Two Tracks to the RTP

Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan update process has moved into the project solicitation process.

Interestingly, unlike past cycles, Metro is asking for submissions under two different ‘tracks’.

The first track is the traditional regional mobility focus.

The second track has a community-building focus. I found this encouraging (more of a focus on access, rather than mobility). But the actual screening criteria for this (at least in the current draft) are still very mobility focused. You can find the criteria on the last 3 pages of last week’s JPACT packet (1MB).

My favorite is under economic development. Here’s the criterion to get the highest score:

Improve reliability on the regional freight network AND provides access from labor markets
and trade areas to the central city, regional centers, industrial areas, and/or intermodal facilities

Notice the ‘AND’. You could have the greatest project in the world to deliver employees to knowledge economy jobs, and you wouldn’t score because your project didn’t do anything for trucks.


25 responses to “Two Tracks to the RTP”

  1. I’m not too hung up on the “AND”… just about any project I can think of which would improve mobility for workers can be at least marginally construed to also improve freight movements — the effects and justifications just have to be made explicit. Metro seems to be saying here “tell us your ideas about mobility just be sure you tell us what it will do for BOTH freight and other needs.”

    – Bob R.

  2. just about any project I can think of which would improve mobility for workers can be at least marginally construed to also improve freight movement

    I don’t think improvements in pedestrian facilities would have much impact on freight movement. Nor would improvements in the streetscape that provided access for bicycles. Nor would incentives to attract more consumer retail to office parks, providing places within walking distance for people to eat lunch, run errands and shop without having an auto available.

  3. Industrial NW Portland and all Port facilities need greater access and improved freight mobility options then what we have now. The I-5 corridor in and through Portland is not capable and does not have the capacity to meet what our community needs.

    We must create new freight alternatives to the I-5 corridor. This to me is creating a new North Portland Street/BNSF arterial bi-state multi-mode corridor. In combination double the capacity of the I-205 corridor and make it the primary bi-state/interstate freight corridor through our region.

  4. Paul:

    I see many activists protesting proposals to add capacity to I-5 on the grounds that it would lead to more traffic and more pollution..

    If that is the case, what makes you think that we [over here in east Portland] want all of that truck traffic here?

    I wouldn’t mind another lane on I-205, but the condition of I-5 is ridiculous. If any freeway were to be doubled in size, the I-5 should be the first in line. Sure there would be plenty of NIMBY’s but they should have thought of that before buying a home 15 feet from the only N/S corridor on the west coast.

  5. Most of the region’s freight is handled by trucks; only a small amount can be handled by trains (or bicycle courier or taxi courier, for that matter).

    What upsets me is when “transportation planning” becomes single focused, which has happened far too often here in Portland – MAX this, MAX that (okay, Streetcar here). This, coming from an advocacy group that often touts “balanced transportation options” yet there is no such thing as balance – MAX or bust!

    Portland is not strictly an “knowledge economy”, and it should never be. Portland is still a significant transportation hub (although diminishing, as compared to Seattle-Tacoma which has done a much better job of maintaining industrial jobs while recruiting “knowledge” jobs), it still has a significant manufacturing base (that many of the “smart growth”/”sustainability”/”transit oriented”/etc. advocates would rather see eliminated (can we say “San Francisco vs. Oakland?”) — and we need to look at transportation in a broad sense, instead of how to expand MAX.

    That means, yes, we have to not only look at the highway infrastructure, but maintain it, plan for it, and even consider expansions to the freeway and street infrastructure. After all, MAX doesn’t carry groceries from the Port of Portland to Safeway and Fred Meyer (in Clackamas) or Albertsons in NE Portland or WinCo (in Woodburn) to the grocery stores. At best, MAX carries a very small amount of groceries from the grocery store to home. All of the restaurants that we enjoy eating at, require trucks to deliver their stocks. As we know, MAX doesn’t reduce the amount of traffic on the freeway system, and Metro has even relented on such and is actually planning for widening Highway 217 (despite – and separate from – Commuter Rail).

  6. My object is not that freight rates highly (it should), but that projects can’t get the maximum score unless they include freight.

    Take out the AND and make it an OR and I’m happy.

  7. The manufacturing sector is a lot more dependent on education than transportation. Without value-added products, for which you need clever engineers and skilled operators, you won’t need a truck. You’ll be history.
    In congested corridors, 90% of vehicles are non-freight; making room for freight means getting that down to 80% by providing options to commuting alone in your car…safe bike routes, MAX lines, more bus connections, vanpools, etc.
    Its working on Swan Island.
    Just adding more capacity will attract commuters like flies to honey; its a waste of money.
    I would guess that T-6 borders on the insignificant in the regional economy; most port tonnage is wheat, bulk minerals and autos. It is
    clear where the Port thinks its future is…PDX where it plans to relocate its HQ.
    “Freight” is a scam by road advocates who have lost the argument for more roads for commuters; now they want to convince us that freight is our future. I don’t buy it.

  8. Anthony, the I-5 through downtown Portland is just to costly to fix. I have had hihgly informed transportation people those who are PE’s tell me that to make a dent in the I-5 corridor problem we have to have $20B to invest or we had better not even start.

    We can and should try to get as much of the freight traffic out of the I-5 corridor as we can do. To practically make this happen and not kill every business that are current stakeholders in the I-5 corridor we must start ASAP building alternatives arterials that to all effect could be freight specific and built in public/private partnerships for their needs.

    I-205 would become the primary Federal Interstate north/south corridor through Portland.

    This to me is the only approach that we can afford. We can pull this off if we are not putting money into this CRC Project, it needs to be killed.

    Put Light Rail into Vancouver using this new North Portland Street/BNSF corridor by replacing the BNSF RR Bridge and putting in a double deck bridge that replaces it.

  9. Define “freight network”.

    I mean, the mailman delivers “freight” regularly, and he uses the sidewalk, so is the sidewalk is part of the network? On the other extreme, if the freight network only includes railroads, highways and major rivers, where do you load and unload that freight? I mean, barges just pull over at the bank, but [semi] trucks typically go a little distance off the highway on a side road, pass through a curb cut, onto some private property, and then unload at a loading dock, and if I’m reading this standard correctly, it looks like the most important piece is the curb cut. (Hey, if you do it right, it is ADA accessible too. :-)

  10. Matthew –

    I think this is a problem. Because there really are a lot of forms of freight. But I think there are really to critically important kinds. One is local freight – deliveries between local businesses. The cost of moving goods adds to the overall cost of any business operating in Portland. The second is moving goods in and out of the region. That freight may be more critical to the traded economy, but not necessarily. For instance intermodal transfers provide a very small benefit compared to manufactured goods that are shipped out. Freight that moves through the region without stopping is really not important to the region at all. There is almost no economic benefit from it.

    The key element of all of those is that the local freight has few alternatives to the road network, so it is the most impacted when people create congestion.

    Because freight makes up a very small part of the total traffic, providing alternatives has limited benefit other than to the businesses that can use them. It is difficult for many retail and office businesses to accept deliveries during off hours, they aren’t set up to staff operations 24/7 even if the freight operators are. So, unlike the over the road operators, they can’t time operations to avoid congestion.

    But Lenny makes the most important point. The best way to create freight capacity is to get a small percentage of the rest of the traffic to use alternatives. Any road capacity you add is going to fill up with with other trips, leaving freight at the end of the line.

  11. When there is no other solution for commuters to get to and from work other using their cars, don’t blame the commuters that clog our freeways for this extended number of hours.

    Our industrial and work centers do not have any reasonable transit or timely transit options, that leaves few options other then car pooling and company van service and the CAR.

    So when the CRC Task Force tells us that with their new wide bridge, Light Rail extended into Vancouver, TDM/Tolls on I-5, new PED and bike paths we will still see a probable 50% increase in traffic in the I-5 corridor with induced traffic.

    The problem is that we will have ever increasing traffic jams that have been forcasted to get to the point where NO freight will be able to move in the I-5 corridor. Under these conditions at the business round table they can suggest that the last man out, please shut off the lights to the economy of our region.

    That is what happens with the CRC recommendations and zero investment into creating any other alternatives where commerce is allowed to survive.

    Lenny needs to get out of Swan Island or he maybe that last person out that is shutting off the lights. Even UPS knows that they had better get some operations out of Portland and Swan Island if they expected to get their deliveries made.

    When the cost of doing business in Portland gets to great even the big boys on the block like Frieght Liner shut down significant part of their operation and move it to Mexico.

    Moving freight in and out of our region requires reasonable freight mobility and we do not have those conditions. The future freight conditions even look worse and this means less investment and a reduction in local jobs and/or job growth.

  12. Here’s the particularly insidious aspect of the ‘AND’.

    I can imagine freight improvements (bypass lanes, selected investments on freight corridors) that don’t do anything for access to employment.

    I can also imagine transit access to employment that do nothing for freight.

    But the only projects that do BOTH are likely to be general capacity increases to roads.

  13. Moving freight in and out of our region requires reasonable freight mobility and we do not have those conditions. The future freight conditions even look worse and this means less investment and a reduction in local jobs and/or job growth.

    I don’t think either of those are true. Portland does have reasonable freight mobility in and out of the region. In fact it is one of the region’s strengths.

    The argument to the contrary is ignoring the rest of the world. Portland has excellent freeway and rail connections, a river port and a seaport and two airports.

    This is really a discussion of a relatively small number of locations and times of day. Even then, the problems are not any worse than most other cities. The larger freight problems are with local delivery.

  14. Ross, I am sure you have your opinions but heavy rail studies have reported that our critical rail system has to many choke points and only half of needed capacity to meet tomorrows needs.

    When heavy rail is inadequate as it is, we find conditions where it takes twice as long to move freight through our region as it does to move freight through any Texas Port or even Chicago.

    I will agree that PDX is a good airport and the Port does a good job staying ahead of it.

    But our road, freeway and transit transportation system are inadequate in how they address getting people and good in and out of our ports, industrial and work centers.

    Ross, the CRC Task Force tells us that their figures reflect with a build option that we will find the primary freight corridor through Portland at probable near road block conditions where the AM and PM Peak Period Rush Hours will be extended out to where it lasts all day long.

    That is with MAX/Light Rail extended into Vancouver and with tolls and TDM combined as part of their proposed build option.

    With this happening and NO Alternatives for reasonable truck movement or even the ability for the working man to get to their place of employment, how are those conditions acceptable.

  15. Swan Island is instructive. Three of the largest employers are traded sector operations…doing business for customers beyond the region, in some cases around the world.
    UPS..not a traded sector operation…is actually doubling the size of the SI hub as we speak, due to lower land prices and accessibility for Triples. UPS has also largely solved its I-5 problem by building and staffing a hub in Vancouver. With parcel delivery, if UPS can’t get the job done, Fed Ex, DHL or other smaller outfits are waiting to serve their customers. No need to fear that parcel delivery will give up on this market.
    Freightliner, a key traded sector company with 3000 employees on Swan Island even after the layoffs) has moved the commodity truck line (Freightliner) to the east coast and Mexico where most of their suppliers and customers are located. Value-added products…Western Star and Freightliner Military…stay in Portland; just my point, as well as all the design, engineering, finance, admin, marketing functions to support all the product lines remain in Portland. (think Nike) Freightliner continues to hire engineers.
    Cascade General is a key location for the metal-fab sector, but their biggest problem is hiring skilled craft workers(they brought welders from South America last year) and getting rail access…both the UPRR and the Port refused to upgrade the feeder line that serves their facility. CasGen needs more skilled metal workers.
    Last, adidasAmerica…another traded sector operation…doesn’t make any shoes at its N. Portland location, where despite a 800 slot underground garage, 43% of their employees walk, bike, rideshare or use transit to get to work. Many of their employees live close by in N. Portland. They are always look for Talent.
    Indeed, the one so called “freight” project that has come from the I-5 process…the widening of I-5 between Delta Park and Lombard…will hurt the movement of freight to and from Swan Island. Assemblies coming to the truck plant now have an add-lane off Columbia Blvd…this will be lost. And the widening will move congestion south impacting access to I-5 southbound from Going Street and Greeley Avenue where ramp meters hold up UPS and Fed Ex in the AM. This widening project is a clear example of using “freight” to justify more capacity for commuters at the expense of real freight movement.

  16. We have far to much reliance on the I-5 corridor and the problems of congestion are only going to worse to where its negative impacts on our economy and society will end up costing everyone of us more then we can afford.

    Lenny smell the roses as long as you can but if the CRC Task Force is successful and build the big wide bridge and induce more tarffic into the I-5 corridor as their project show, you will see and understand the effects of a 6-mile long road block stopping even basic traffic.

    We have all benefitted with the metering of traffic that has taken place at Delta Park and with the I-5 Bridges and with those restraints removed the congestion build-up will start more at your door step. If you do not understand this, then you maybe the only person who does not.

  17. Paul –

    I’m confused… Maybe it would be better if Lenny answered this, but I thought that Lenny had been opposed to the CRC big bridge proposal and opposed to the Delta Park widening, so what is the argument that you are having?

    – Bob R.

  18. For freight the best outcome across the Columbia would be a new bridge for local traffic, light rail and bike/walk. A big new freeway bridge will dump more cars into N. Portland and definitely make things more difficult for freight. But here is an irony…today we have 4 lanes over the Oregon Slough going to 2 over the Columbia Slough…a narrowing that Clark county folks hate. With a 5 lane monster bridge narrowing to 3 lanes we will get our metering effect back! And it will just cost only $2-6 Billion. Ah, progress.
    The other piece that is still missing is aggressive transportation demand management, which would focus on rideshare, transit pass subsidies through employers, etc. Lots of people who work on Swan Island and drive, do not want to, but they have no real option. Giving them options can work for freight…2 SOVs = 1 Semi. And we give away valuable industrial land for parking by the acre while employees pay full fare for transit.
    I have empty vanpool seats that cost $75/mo to three points in Clark county…the commute just isn’t that bad. And as it worsens, if it does, it is self correcting…people who tired of the delay will relocate where they work or where they live accordingly.
    Meanwhile, we had better put every dime we have into training skilled operators, clever engineers and even physchology PhDs or there will not be any products to ship.

  19. But the only projects that do BOTH are likely to be general capacity increases to roads.

    I think this is an absolute KEY point.

    It recognizes that further expansions of MAX/Streetcar will be of very limited value; that said improvements historically have not benefited freight mobility; and that said improvements have not reduced congestion, nor have they encouraged significant trip diversions.

    That said, going down Metro’s path of “MAX Everywhere” is doomed to fail. Highway infrastructure has got to keep up with demand, or businesses are going to move out of the region. Portland cannot expect to be a service-industry economy as such requires a manufacturing base not only to supply it, but to feed dollars into it as well. If residents cannot get around, and depend on local freight as well (i.e. can mail be delivered within the USPS guidelines? Will grocery store shelves be stocked?), then the residents will increasingly move out as well.

    I have yet to have anyone explain how I-5 is going to magically be clogged if it is widened; it seems as though there is just an anti-widening group for the sake of being against it; there is no data that supports the point of view, and it is mostly speculative that I-5 traffic will suddenly be swamped the very first day that it is widened. As we have already seen with the Banfield and the Sunset, it’s not true.

    We do need a well-functioning public transit system, which does include both bus and light rail/commuter rail systems, and a pedestrian and bikeway network has demonstrated to be a worthy investment. But highways/streets are still important – the vast majority of trips are still auto based, no matter what Metro wants people to believe. While we can invest in trying to reduce auto consumption; we still need to plan for auto trips. Allowing congestion to happen…that is the same as having a police department that allows crime to happen (it’s OK that someone is murdered at 5:25, because that’s a time when most people are out and about), or a fire department that has a statistical amount of fires that are permitted (it’s OK that house fires can exist between 7:00 and 8:00 PM, because most people are at home at that time). Of course those ideas are ludicrous to even consider.

    However, unlike our police and fire departments, in which we can simply build new stations and buy new patrol cars and fire trucks – our abilty to expand transportation infrastructure is finite. We have to get beyond the notion that MAX can solve our problems (it can’t), and beyond the notion that transportation projects MUST include MAX. We must understand that each mode of transport is important for its own reason, and that MAX has its place – and so do highways.

    If the solution is to widen I-5, let’s not bog ourselves down into thinking that MAX has to be a part of it. Just because a transportation improvement doesn’t have a pedestrian or bikeway improvement, or just because there isn’t a mass transit element, doesn’t doom it to automatic failure. Likewise, just because MAX is in the project, doesn’t elevate it to immediate success.

  20. I don’t think MAX is the solution for everything, but the logic of the ‘AND’ means that any improvements we make for freight are likely to get absorbed by SOVs, leaving freight no better off.

    It’s “let’s build our way out of congestion” thinking.

  21. I think the region would be much better off with a North Portland Street alternate bi-state multi-mode arterial that is built in a public private partnership with “Freight Specific Lanes” that give trucks a place to go without being forced to use the I-5 corridor.

    This recommendation includes a replacement BNSF RR Bridge with the 3rd Bridge opportunity

  22. We have been given a great gift…90% of peak hour trips (the freeways are fine the other 20 hours) are commuters, mostly alone. Help just 10%of them find another way to work…bus, MAX, bike, rideshare, and potentially freight can double its share of the road in the peaks, without another inch of new concrete. We have barely begun to try this.

  23. “Improve reliability on the regional freight network AND provides access from labor markets and trade areas to the central city, regional centers, industrial areas, and/or intermodal facilities” is a very interesting criterion if narrowly and correctly applied.

    Although the focus of the postings have been related to freight on the I-5 corridor, one has to wonder how this criterion will be applied to other projects. As an example: just as Union Pacific has plans to ramp up intermodal truck trailer transfers between road and rail at Brooklyn Yards, the proposed route of the Eastside Streetcar on MLK and Grand will negatively impact that freight traffic with streetcars stopping in travel lanes to load and unload passengers thereby reducing the vehicle capacity. MLK and Grand is the main route between the railroad’s two Portland hub yards, Brooklyn and Albina, and the northbound connection from Brooklyn to I-5.

    Furthermore, down the road, how will such a criterion be applied to the Burnside Couplet proposal with 10 foot lanes that less than accommodate large trucks, and where proposed curb extensions restrict truck turning movements. Additionally, West Burnside is the direct alternative route to the Sunset Highway and Canyon Road for delivery movements when and 26 is plugged up. It will be interesting to hear the all the rhetoric spewed to get around the freight mobility criteria for these two projects.

    As for the I-5 corridor, I agree with Paul Edgar’s statement: “We can and should try to get as much of the freight traffic out of the I-5 corridor as we can do.”

    Without significant improvements to vehicle capacity in the I-5 corridor, logic suggests that the lack of improvements will require long distance freight carriers that have their primary connections to the I-5 corridor within the density of the City will be forced to move to the fringes and suburbs to remain competitive, and where they can have alternative routes to the I-5 corridor. The irony here is that inner City residents employed by these companies will then have longer commutes.

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