Transportation Package from ’09 Legislature?

The Daily Journal of Commerce is reporting that the Gov will make transportation funding a focus in the 2009 legislative session. But will it be for maintenance, or new capacity?

9 responses to “Transportation Package from ’09 Legislature?”

  1. Garlynn,
    Where would you suggest there is a need for passenger rail, and how would the state sustain financing? Is passenger rail economically feasible for our open spaces and low population? Aren’t there lessons to be learned from Amtrak? Federal matching money has tightened up considerably for passenger rails.

  2. Ruh-

    I’m glad you asked.

    The state has actually developed a statewide passenger rail plan; however, I’m sure that it needs to be updated.

    The level of demand varies completely on the quality of service. The more capital money that is spent up front to build new, higher-speed alignments, the greater the ridership will be later.

    Off the top of my head, initial corridors might include:

    Portland to Bend
    Portland to Ashland (via Salem, Eugene, Roseburg, Grants Pass & Medford)
    Portland to Corvallis via McMinnville
    Portland to the Oregon Coast
    Portland to Pendleton via Hood River & The Dalles
    Portland to Astoria via the Hwy 30 corridor

    I think it’s important to see such a network as an engine of economic development as much as a tool to connect communities and provide mobility for populations who can’t, won’t or choose not to drive for long-distance in-state trips.

    Some of these corridors might also be candidates for sub-corridor commute-level service headways, such as Portland to Salem and Grants Pass to Ashland.

    And yes, Amtrak is not necessarily the right model, and federal subsidies would be helpful. But for service within the state, perhaps the state needs to step up to the plate to provide the necessary level of multi-modal infrastructure, rather than just roads.

  3. Garlynn,
    Thank you for the suggestions. I can’t imagine the enomity of the price tag for some of these routes. Is there a dollar figure available? The route just from Portland to McMinnville is estimated at over $200 million, not including the unending subsidies for operating expenses.

  4. Ruh-

    I imagine the capital cost would be in the billions. A statewide bond measure would probably be the only realistic funding source, similar to how the bridge rehab projects were funded.

    I think there is probably a curve between upfront capital cost and the potential to recover operating costs. Capital costs are probably a public investment, ala the freeway system, that will just need to be paid for.

    It’s possible, however, that operating costs could be covered by a combination of ticket sales and tax benefit districts around each station that recover a portion of the increased property tax revenue that each station generates in the surrounding, say, one-mile service area. (This principle has been used in many places to help pay for the transit improvement, including London and Portland, though I believe that it would be breaking new ground to use it for a statewide transportation improvement.)

  5. The problem I would guess would be that the low ridership is too much of a gamble. Four busses a day from the points you mention would probably go unfilled, let alone the prospect of unfilled rail cars. The versatility of the automobile just can’t be matched. People want roads, rather than rail. Especially in low populated areas.

  6. Ruh-

    Yes, I would imagine that you raise a valid point. However, I think that this issue needs to be studied using 30-year forecasting tools with variables for gas prices, an aging population that is less and less enamored with driving, decreased journey times due to upgraded trackbed quality, the general preference for rail over bus and other factors.

    I think such a study would reveal that certain corridors would pencil out now (with some subsidies) if service were started up tomorrow; certain corridors will need significant trackbed improvements (and perhaps new alignments, passing tracks, double-tracking and tunnel/bridge facilities) in order to attain low enough point-to-point travel times to induce ridership levels that fill passenger railcars, and certain corridors will not pencil out until the demographics change a bit within them.

    That is, such a study would reveal which corridors to start with, and which ones to work on later.

    Furthermore, I think that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) cannot be ignored in all of this. A statewide passenger rail initiative should go hand in hand with a statewide transit oriented development initiative. In order to receive a station, local communities should plan for a certain level of density of jobs and housing within a mile of the rail station — probably at least 3,000 units of housing would be a good threshold, perhaps 4,000 units, though a minimum of 1-2,000 units could be used per station if the corridor average per station were at the higher level. Jobs are another matter, and I have less info on what thresholds make sense with regards to them.

    Basically, if you build TOD around stations, the passengers will come to the train.

    And that’s where/how all of this is connected to economic development. Which I don’t think anybody would argue would be a good thing for many of these communities in Oregon.

  7. Garlynn, you probably meant:

    ..economic development…

    “Which I don’t think anybody would argue would *not* be a good thing for many of these communities in Oregon.”

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