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.

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