Props Where Props Are Due

It’s fair to say that I don’t usually have the same policy perspective as the Cascade Policy Institute, but we do tend to converge when it comes to looking at pricing the road system.

They have a new report out supporting tolling as a way to manage congestion.

One passage particularly warmed my heart:

When viewed from the efficient pricing perspective, a
number of implications are derived for the proposed
Columbia River Crossing. Specifically, it is premature to
make a determination of the need for the CRC without
first having a system of network tolling in place. Were
network tolling in place, a clearer picture of what is needed would emerge:

  • Tolling would help relieve traffic conditions even on
    the existing bridge due to the effect of tolling on
    hypercongestion during heavy demand periods.

  • The cost-beneficial roadway capacity needs of the
    crossing would be better perceived if existing
    capacity of the road network were properly priced.
    Failure to price existing capacity tends to exaggerate
    the perceived need for new capacity. Thus, CRC
    capacity needs very likely could be smaller than
    what is currently proposed.

  • It is not clear that a dedicated transit right-of-way
    (for light rail or bus) would be necessary on the
    bridge and its approaches under an efficient pricing
    regime. Such a pricing approach naturally
    encourages use of buses, carpools and other highoccupancy
    vehicles on the roadway, and provides
    free-flow traffic conditions.

As you might imagine, I have a different view on that last bullet. As I said, we often don’t agree. But two out of three isn’t bad.

16 responses to “Props Where Props Are Due”

  1. If Vancouver goes ahead with a BRT network, it might be possible to do the CRC without transit lanes … just extend MAX to Jantzen Beach and connect with a number of C-Tran buses there, including one or more BRT lines. If congestion pricing keeps the bridge clear, the buses could cross pretty easily, and it wouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

    Most commuters taking the Yellow Line from Vancouver would need to transfer from a C-Tran bus to MAX anyway; does it matter whether that transfer occurs on the north or south side of the river?

  2. While I agree that a tolled bridge would make CRC without a dedicated transit lane (and thus bus transit) feasible, the political reality is that the CRC can’t happen without MAX going over the bridge. The vast majority of people in Portland are not going to get behind a multi-billion dollar bridge that increases auto capacity that doesn’t include a transit-only component.

    On the other hand, a tolled CRC might face stiff opposition from the other side of the river, so it might be a non-starter either way.

  3. Tolling might be less obnoxious to Couverites if Portland was tolling Oregon-only commutes as well.

  4. Douglas,

    It’s likely that Max will get to Jantzen Beach once the physical placement of the new bridge is settled, but I doubt that Vancouver retailers would want the bus connection to Max to happen there. It makes more sense for C-Tran’s sales tax funding and Vancouver business to keep the interchange for the BRT service at Delta Park. It can’t be made too convenient for people to hop on a bus to Jantzen Beach because of the sales tax issue.

    There’s already a very quick bus transfer facility and a bus jump queue which could be extended northward at Delta Park, plus riders to downtown Portland would be two stations farther along only one minute later.

    Of course there must be some service that stops at Jantzen Beach. Since the #4 is probably going to be superseded by the Fourth Plain BRT we’ll have to look for a good replacement candidate.

  5. Given that most C-Tran busses DON’T run to Portland, having someone need to hop on local C-TRAN bus to reach downtown Vancouver, then on a bus to cross the river to meet MAX, then on MAX to get downtown, is inconvenient and obnoxious–especially if their destination is somewhere the Yellow Line doesn’t go.

    Better to run MAX across the bridge to a Vancouver transit hub, even if C-TRAN and/or Vancouver isn’t interested in extending it any further–the transit lane can be configured for dual-mode operation, so busses can use it as well as trains.

  6. Scotty,

    The C-Tran buses that matter to people who vote do run to downtown Portland. The peak hour expresses carry far more commuters to and from Clark County than do the eight runs each way morning and evening of the 44 plus the people from the 4.

    Well more than half the riders on those express buses are middle-class middle-aged women. They are not going to ride the Max down Interstate Avenue. If someone takes the express buses away to “force” people to transfer, they’ll just move to Oregon. Remember, they’re already paying Oregon Income tax.

    Of course it would be “better” to have a single transfer in downtown Vancouver. If it didn’t cost three quarters of a billion dollars.

  7. On the tolling issue, I don’t have a particular problem with the concept to reduce congestion on freeways (i.e. the Valley Freeway in Seattle, with the tolling in the HOV lanes). Let economics solve some of our congestion problems. A driver can choose between the “free” alternative and the faster toll alternative.

    I DO oppose tolls on the CRC, especially if I-205 has a toll too. My concern is that there are no alternative ways to travel between Portland and Vancouver. In those cases, I feel that the project should be funded the same way as any other highway project (fuel taxes, currently, or whatever method we may use in the future).

    Other than the fact that the project is a bridge rather than a road, there is no particular reason to toll this mile of freeway over any other random mile of freeway. Except that you have a captive audience that MUST use this mile of road to get where they are going. That seems inherently unfair.

  8. BryanK: I DO oppose tolls on the CRC, especially if I-205 has a toll too. My concern is that there are no alternative ways to travel between Portland and Vancouver.

    Well, that is pretty much the point of the strategy. You can drive between Berkeley and San Francisco without paying a toll, but it makes for a very long drive and fuel expenses far outweigh the toll itself. Tolling CRC and not the I-205 bridge would just push traffic to the latter, which isn’t the intent.

    Tolls on bridges (or ferries) have existed for centuries; it’s part of the nature of rivers as barriers. “Fair” really isn’t a factor.

  9. I’m not calling for removal of express service at all–I’d like to see, as indicated above, dual-mode transit lanes on the new bridge (and eventually a busway of some sort) connecting it to downtown; in addition to the existing MAX.

    I’m objecting to the idea of curtailing C-TRAN service at Hayden Island or Delta Park or wherever; and forcing a transfer to MAX there.

    Bottom line–I don’t think “new bridge without transit lane” is going to be an option. Obviously no-build is still on the table…

  10. Of course, a tolling/no transit lane option is possible with “no build.” Just keep the existing bridge, extend MAX to Jantzen Beach, and add all three proposed BRT/BRT lite corridors in Clark County (Salmon Creek down 99W; Vancouver Mall down Fourth Plain; and Clark College down Mill Plain). Have all three BRT lines cross the bridge and end at the Jantzen Beach MAX station. C-Tran could augment the BRT service with regular bus service that crosses the bridge at peak hours only.

    Network tolling and/or HOV lanes should keep the roads clear enough for buses to make the crossing with minimal delay. We already know from experience (1997, I think, when most of the bridge was closed for painting for a couple of weeks) that people will alter their commuting behavior to avoid major inconvenience like expected congestion. As long as tolls are predictably high at peak hours, we can expect people will find alternatives: bus, carpooling, shifting trips away from peak times, and so forth.

  11. I wouldn’t have a problem with tolling the CRC if it were designed to be 2 free lanes and 2 or 3 congestion tolled lanes.

    If the free lanes back up, then there’s a value in paying to pass the stopped up traffic. The people who don’t have transponders/can’t afford to pay/etc can sacrifice their time instead.

    This would allow for avoiding tolling the I-205 bridge, provide revenue still, give buses a free-flowing (through price management) environment, and still let people pass through without needing to do anything more than issue a ticket (for a higher amount of money) for not paying a toll, like Orange County CA does on it’s toll and HOT lanes.

    It seems like the only way to keep the CRC concept alive at all anymore. We’re not going to see WA residents support it with all the lanes tolled, and we won’t see OR residents take more than the current config for free. Why not compromise and let people pay with their time if they don’t want to pay the toll, but not shut the crossing off to them completely?

  12. Vancouver residents won’t like it, though it seems that Olympia has no issue with tolls on the bridge. Freight movers will gladly pay a few dollars in toll for more reliable (and faster) shipments–truck drivers get $20/hour even if sitting in traffic, and that doesn’t include benefits.

    It’s Vancouver commmuters mainly who will feel the sting. Given that the Couv is a primarily Republican town and that Olympia is dominated by Democrats–it may not matter that Couv residents don’t like tolls.

  13. Douglas,

    The retailers of Clark County whose sales tax collections provide nearly all of C-Tran’s revenues will never agree to having all three BRT lines terminate at Jantzen Beach. That would be retail suicide so long as Oregon eschews a sales tax.

  14. Scotty,

    The Tacoma Narrows Bridge has a $2.75 toll in the southbound direction for Good-To-Go users. It’s $4.00 if one pays cash. I think we can assume that any tolling on I-5/I-205 will be electronic and uni-directional, because it costs less to collect.

    The toll matrix shows one-way tolls at the peak hour in the $3 range, so assuming 260 working days per year that would be $780/year. Our property taxes in Vancouver are about $1,000 less per year for a similar home to that in Multnomah or Washington County, primarily because of lower assessed valuation.

    So even if we have to pay $800 per year we’re still a little ahead of the person in the next cubicle who lives in a similar home in Oregon.

    Plus, once tolled the roads will be much less congested and there will be more bus service. Some of the tolling revenues will of necessity be used to support increased transit service, as they do for the Golden Gate Transit.

  15. I like the idea of tolls. They should charge hefty tolls for anyone with a Portland address clogging up 99W through Yamhill County on the weekends.

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