Oregon’s Next Governor?

Our project to get the candidates for Governor to respond to our questionnaire has gone nowhere. Apparently the campaigns get deluged with these things. Only the Westlund campaign was forthright enough to tell us straight up that they weren’t going to respond.

But here’s an opportunity for a little insight. At the Westside Economic Alliance debate on April 27th, the candidates (at least those in attendance) got asked about the Cost of Congestion report. Courtesy of KUIK which broadcast the debate and shared a recording with us, you can hear their answers (MP3, 2.4M, 6 minutes), which one attendee described to me as “like fish flopping around out of water…”

Here’s a brief summary with my commentary:

Ron Saxton: “We do need to add lanes.” His solution is to grow the state economy which will provide the revenue for additional investments. Does he think we’ll be investing general fund dollars from income tax into transportation? That would be innovative!

Jason Atkinson points the finger at Metro “which you didn’t elect.” I guess someone should tell Susan McLain that her last several elections were a figment of her imagination. Atkinson’s solution is to “increase bonding capacities” but he ran out of time before saying where the revenue to pay off the bonds would come from. He also supports public/private partnerships like the Newberg-Dundee bypass (aka tolling).

Ben Westlund was clear that we need “additional and creative funding mechanisms to put down more lanes, more asphalt.”

Kevin Mannix thinks the fix is an attitude change at ODOT, which should “put the roads where the communities need them.” So which roads has ODOT built recently in the wrong places?

Like Atkinson, Pete Sorenson apparently wants to shift general fund dollars into transportation, he thinks the answer is higher corporate taxes.

While of course as a 501(c)(3) Portland Transport does not endorse candidates, we might suggest that we all be very afraid…


10 responses to “Oregon’s Next Governor?”

  1. I still like David Bragdon’s response to Kate Schiele in his last re-election bid: “Building roads to prevent congestion is like having sex to prevent pregnancy.” Someone pass the line to Ted’s office…

  2. That’s awesome… “Building roads to prevent congestion is like having sex to prevent pregnancy.”

    But true.

    The problem here is, you’re asking politicians to do something that they’ll NEVER be good at. The real solutions aren’t going to come until market demands creates a business case for these things. The problem lies in the fact that the politicians are too involved anyway. The best they can hope for is more private-public partenerships of the calibre that have existed in the past.

    This over reliance on Government to do this is like expecting Bush to send you a driver for your car if you don’t feel like driving. It’s not a solution, never will be. The solutions are out there in the publics minds, they just need to have a reason to truly be involved from a monetary perspective. It’s how the transcons got built, and almost every other major transit network that was built out of choice and market need(except the interstates).

  3. What’s interesting is that people are often talking about “creative” financing structures. They’re not willing to say: toll 99W and the Newberg-Dundee. Toll 217. And so forth.

    What else would they be talking about? Ok, privately owned toll roads instead of publicly owned toll roads.

    But have any Oregon elected officials actually endorsed fully-funded toll roads? I haven’t seen it.

    Are they mainly stuck in between a rock (wanting to build more roads) and a hard place (people voting down gas tax increases 7-to-1), and want to weasel out of it by saying “creative solutions” which means, exactly, nothing.

  4. Evan Manvel, exactly. That is exactly what they are saying is nothing.

    Texas, North Carolina, and a few other major roads are being built based entirely on either A: Tolls or B: Private financing which equates to tolls.

    If tolls where introduced for the entire interstate system we could decrease our reliance on petro, decrease the polution levels, decrease taxes, and balance the transportation infrastructure of the entire country in one single action.

    I don’t get exactly what politicians mean when they say they want to take general budget funds. They already ARE taking general budget funds to do what they are already doing. The gas taxes pay for a minimal amount of road construction.

  5. Just to be clear, none of the candidates said they were going to use general fund dollars. I inferred it from what they said (growing economy = increased income tax revenue, or higher corporate tax rates = increased income tax revenue).

    And I don’t believe ODOT gets much if anything from the general fund. They get gas tax funds and bonded capital from things like the registration fee, and perhaps some lottery dollars.

  6. I don’t believe ODOT gets much if anything from the general fund

    Just to be clear, ODOT is not the only people paying for roads. But I think Evan has it down. “Creative solutions” has become like TDM, people love the concept but all the specific examples are political nightmares. Can you imagine the reaction if Multnomah County decided to toll its bridges?

  7. Would anyone apply Bragdon’s argument to any other good or service society consumes?

    “Growing more food to prevent hunger is like having sex to prevent pregnancy”

    Building more schools to prevent overcrowding …..

    Training more engineers to prevent a shortage….

    Building water treatment plants to provide the water needs of a growing population….

    OF COURSE NOT! To suggest that increasing supply is not the way to prevent a shortage is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

    Of course it makes perfect sense if you hate cars in the first place. So if you have an agenda to make it as unpleasant as possible to drive a car in the region, then this stupid argument makes total sense.

    So every time I hear one of the versions of this argument – I always know that the person who utters it is simply an anti-car ideologue. It is a useful self identifier, actually, so I know who is not to be taken seriously.

  8. Sasha –

    The issue is one of both capacity and congestion. Building more roads (or adding more lanes) does increase capacity, but drivers tolerate a certain amount of congestion and will quickly adjust travel patterns to take advantage of any increased capacity/reduced congestion until congestion reaches about the same level again.

    Now, there can be distinct economic advantages to increasing roadway capacity. More people get to do more things with more cars over greater distances. (There are negatives to this, as well), but if your goal is to reduce congestion by X%, it will only be a temporary gain, as utilization of the roadway facility will increase until congestion occurs again.

    It is this reasoning that fuels the slogan. Unfortunately, the nuance gets lost and I don’t think the slogan benefits either side of the debate, really.

    Another big factor in congestion is interchanges and intersections. If all you do is add lanes, without improving bottlenecks, you’ve basically just created more parking for congested areas.

    Most of the congestion, for example, on I-84 / I-5 / I-205 within the City of Portland is not due to the number of lanes, but due to the interchanges. I-84 westbound to I-5 northbound has just a single one-lane ramp which must weave with traffic using the ramp lane as an exit. I-84 westbound to I-5 southbound reduces 2 lanes of I-84 down to one, which must merge with themselves and onto the I-5 freeway at the same time.

    Much of the right lane of I-5 southbound along the east bank doubles as a merge lane, causing more problems.

    Widening I-5 up by the Columbia won’t fix any of those bottlenecks. Worse, fixing them (if there is the political will to do so) will be colossally expensive, because nearly every overpass (dozens of them), the Fremont Bridge and Marquam Bridge approaches will have to be reconstructed and/or relocated.

    This is why some groups have proposed starting from scratch with an underground/trench alignment further to the east. They “bury I-5” crowd, you might say. It’s the most expensive alternative, except for all the others. :-)

    To be really annoying and drive my point into the ground, here are some revisions of your sample slogans:

    “Growing more food to prevent hunger …
    … is useless if the means of distribution do not get that food to the people who need it.

    Building more schools to prevent overcrowding …..
    … is useless if you don’t hire any more teachers. The same # of kids will be crowded into one room with the same # of teachers.

    Training more engineers to prevent a shortage….
    … is useless if you keep giving tax incentives to outsource their jobs.

    Building water treatment plants to provide the water needs of a growing population….
    … is useless if you don’t have capacity in the pipes in the ground to carry the water.

    etc. etc. etc.

    – Bob R.

  9. To suggest that increasing supply is not the way to prevent a shortage is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

    I think a far better analogy is that its like blowing on a fire to put it out. It works with a candle or a match. But with anything beyond that you blow on the fire to make it burn harder.

    If you had only one congested location in the entire system, adding capacity might eliminate it just as you can blow out a candle. But there isn’t just one location. This is a large fire.

    Congestion isn’t caused by a lack of capacity in the system – there are always roads that aren’t being used – its caused by too many vehicles arriving at the same place at the same time. And if you add capacity at that spot to get them past it they will all arrive somewhere else at the same time, only slightly sooner, and then wait slightly longer. The congestion hasn’t ended, it has simply moved. And because increased capacity you created also attracts additional trips and more auto travel it actually increases traffic and congestion, just like blowing on a fire causes it to burn faster, rather than eliminating it.

    The region is going to invest millions of dollars in widening i-5 at Delta Park so that the cars caught in congestion there can add to the congestion a little later when they get off the freeway at the Rose Quarter, the Banfield, the Fremont Bridge etc.

  10. At the Governors’ bi-state conference at PSU last month, the reps from ODOT and WSDOT talked about getting big project built on time and on budget, with nothing about managing the existing capacity.
    The next panel was on energy, and here the discussion as not about big projects…i.e. power plants, but about conservation programs…everyone agrees that conservation, i.e. managing demand, is the low cost way to insure power supplies with new capacity being a l last resort. Time to apply this to transportation.

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