Author Archive | sbricker

Cost of Congestion Study: Where’s the ROI

I agree strongly with the recent posts by Rex and Evan about the Costs of Congestion report. This report helps define the shape and size of the existing and future congestion problem. The report outlines our robust transportation industry and that congestion can increase business costs.

While short on details, the PBA said they used the Regional Transportation Plan as the model to building out an illustrative transportation plan. Realistically, both the presentation and the report focus on highway development, investments that will only slow the inevitable gridlock.

The PBA presentation discussed Return on Investment (ROI) as a tangible reason to invest, that is if the region invests $10 billion over 20 years (rather than the projected $4 billion), we will see a 2:1 ROI, or $20 billion in economic benefits.

Their ROI calculations include the value of commuter’s personal time; in fact it’s over 50%. It’s easy to argue that personal time is not calculated in corporate balance sheets. Individual time is qualitative in nature, like other important goals such as livability, air quality, personal health, and access for low-income persons.

Without personal time, the expected ROI is 1:1. This is way too low.

When investing for economic reasons, the region and ODOT in its Oregon Transportation Plan update need to achieve a higher return. The business community, both large and small, must work with government and citizens to develop a more effective measurement tool that directs our limited resources towards strategic projects that can incubate a multitude of industry types and sizes.

I applaud Metro for discussing the Price of Government model as a way to reinvent the future transportation and land use plans. However I have heard less from Metro about what they currently value. Metro should engage the issue ROI from a strategic inquiry. Public questions include “does investing in the centers measure also bring significant economic investment? Could it do better than expanding our freeways?”

Metro should also be pushing investments that make the transportation industry more efficient overall. The upcoming Metro Freight Plan must do what the Portland Freight Master Plan did not, seriously take all modes into account. Water, rail, and ground transportation all have needs and Metro must focus on the primary bottlenecks that increase volumes while abating congestion.

The PBA presentation offered one potential solution, pricing the freeways. Above all solutions, pricing is the most effective at curtailing traffic congestion. Rather than spending $6 billion more, the region could collect this amount and distribute funds more judiciously.

There are many reasons to invest in transportation, economic develop being only one. Yet with these lenses in, government must get serious about spending the money in ways that will most improve the economy on all scales. Luckily, I believe that strategic investments will also lead to facilities that are good the qualitative ideals like livability and healthy communities.

Incremental Cost of Building Freeways and Exporting Portland’s Road Fees

I would like to explore to issues related to cost of building freeway lanes, the benefits to the transportation system, and who pays.

1) The incremental costs of building out of congestion is inefficient and serves only a small number of people, making the cost per user extremely high.

2) Personally, I rarely sit in traffic and do not need increased freeway capacity. Therefore my payments, including licensing, registration, and gas taxes will go towards building freeway lanes and road capacity that do not serve me. In fact I am subsidizing suburban development.


Too many people driving during a peak time is the reason for traffic congestion. A new freeway lane would only add real capacity during two or three hours per day. How many users is that?

A typical freeway lane will carry approximately 2,100 cars per hour. And since the average vehicle occupancy is 1.2, we’re talking 2,520 people per hour per lane., or approximately 6,000 users. If freeway lanes cost up to $25 million per mile, the incremental cost per user is $4,167 per mile.

At the same time, I rarely sit in traffic congestion. Well sure, I bicycle to work most days, however I do drive, I drive to Salem as a lobbyist, to meetings, conferences, to visit the Oregon Coast, and even sometimes for shopping. However I almost never sit in traffic congestion because of my trip-types. For me, I don’t need the freeways expanded.

Others however do sit in traffic. One solution is to build more roads. However economists using their math realize that existing capacity is being used inefficiently and developed the concept of “congestion pricing.” Pricing is a tool to that puts a premium cost on a limited roadway supply in order to reduced demand in order to alleviate congestion and increase overall efficiency. The pricing would put the expansion costs squarely on all users, but especially these 6,000.

So, is it efficient to build more freeways?

Are urban core folks subsidizing suburban folks?

How does freight play into this picture?

Who can answer my questions?

BTA Releases “Blueprint for Better Biking”

On October 6, 2005, the BTA released our Blueprint for Better Biking: 40 Ways to Get There. The report provides a strategy and roadmap to increase bicycling in the Portland metro area. The report provides 40 essential projects, programs, and policies that are critical to bringing the region to the next level, and a “Top 10” list of the highest priorities on the list.

The BTA selected projects and developed Blueprint “themes” through an extensive two-year process that included a survey of over 900 bicyclists, meetings with technical experts, and meetings with bicycle advisory committees. The BTA found four primary themes among Portland area residents that must be addressed in order to increase cycling. These include:

– Cycling in Traffic
– Complete Routes
– Motorist behavior
– Quality of the Facility and Experience

The BTA’s Blueprint focuses on low-traffic facilities including trails and bicycle boulevards, leveraging a large bang on the limited public buck, and identifying achievable fixes to problems that would increase bicycling among a large group of cyclists don’t feel the roadway is safe. These strategies will also make existing cyclists’ experiences more pleasant.

View the report and full 40 project list (PDF 2.5M).

BTA Top Ten projects are:

  • Sellwood Bridge
  • Central City Bicycle Plan improvements
  • East-west bikeways in North/Northeast Portland
  • Highway 43 and the Willamette Shoreline Trail, connecting Lake Oswego, West Linn, and Portland
  • Tonquin Trail, connecting Wilsonville, Tualatin, and Sherwood
  • Low-traffic Suburban Routes
  • Fanno Creek Trail, connecting Portland, Beaverton, and Tigard
  • Expanded Low-Speed, Low-Volume Bikeways
  • Enforcement campaigns against dangerous road users
  • Safe Routes to School programs

Bicycling and Walking in H.R. 3 SAFETEA-LU

Congress has passed H.R. 3, SAFETEA-LU, and submitted it to the President for his signature. The legislation amends Titles 23 and 49 of the United States Code and authorizes the expenditure of $286.5 billion dollars over the next five years (2005-2009).

Bicycling, walking, and transit seem to have done pretty well. DeFazio, Blumenauer, and others also brought in the bacon for Oregon, including PSU’s Transportation Center, a Mega Project that includes fixing bridges, Street Car demonstration project, and other. However other groups, such as STPP, criticize the effort as a highway bill and failing to really increase funding for new transit.

What do people think, what new work does this create? How can we best shape Oregon’s’ transportation system in light of this new five year funding program?


The BTA website has more information on how H.R.3 impacts bicycling and walking.

Text of the bill

[Editor’s Note: Scott is being modest. He was instrumental in getting Safe Routes to School legislation adopted at the state level this session!]

Transportation and Economic Development

In today’s tight fiscal environment, governments are seeking ways to generate “economic development” through transportation projects. Many of the flexible funding and state-generated transportation finance programs now focus on economics.

This is a shift. Transportation used to be measured in capacity and funding went to increase movement of cars. In the 1990’s, Portlander’s talked about livability and funded plans and projects to promote that end. Now it’s all economic development.

A major problem is that very little research exists on the topic of economic impacts of transportation investments. More notably, public officials and transportation engineers have no clue where to best place $1 of public transportation dollars to best leverage Return on Investment (ROI) from the private sector.

My favorite transportation project is the removal of the Lovejoy Ramp of the Broadway Bridge. For $20 million this project removed a local truck bridge to open up the entire North Pearl District to over $1 billion in new construction investment. This project used existing utilities and infrastructure to create a huge local economic surge. The emerging South Waterfront is another area, with over $1 billion of planned development on less than $100 million of public investment, including Streetcar.

Perhaps focusing on ROI and Economic Development is not so bad for alternative mode advocates. Consider that foot traffic, not car traffic, is the key to retail business and proximity advantages provided by clustered business districts.

What’s your opinion? Do you have any insight on the hazy issues of ROI and Economic Development? Do you have a favorite project that supports my supposition of alternative mode projects being good for the economy or dare you beg to differ?