Report Predicts ‘Mass Exodus of Vehicles off America’s Highways’

Via Planetizen:

Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history. By 2012, there should be some 10 million fewer vehicles on American roadways than there are today—a decline that dwarfs all previous adjustments including those during the two OPEC oil shocks (see pages 4-8). Many of those in the exit lane will be low income Americans from households earning less than $25,000 per year. Incredibly, over 10 million of those American households own more than one car.

Soon they won’t own any.

More fundamentally, the freeways are about to get less congested. Not only will the number of vehicle registrations in the United States not grow over the next four years, but by 2012 there should be roughly 10 million fewer vehicles on the road in America than there are today. For the past half century, America has spent the bulk of its infrastructure money on building highways—only to see that soon, $7 per gallon gasoline prices will lead to fewer and fewer people using them.”

The CRC wouldn’t even be open for business in four years, but this report predicts sweeping changes in even that short period of time. However, taken with all of the other information we have about the CRC and the region’s future in particular, should we stop the project in it’s tracks? Or, knowing that the cost of construction materials will only increase and that the region’s population may close to double or even triple over the next 50 years (Metro projections of 3.2M to 6.2M residents in 2060 pdf), would it prove to be smarter and more forward-thinking if we just built the CRC now? Although experts may expect traffic to decrease over the next few years, at some point the overall growth in our region will cause traffic to eventually exceed present levels, so do we seize this opportunity (i.e., federal funding) to build the bridge now or deal with it later? Without the bridge, how long until we reach that point where traffic will again exceed present levels?

Personally, while I feel a 12-lane bridge is overkill for what is actually a four to six lane highway, I do believe that additional road capacity will be required in the future. The current gas crisis may allow us to put this off for awhile, but eventually we’re going to need the capacity, if only for freight. Today I would still choose to save our resources for other, higher-priority projects (sorry, the ‘couv, but this really isn’t an important enough problem to warrant siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars away from other needed highway projects in Oregon). Ideally, we revisit this thing within five to ten years and look at a third bridge to replace the railroad crossing in North Portland and/or a fourth crossing in Troutdale. I know it’s not a popular opinion here, but even with gas prices pushing $4.50 (and eventually much, much more), making room for 1.5 – 4 million new residents will inevitably mean additional road capacity, and new connections to Vancouver/east Clark County will do more for distributing that traffic than funneling everybody into the I-5 corridor.

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