‘Value of jobs’ report documents congestion’s burden on Portland economy

‘Value of jobs’ report documents congestion’s burden on Portland economy

A (small) part of traffic-1

Tick tock.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A report out today from the Portland Business Alliance, our regional chamber of commerce, is the latest argument that bike and freight transportation really ought to be close allies.

An unexpected 3 p.m. traffic jam, for example, can lead to a canceled flight, which can cost Intel precious hours in the short lifespan of important dyes used in Hillsboro chip factories.

“They’ve tightened down their supply chain so much that they’re relying on a very complex set of links so that if one fails, then it throws them into a tizzy,” said Susie Lahsene, transportation and land use policy manager for the Port of Portland. “It really throws off the operation and they have to overcompensate. … If it’s completely unpredictable, if it’s episodic, that then really creates a problem.”

As Oregon’s streets and freeways have gotten more crowded, the state’s freight businesses have been driven to use increasingly complicated tactics to avoid such snarl-ups.

travel time in congestion

From the PBA’s report.

“Many respondents reported that they have implemented staggered shifts, added evening and overnight operations, and are increasing operation during ‘off-off-peak’ hours, with some delivery shifts now starting as early as 2 a.m,” the report says. “However, the businesses are making these operational changes in the face of regulatory limits on driver hours, worries of driver safety and limits to when they can feasibly deliver to customers. For those businesses that cannot shift to off-off-peak hours, managers report ‘lost turns’ on truck deliveries due to congestion, meaning that a truck can take on fewer delivery routes in a day compared to the recent past when there was not as much congestion.”

To avoid such problems getting worse, the report calls for full funding of the state’s regional transportation plans. According to Portland Metro calculations (see chart), the total amount of Portland travel time that vehicles spend sitting in traffic is expected to increase from 5 percent in 2010 to almost 15 percent by 2040.

If Metro’s regional transportation plan is built, Metro calculates, congestion will merely double to 10 percent of travel time.

What’s in this regional transportation plan? Well, it includes new high-capacity transit lines connecting Tigard, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie and Clackamas…

future transit

…a connected network of biking-walking paths

regional map

(Click the image to enlarge, or see this zoomable PDF or web version.)

…and also several billion dollars in wider or more-connected urban highways, freeways, barge and freight rail connections (here’s a sample from Metro’s long wishlist).

freeway items

In its report, the PBA argues that a region that is “uniquely trade-dependent” — the state’s trade-related employment grow 7.5 times faster than total employment from 2004 and 2011, the report says — is counting on anti-congestion efforts for economic growth.

As many BikePortland readers will argue, of course, wider roads are about as good at solving congestion as free ice cream cones are at solving hunger. The daily traffic jams on freeways are as predictable as the long lines on freebie day at a Ben & Jerry’s.

So it’s a little odd that the PBA’s nicely assembled report (and the Metro policymaking that it’s based on) don’t seem to consider the possibility of reducing congestion by charging people to drive on roads and freeways during peak hours.

Intel, presumably, would be happy to pay an anti-congestion charge if it never had to miss a flight again.

Lahsene, the Port of Portland policy manager who works with the PBA on these issues, said anti-congestion pricing is mostly absent from the region’s conversation not because it’s a bad idea but because it seems politically inviable.

“I just think as a region and as a state we’re not quite ready, as evidenced by the fact that we have very little tolling on other parts of the freeway system,” she said.

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