not be able to open and the counterweight could become detached from the lift span.

Replacing the hinge assembly will require the contractor to detach the counterweight without letting the lift span deck tumble into the Willamette River. A complex rigging system will be needed to support the counterweight when it is disconnected from its hinge. Because the bridge was not designed to be repaired, the repair will require the contractor to cut away sections of the concrete counterweight and bridge walls. The repair may be the first of its kind, due to the Burnside’s rare design.

The project will also update electrical wiring, replace lift span motors, install storm water collection and treatment facilities, and replace or repaint corroded steel.

While the project will create inconvenience for bridge users, it will extend the life of the historic bridge. Replacing the Burnside Bridge would cost at least $170 million today.

Federal funds are paying for approximately 70 percent of the project, while Multnomah County is contributing the rest. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007.

During most of the project, the bridge will be reduced from five to two traffic lanes, with a single lane in each direction. TriMet bus routes 12, 19 and 20 will continue to use the bridge and both sides of the bridge will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists. The project will require several weekend bridge closures to road traffic, each lasting three to five days, for concrete deck pours.

There will be brief closures to river traffic at off-peak times. During most of the project only one bridge leaf will be operable for bridge openings. A tugboat will be provided for river vessels that need assistance passing the bridge during a single leaf opening. Both lift span leafs will be operable if needed by the Rose Festival fleet. The Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade will also be able to cross the bridge in 2006 and 2007.

OBEC Consulting Engineers of Oregon designed the repairs, with assistance from mechanical engineering consultants Hardesty & Hanover. Multnomah County maintains the Burnside Bridge and more than 300 miles of roads and bridges. For project updates call 503-988-4884.