Balancing Regional Transportation Outcomes, Priorities, and Costs

An important component of Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan update is to plan for outcomes, not just develop a project list. Metro’s Discussion Draft 2035 RTP Update Work Program states:

The clear desire is to move away from a plan that is a compilation of locally desired projects with an unfunded cost, to one that focuses on delivering specific results (e.g., outcomes) that citizens value (e.g., priorities) at a price they are willing to pay.

Will Metro be able to do this? Not only is this politically difficult – every jurisdiction and modal advocate wants their project – but it may not be realistic – the ability to post outcomes might not match up with the public’s priorities and willingness to pay.

Consider this very realistic scenario, public opinion research shows that people want:

  1. To move freely around the region;
  2. Without congestion; and
  3. At virtually no additional cost.

No implementation strategy could meet the public’s desires and willingness to pay. The public would have to pay a lot more, double or triple current levels, in order to scratch the surface of congestion in order to meet these desired outcomes.

What should Metro do? I believe that Metro will have to objectively look at the strength of the public’s desires and match them with certain price tags or other regulatory / programmatic approaches. If the public really, really, really wants no traffic Metro will have to create scenarios that could post these results. Metro should analyze innovative and cost-effective techniques that we don’t currently use and move past just lane construction. Of course these tools might be unpopular with the public; what a quagmire.

Metro should also get behind funding approaches that leverage public investments the furthest. For example, due to the way ODOT funds its regions, Metro should push for regional bond measures and pricing tool over state tax increases. Metro should leverage outside sources such as federal monies; in the past this has made light rail and transit a good deal because the bulk of these funds flow right from the USDOT to Metro or the transit agencies. Metro should also analyze how different types of transportation investments create other economic and development investments that could ease traffic congestion.

What are your ideas, how will Metro solve this inevitable rift of public desire, project effectiveness, and willingness to pay?

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