Glenn Jackson, $3 gasoline, and mass transit

Russell Sadler

GlennjacksonThe late Glenn Jackson was arguably the most influential un-elected official in shaping Oregon’s suburban development.

As CEO of Pacific Power and Light, Jackson would have been an influential figure anyway. But he chaired the State Highway Commission for so long he determined the design of the highway infrastructure that shaped the state’s explosive post-World War II growth.

Jackson died in June 1980. In the year before his death, I had one of the last interviews with him. With the memories of the Arab Oil Embargo and its soaring prices and long lines at the pumps still fresh in the public mind, I asked Jackson, “Do you think the suburban, automobile-dependent lifestyle we have built is sustainable?”

“Probably,” Jackson responded after a long, thoughtful pause, “unless gas costs $3.00 a gallon.” We both chuckled and the interview ended.

Nearly 26 years later, gasoline costs more than $3.00 a gallon nearly everywhere in the United States. Stories about the financial hardship people are enduring just to fill their gas tanks fill the news. Nor is it just a suburban problem. Cheap gas allowed many people to find inexpensive housing in rural areas and commute to jobs in towns and small cities.

But gasoline is a necessity and the rising gas prices mean less disposable income. For the poor, the price of commuting can burn up most of what they earn.

Public transit is an alternative in some urban areas, but travel time is longer. And even the middle class in their comfortable suburbs are spending much more of their disposable income commuting to jobs that support their suburban lifestyle. Americans are running harder just to stay in place.

Jackson was shrewd enough to realize that energy transition problems would emerge when the world began to believe it was running out of oil, not when the oil actually ran out.

There is a good argument that world oil production is at its peak or has just peaked and is actually declining. The oil companies and oil producing nations know it or at least believe it. That’s why prices have climbed so rapidly. Since no one expects to see gasoline priced below $3.00 anytime soon, it’s probably a good idea for the rest of us to get busy dealing with the transition problems as we move from comparatively cheap petroleum to expensive petroleum. It becoming clear our present lifestyle is not sustainable for too many people.

I dislike writing pessimistic columns as much as you dislike reading them. I have a couple of former students who, because of deliberate choices that they made about five years ago, are only indirectly affected by the rising price of gasoline. I think there is a lesson in their choices.

When the Oregon Highway Commission was renamed the Oregon Transportation Commission in 1968, it reflected a change in attitude toward freeways -- at least in the Portland metropolitan area. Gov. Bob Straub blocked the construction of the Mt. Hood Freeway and appointed commissioners sympathetic to light rail lines. Former Congressman Les AuCoin and former Sen. Mark Hatfield helped fund light rail from their positions on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Widely mocked by Libertarians and the build-freeways-and-be-damned crowd, light rail commuting has been embraced by a younger generation.

My two former students met and married at Southern Oregon University. They had a child. When the graduated, they deliberately moved to Portland to well-paying high-tech jobs at companies located along the light rail line. They deliberately bought a condo in one of the development nodes along the light rail line. They deliberately had a second child. They deliberately chose not to own a car. When they need a car they rent one.

With the money they saved from not owning a car -- it’s thousands of dollars a year -- my former students paid off most of their student loans. They can afford two lovely children and children are not cheap. They do not think they have suffered or sacrificed by not owning a car and they have not felt the economic dislocation from rising gasoline prices like their fellow workers who commute by car.

“But everyone can’t do that, Sadler,” you say. I couldn’t agree more. But thanks to some farsighted government planning, my former students had that choice to make.

Instead of paying unwarranted “compensation” to landowners who want to perpetuate the unsustainable post-World War II suburban sprawl model, we ought to be revising the land use laws to encourage more light rail oriented development so more people have the choice of living that way in the rapidly emerging era of high priced petroleum.

Now there’s a platform plank that some candidates for governor and the Legislature can run on.

Comments

  • im karlock (unverified)
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    Russell Sadler: Nearly 26 years later, gasoline costs more than $3.00 a gallon nearly everywhere in the United States.

    JK: Now adjust that for 26 years of inflation and we are nowhere near the $3.00 per gallon that Glen was talking of.

    (Didn't you know about inflation adjustments?)

    Thanks JK (whose listed email address is broken)

  • im karlock (unverified)
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    Russell Sadler: There is a good argument that world oil production is at its peak or has just peaked and is actually declining. JK: Higher prices will soon reduce consumption as people switch to more efficient cars and higher prices will also bring new supply from marginal wells, shale oil, tar sands and coal. Not to worry we have a coupe centuries of these sources. (At an even higher price we can get carbon form CO2 and hydrogen from H2O and make gasolene from thin air.) It is just a mater of price. At some price things like pure electric cars become desirable. There is also the tiny car option used in Europe.

    Russell Sadler: ...Gov. Bob Straub blocked the construction of the Mt. Hood Freeway and appointed commissioners sympathetic to light rail lines. Former Congressman Les AuCoin and former Sen. Mark Hatfield helped fund light rail from their positions on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. JK: And that is why Portland recently had the nation’s worst increase in traffic congestion. It is part of the reason jobs are leaving Portland.

    Russell Sadler: Widely mocked by Libertarians and the build-freeways-and-be-damned crowd, light rail commuting has been embraced by a younger generation. JK: Embraced?? By a low single digit percentage of commuters, somewhere lower than walking to work if I recall. Some success.

    Russell Sadler: With the money they saved from not owning a car -- it’s thousands of dollars a year JK: Actually, mass transit is not cheaper than owning a car - it is 80% paid by others. You friends are on public welfare with respect to transit.

    Russell Sadler: ... we ought to be revising the land use laws to encourage more light rail oriented development so more people have the choice of living that way in the rapidly emerging era of high priced petroleum. JK: We already did that. It didn’t work. Just relocated a lot of carless people to new, tax exempt, overly costly to build, housing.

    Russell Sadler: Now there’s a platform plank that some candidates for governor and the Legislature can run on. JK: I can see it now: “elect me and I’ll force you to live in cramped overpriced condos with no play space for the kids.”

    Thanks JK

  • Ross Wiliams (unverified)
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    Nearly 26 years later, gasoline costs more than $3.00 a gallon nearly everywhere in the United States.

    I don't think this is true. $3 gallon gas is rare and its definitely not $3 in the context Jackson was talking about. In today's dollars, I think that would be closer to $5 gallon. Gas is still cheap by 70's standards.

    Alan Greenspan observed recently that when the price of gas went up people changed the vehicle they drove, not how much they drove.And I think it is notable that suburban sprawl did not end despite the sticker shock of 70's gas prices. Instead people began to buy cars with much better fuel economy. We are seeing that same trend now, there are reports that high-mileage used car prices are going through the roof.

    Its an illusion to believe that the market alone is going to change development patterns. The economics of suburban sprawl where large portions of the costs are born by the public at large are going to override any economic changes brought on by higher fuel prices. By now we should recognize that the amount of fuel used does not in any way reflect the actual costs of an indvidual trip.

    So while we can admire your former students choices, and emulate them, we should not think that simply providing the option of using transit combined with high prices of gas are going to transform cities into livable communities. I know you didn't say that, but it is an underlying assumption that seems to be gaining currency among elected officials at Metro.

    The simple fact, that contradicts libertarian ideology, is that all transportation is a public service. It is impossible to have the cost to the user of each trip reflect its actual cost or to separate the benefit to the user from the benefits to society at large. That makes the decision about what transportation opportunities we provide people a collective decision, not an individual one.

    There is a limited public right-of-way. We need to collectively decide how it will be used. Do we optimize its use by giving priority to modes that carry multiple passengers such as transit vehicles, large quantities of freight or use limited space per trip such as bicycles and pedestrians? Or do we continue to give priority to individual vehicles.

    There was a time when our streets were places kids could play because vehicles were expected to share them with people. We will never go back to that time, but we can certainly make autos share that right of way and make it safe for people to walk and bike.

    That choice has little to so with the sticker shock of gas prices. It has more to do with what kind of communities do we want. And expecting the price of oil to give them to us is a fools errand.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    The price of gasoline is also higher because of the war in the Middle East which as most know is a major source of crude oil. It then becomes more expensive to get ships into the area as well as to find insurance coverage for the cargo and the ships. Additionally the number of tankers available to carry crude internationally has declined in the last decade thus the cost of moving the crude is more.

    Whereas light rail is a big investment it cost little or nothing to open the marketplace to private companies, or individuals. Unfortunately the transportation market has been closed by the government and it is difficult if not impossible for private individuals to participate and bring new ideas to the market. The result leaves many low income people without an option and for many low income people they end up spending as much as 40% of their income on transportation. Some of us have long argued that opening the market would help many low income people, but too many in politics have shown little interest. They are more interested in their legacy projects. M.W.

  • Bob Fancher (unverified)
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    RS wrote:

    "Instead of paying unwarranted “compensation” to landowners who want to perpetuate the unsustainable post-World War II suburban sprawl model, we ought to be revising the land use laws to encourage more light rail oriented development so more people have the choice of living that way in the rapidly emerging era of high priced petroleum."

    What would that look like? I'm asking this as a serious question.

    Around New York City, at least, access to the commuter rails seems to drive real estate prices up. Within the city, even being a couple of blocks closer to a subway stop adds to the price of an NYC apartment.

    Short of a completely controlled economy, in which some people get better stuff (access to transit) without paying anything for it directly, I don't quite "get" how land use laws are likely to help much. But I'd be glad to be educated on the issue.

  • THartill (unverified)
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    JK said: Higher prices will soon reduce consumption as people switch to more efficient cars and higher prices will also bring new supply from marginal wells, shale oil, tar sands and coal.

    When is soon? Consumption has not been reduced with a year of high prices. How many barrels have been produced from shale oil? Oh what's that, zero? Tar sands bring in 2 million Bpd and this will double in 10 years, oh we're saved!

    Not to worry we have a coupe centuries of these sources. (At an even higher price we can get carbon form CO2 and hydrogen from H2O and make gasolene from thin air.)

    Thin air, wow! Get energy from nothing! Time to rewrite all those science books out there.

  • wayne (unverified)
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    Does anyone agree that perhaps Mr. Sadler still may think we live in the 1970's?

    The problem with Oregon is that since we lost Mr. Jackson nobody has built the highways necessary to move traffic and goods. Since Mr. Jackson nobody has done any real transportation planning. Name a highway built since the 1970's I-205. So we all park, idel our cars, and burn gas. That is a brilliant transportation system!

    Transportation planning in this state is just stupid!

    WT

  • LT (unverified)
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    JK: Embraced?? By a low single digit percentage of commuters, somewhere lower than walking to work if I recall. Some success.

    Here we go again--specifics matter, including the lives of everyday people.

    All these debates about light rail were going on while my niece was a public school student in another corner of the state. She graduated from high school with honors and enrolled at Linfield.

    After graduation, she got a job in downtown Portland and eventually moved to Washington County. She chose a home near a MAX stop. She liked riding MAX to work for a number of reasons: traffic, downtown parking, wear and tear on an old car. After she married, she and her husband were able to do with only one car for awhile (an effort, but they were able to do it) because she didn't need to drive to work although her husband did.

    Seems to me that political discussions (and Blue Oregon discussions) which only debate statistics the average Oregonian may know nothing about--and don't deal with the real lives of average people--are doomed to be nothing but debating society arguments, never translated into the real world.

    I realize that frustrates ideologues who want everyone to think like they do, but most people are too busy to debate this stuff. And no one is required to have an ideology--they can vote for their friends, vote on measures after debating the details with friends, etc.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    I think Russ has a point - we have to plan ahead.

    People, real people, who have to drive for one reason or another have been hurt by this increase in fuel costs. The other half of the vise that is squeezing shut on these people is the deliberate efforts by our captains of industry that currently control our national government to lower working class wages - or at least keep them down relative to inflation. Both sides of the vise are in fact working at this time to squeeze lots and lots of people.

    What is at stake is a little thing that used to be called "The American Dream". Simply stated, the American Dream is that we will have progress with each generation whereby each generation will live with more security, health, and comfort than the last. Mind you, that is not necessarily wealth, but some think of it that way.

    The oil/wages vise that I describe has already killed the American Dream for most of us. If we are to avoid a future that looks a lot like the French Revolution (wages versus bread vise that century), we need to be taking long term actions now to avoid it.

    I would support "radical" experiments in developing trunk line transportation systems. I have to travel to Salem, Eugene, and/or Portland several times a year related to business. I wouldn't mind taking a mass transit system if one existed that offered enough service to make it work. Today, there is a shuttle bus type service with a very sparse schedule that could get me to Portland, but not Salem or Eugene. If there was any type of transportation service that could get me in and out of our major towns quicker and reliably - train, bus (bio-fueled would be nice) - I'd take it even if it were less comfortably, and took more time.

    More to the point is regional commuting. In Central Oregon, the communities of Bend, Redmond, LaPine, Madras, Prineville, Sisters, and Crooked River Ranch have thousands of people going from one to another for work. (Some people think all traffic flows into and out of Bend, but census and other data tells us that the commute is much more complex than that simple view. Many people in Madras commute to the veneer plants in Prineville. Many in Prineville commute to Brightwood in Madras. Some people in Redmond come over to jobs in Prineville, and vice versa. There is way more two sided commuting than people give this region credit for.)

    So, should we be thinking about "fast lanes" for mass transit out in my rural area? Should we be thinking about State sponsored trunk line buses? -- I don't really know. What we should be doing is starting to think about how to move people around without such heavy use of the automobile. We should be thinking about both cost per mile per person, and fuel consumed per person per mile.

    Rural people often get written off in these discussions, but really, if you want to affect real change we have to be included. In fact, given the distances rural people have to travel for goods and services, perhaps we should look at this upside down from the urban perspective - mass transit in rural areas might save a lot more personal/fuel/environmental damage than what we can get in urban areas.

    What we really need is a government that gives a damn about recognizing and solving the problems we have. Even in this thread we have "bury the head in sand" people who think more freeways are the answer. We don't need to wait for it to become "profitable" for some business entity to get going on this. We really need government to take the lead. In other words --

    We need to elect more Democrats.

  • Harry (unverified)
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    Steve writes: "In Central Oregon, the communities of Bend, Redmond, LaPine, Madras, Prineville, Sisters, and Crooked River Ranch have thousands of people going from one to another for work. <snip> So, should we be thinking about "fast lanes" for mass transit out in my rural area? <snip> Even in this thread we have "bury the head in sand" people who think more freeways are the answer."

    I agree, Sisters to Bend...Madras to LaPine...they don't need more freeways, or even additional passing lanes (see Sisters to Tollgate).

    What they need is lite rail (bio-fueled would great!) or other progressive mass transit. But I think that the Tram would be a bit much, don't you? Unless it was a new Tram to the top of Bachelor, but why do that, I mean, isn't that what they were invented for?

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    I can offer my own example of how a choice of where to live has made a huge difference for our family.

    We, too, decided to purchase a house close to our workplace and on transit lines in Portland. We paid quite a bit more than we would have for a house in the suburbs, but it's pretty much a wash when you factor in the money we're saving on gas, insurance and parking. But more importantly, we're saving time.

    Instead of an hour commute each way fighting traffic, I have a 20 minute ride by bike or bus. That's 80 minutes more each day I have to spend with my kids rather than commuting. That adds up to about 10 days a year I go to the park, play and read to my kids--time I would have spent driving.

    It's not just a financial issue; good development is a quality of life issue. Thanks for this Russell.

  • im karlock (unverified)
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    THartill: JK said: Higher prices will soon reduce consumption as people switch to more efficient cars and higher prices will also bring new supply from marginal wells, shale oil, tar sands and coal.

    When is soon? Consumption has not been reduced with a year of high prices. JK: Do you have a source for your consumption claim? (If driving hasn’t been reduced that means that people still think it is worth the money, other wise they would reduce their discretionary trips.)

    THartill: How many barrels have been produced from shale oil? Oh what's that, zero? JK: Then the process must wait for lower cost methods or higher oil prices.

    THartill: Tar sands bring in 2 million Bpd and this will double in 10 years, oh we're saved! JK: Just a matter of price. It will double a whole lot sooner is oil stays high. Coal gasification already appears economically viable per studies done in the seventies using the process that ran the German war machine in its latter years.

    THartill: Thin air, wow! Get energy from nothing! Time to rewrite all those science books out there. JK: If you studied chemistry, you would discover that it takes energy. Fortunately we can have that energy with new generation nukes.

    Thanks JK

  • phil smith (unverified)
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    Check this: http://oregonstate.edu/Dept/pol_sci/fac/sahr/cv2005.xls $3 in 1979 equates to a little over $8 using final 2005 inflation factors, according to the data from oregon state. Phil Smith

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    I too know people who take an alternative way to work. They use bicycles because there is no bus, or MAX service to our business. Although the businesses in the area probably pay over a million dollar annually in Trimet taxes Trimet runs just three buses in the morning and then three in the afternoon. So those starting work at hours that Trimet is not running and who don't have cars are left to bicycle, which may be fine for some, but after a day of heavy lifting riding a bike home isn't much fun, nor is it fun in the wintew rain and cold. But Trimet needs to fund MAX instead of expanding bus service. So the suburbs suffer while downtown gets the services. That's nice. Michael Wilson

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    So the suburbs suffer while downtown gets the services.

    I don't think that is really true when you consider the density of employment. The problem is that where employment isn't dense and the pedestrian network is non-existent its tough to provide high-quality transit service. And its tough to get riders when the transit service is lousy.

  • adron (unverified)
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    This is an interesting bit of slander. I do see above how some people understand history and some do not, I also see how some people just make pragmatic choices and might or may understand the implications of more "Publicly funded Government mass transit" vs. "Privately funded well balanced (mass or SOV) transit".

    So it's not always nice to link in a space but I'm not writing anymore here... to read my retort click here.

  • Garlynn (unverified)
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    Bob Fancher wrote: "What would that look like? I'm asking this as a serious question.... Short of a completely controlled economy, in which some people get better stuff (access to transit) without paying anything for it directly, I don't quite "get" how land use laws are likely to help much. But I'd be glad to be educated on the issue."

    There's two main tools that can be used to get at this issue.

    1) The first is to supply the transit. There are only a few light rail lines so far in Oregon. Back in the 1920s, there used to be many more, as well as electric interurban lines and other commuter and passenger rail lines, but right now they're all in Portland. First off, right away, more need to be built, opened and operated. Central Oregon could use some service (in the Bend/Madras/etc. area). Southern Oregon could use a line or two or three (in the Grants Pass/Central Point/Medford/Ashland/Eagle Point/etc. area). Eugene is building a BRT (bus rapid transit, buses running in dedicated Right Of Way) system to connect it with Springfield, but I'd suggest that it could use more. As could Corvallis/Albany/Salem.

    2) The second is to supply the land for development. How? Zoning. Most zoning laws are artificial restrictions on the maximum level of development and use allowable on any given parcel of land. Single-family neighborhoods are not built simply because it is "what the market demands." Rather, they are built because that is what the local governments zone the land for. So, if you want higher-density development near transit, oriented towards transit so that its occupants use transit, then you zone the land for such and include a design review overlay that has specifications pertaining to the provision of walking, bicycling and community amenities that allow for a transit-oriented development.

    It's not rocket science. Most of the older towns and cities in Oregon were built according to these principles, from about the 1870s through the 1920s. It made sense then and it makes sense now.

    I've re-posted here to expand this discussion a bit to talk about how far away from transit people might conceivably live and still feel compelled to walk to get there.

  • im karlock (unverified)
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    Steve Bucknum: ...The other half of the vise that is squeezing shut on these people is the deliberate efforts by our captains of industry...What is at stake is a little thing that used to be called "The American Dream"... JK: Don’t forget to add the high cost of housing, mostly caused by Metro’s artificial shortage of land. It is now up to about $70,000 for a small (5000 sqft) lot. Then add in a few more tens of thousands for un-needed government requirements and excessive permit fees. See http://americandreamcoalition.org/penalty.html

    Steve Bucknum: I have to travel to Salem, Eugene, and/or Portland several times a year related to business. I wouldn't mind taking a mass transit system if one existed that offered enough service to make it work. JK: We already have both bus and rail service from Portland to Salem and Eugene. Why not try one of them? Greyhound at reasonable cost and Amtrak at astronomical cost (over $100 per ride, moistly paid by others through taxes.) BTW did you know that max carries more people every day in Portland than all of Amtrak nationally? http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/AmtrakBackgroundInformationFacts2005.pdf http://www.trimet.org/about/ridership.htm

    Steve Bucknum: Even in this thread we have "bury the head in sand" people who think more freeways are the answer. JK: Do you have another suggestion that moves as many people at such low cost and where the user pays the full cost? IF Trimet users paid their full cost, that $72 one month pass would cost about $369 -- more than payments on a new car with a lot left over for insurance and gas. (A Trimet one year all zone pass would cost about $4000.)BTW cars are more flexible than bus like bus is more flexible than rail. That is why most people choose cars. Your car is near your front door, not several blocks away, at a temperature of your choosing with your choice of food and music. And no drug deals, muggers or panhandlers.

    Steve Bucknum: We don't need to wait for it to become "profitable" for some business entity to get going on this. We really need government to take the lead. In other words -- JK: Governemt taking the lead gave Portland the nation’s worst increase in traffic congestion, the nation’s highest unemployment and the nation’s shortest school year at various times in the last few years.

    The root problem is that the motive for starting a government project is vote getting and personal power, not public service. The two are different. Of course part of vote getting is spreading money to people who will vote for you and who will contribute to your campaign.

    The real goal of big civic projects is to spend money, not the outcome of the project. That is how we get things like PGE park, the convention center, MAX and the tram. Also explains urban renewal. Coming soon a convention center hotel.

    Steve Bucknum: We need to elect more Democrats. JK: Find me one that is financially sustainable, doesn’t want to herd me into a cattle car to take me from my rat cage condo to work and we can talk.

    Thanks JK

  • jdn (unverified)
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    Probably nobody listing anymore but I think I'll throw my 2 cents into this one anyway. I grew up in Texas and have lived in almost every major city there during my 30 years prior to moving to Oregon. I worked as a civil engineer helping to plan and design highway projects for cities such as Houston and Austin. The whole “user pays the whole cost for highway transportation” argument doesn’t really fly. Highways cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to plan, design and construct (believe me here, I used to work up the cost estimates). This doesn’t include the millions annually that it takes to upkeep and repair a freeway (cars and trucks moving at high speeds quickly degrade even the best concrete or asphalt). Just for giggles let’s go ahead and throw in the costs of highway patrols to enforce traffic laws on said roads (also taxpayer funded) or the costs of cleanup of the daily accidents that plague our roads. In fact, let’s go all the way and throw in the costs of treating those injured in accidents. If I really wanted a good number I’d probably include the costs of treating respiratory illnesses resulting from smog buildup in our cities as well. I'm sure I could think of more, but just dont have the time. All of these are costs that one way or the other are paid socially by us all. I’d be willing to hazard a guess that if you threw all of this together you would find that “actual costs” of highway transportation for each user is at least equal to that of a light rail passenger and more than likely well above. I could also go into a little real life story about a city that thought it could highway build its way out of traffic problems, but again I dont really have the time. Needless to say, it doesnt work. You just end up with 20 lane highways packed full of vehicles in bumper to bumper traffic instead of packed 4 land highways. There are scientific reasons for this, but again I havent the time to explain.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Wayne asked: "The problem with Oregon is that since we lost Mr. Jackson nobody has built the highways necessary to move traffic and goods. ... Name a highway built since the 1970's I-205."

    Well, let's see, off the top of my head: The major new bypass through Bend, the Corvallis bypass (now being widened!), the rerouting, widening, and straightening that has being going on gradually but nearly continuously to Hwy 34 between I-5 and the coast since the late '80s, the improvements to I-5 through Salem.

    Now, a question for Wayne: What new highways or widened highways would you like to see, how much will each project cost, and how would you propose to pay for them? (This is a serious question... I am not opposed to highway improvements, I just want to see more of our transportation resources dedicated to improving other modes.)

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    (Minor correction to the above... The improvements from I-5 to Corvallis are on Hwy 34, the improvements from Corvallis to the coast are largely on Hwy 20. Hwy 20 & 34 share the stretch from Corvallis to Philomath.)

    • Bob R.
  • im karlock (unverified)
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    jdn: If I really wanted a good number I’d probably include the costs of treating respiratory illnesses resulting from smog buildup in our cities as well. I'm sure I could think of more, but just dont have the time. JK: Of course bus and rail have the same problems as they too use fuel. Bus uses the same imported oil as cars do and in about the same amounts per passenger-mile. Light rail is electric, so it is mostly coal powered with coal’s attendant problems with emitting more co2 than cars per passenger mile and coal’s emission of Uranium And Thorium into the air.

    As to who pays: overall in the US user fees pay the entire cost of the interstate highway system. Some localities choose to pay for more stuff locally, but in Portland this IS NOT THE CASE.

    Thanks JK

  • im karlock (unverified)
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    Bob R.: What new highways or widened highways would you like to see, how much will each project cost, and how would you propose to pay for them? JK: Add lane(s) to I84, US26, I5. Would have cost less than that toy train and carried more people (assuming same mass transit mix as before train). Unlike max would also carry freight. Had we done this we would not have serious congestion.

    Light rail is the basic transportation problem in the Portland area - it costs too much and does too little.

    Thanks JK

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    By adding lanes to I-84, can I assume you mean between I-205 and I-5?

    In that corridor, the main capacity problem is with the interchanges.

    I-84 eastbound backs up because the single lane ramp/tunnel to I-205 completely backs up into the right lane of I-84.

    I-84 westbound backs up because both approaches to I-5 (north and south) frequently clog.

    Simply adding lanes to I-84 would not solve this problem at all, it would just add more "parking" when the freeway backs up.

    Now, I do believe that there could be room to improve the I-84 E. to I-205 N. transition, but it would involve more than just adding a lane to I-205... the interchanges with Columbia Blvd. and Sandy would have to be redone as there is a lot of weaving that goes on in that area. It would also involve moving a good deal of retaining wall and modifying (but not replacing) overpasses. Such a project would be very expensive, of course, but would do far more to relieve congestion than just adding a lane to I-84.

    At the west end, things are far more problematic. I have done several drive-throughs with an eye for infrastructure and several walks over overpasses, and it just doesn't look like there is room to widen I-5 anywhere along the eastbank without completely redoing all the overpasses, most of the elevated freeway, and one or two ramps to the Fremont bridge. Such a project would be colossally expensive, especially if I-5 is to remain open during the process. That's why I asked for a price tag.

    I'm actually all for removing bottlenecks, given solid cost estimates. In my view it is a more important goal than simply adding lanes. More lanes just delivers more people to the same bottlenecks.

    Regarding adding lanes to US26, what corridor do you propose? Between the tunnel and Sylvan there isn't much room, especially since the tunnels can't be widened without shutdown/replacement. US26 has seen a lot of work between Sylvan/Murray already... are you proposing further widening in that corridor, or just west of Murray?

    • Bob R.
  • adron (unverified)
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    BTW JK... I agree 95% with your statements as they are largely grounded in facts, unlike some of these other politically biased and non-historically based ideals.

    I just wanted to point out. If people where able to choose what their tax money went to in the Portland area, Light Rail, Busses, or Interstate/Road/Highways I bet we'd end up with the same mix. Here's why...

    93% of taxes (i.e. the stuff that builds the roads & the light rail system) are paid by the bottom 9% of the top 10% of income earners. In other words 93% of taxes are paid by 9% of the population. Somewhere around the 70k-300k a year income earners.

    This small minority of people are the ones who mostly use light rail AND the roadways. In Portland easily 50% of those people would vote to spend their money on Light Rail. They do every time they vote a pro-transit candidate in office. That is more than enough to cover the costs.

    But at the same time what is really disgusting while this small 9% of the population is basically paying for their own transportation, and the other 91% of the populations transportation, they continue to choose light rail over and over in large enough numbers to allow it to keep being built.

    If everyone paid their own way it would be unforunate that about 10% of the population basically couldn't afford to get around. Even on more efficient privately run mass transit. Even today that 10% can barely get around on public transit even when it IS subsidized to the tune of 60+% like it is in Portland (and almost every major American city).

    So why is it we Americans allow the idea that subsidized transit is the way to go? It seems most logical to end the subsidies all together. Sure ween off cities slowly.

    In the end what would we get? More money in the pockets of citizens to use as they chose, to either drive/ride to their destrination or maybe to just not make a trip in the first place?

    At least it would an individuals decision again? Various forms being provided where feasible, where market demand is REAL and not some figment of a politician's wet dream.

    Now in the above I said we'd end up with about the same mix. Here's the difference if the Feds & state got out of the monopoly transportation business tomorrow.

    A trip mile in a car would come down to about $1.00-$1.75 (Depending on a Toyota Prius vs. a BMW or Ford Expedition), a mile on a rail line system operating under the same costs as the MAX would be about $.90 cents to a $1.00. The streetcar under the operating costs & startup of the New Orleans system would be about $.65 cents to $.80 cents, the Portland Streetcar would be about $.95-$1.10 depending on if they don't need to replace track for at least 40-50 years (which I don't see it lasting that long).

    If we take those basic amounts we end up with about 15-25% of the populating being in a situation where they might own a car, but would necessitate they use a "privately" run "efficiently" operated mass transit vehicle. About 5%-10% of the population wouldn't be able to go anywhere on a daily basis (which is about what it is today), and the other 75% to 85% of the population would do exactly what they're doing today, except making an objective and reason based decision each day to spend that money. Once again freedom and liberty is the main incentive process each day instead of the notion that one has to go somewhere, and is owed the right to go somewhere because of this strange ideal that mass transit must be a "publicly owned" utility and all must be forced to contribute whether one travels 1 mile per year or 50,000.

    In summary. Market demand and businesses meeting market demand create REAL liberty and freedom, publicly funded "public transit" motivated by winning votes and taking public land, assets, and making politically motivated decisions do NOT create liberty and freedom of movement, only more of the "entitlement mentality".

  • Clackablog (unverified)
    (Show?)

    from jdn | May 23, 2006 1:04:57 PM {snip}

    The whole “user pays the whole cost for highway transportation” argument doesn’t really fly. Highways cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to plan, design and construct (believe me here, I used to work up the cost estimates).

    Ahem. Gas tax? Roadways are paid for by roadway users, not from the General Fund. Misleading.

    This doesn’t include the millions annually that it takes to upkeep and repair a freeway (cars and trucks moving at high speeds quickly degrade even the best concrete or asphalt).

    Wrong. Composite constuction (with a layer of plastic in the middle) permits hundred-year roads. How is it that a civil engineer would neglect mentioning composites?

    Just for giggles let’s go ahead and throw in the costs of highway patrols to enforce traffic laws on said roads (also taxpayer funded)

    Which should be gas-tax funded. When we did fund the OSP with gas tax money, we had a much better OSP. Even now, if you call 911 for a problem on a state highway, you get transferred to the OSP.

    or the costs of cleanup of the daily accidents that plague our roads.

    Again, the rational way to handle this is with the fuels tax. (Haw to remember to use 'fuel' tax, not 'gas' tax, now that I have a Biodiesel Jeep.)

    Straw men make bad debate partners, IMHO.

  • R. W. Rynerson (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The comments from Libertarians show how thoroughly they have been indoctrinated with 1940's-1960's values. Every form of transportation now is subsidized in multiple ways, right up to and including amusement park roller coasters (tax breaks from local governments for tourism promotion and land development).

    I'm a Republican who would love to see the subsidies kicked out from under all of these programs, except the Libertarians can't see what would really happen-- we'd have the 1917 transportation system again, dominated by railroad companies and streetcar companies -- and Libertarians are such slaves to the highway lobby that whenever the crunch comes, they back subsidies to preserve those top dogs of transportation.

    The gas tax and public subsidies for highways and waterways were developed in the WWI era to get even with the perceived rail and streetcar monopolies. I used to browse through the ODOT library on my lunch hours and read the old reports that justified developing the self-perpetuating highway construction program. It took gas tax money from ALL trips made by motorists and then spent the money on a few highways. YEARS after the highway program was well-established, the counties and then the cities got a share of the tax money, even though most of the gas tax was generated on their streets paid for with the good old Oregon property tax. A large part of the cost of local streets and county roads still comes from property taxes (and here in Colorado from taxes on retail sales).

    What a way to start a "self-supporting" business! Don't PAY property taxes (motor vehicles, unlike railroads, are exempted), but instead USE property taxes to build the infrastructure that generates gas taxes.

    Of course, by the time I was reading these old reports in the 1970's, it was clear that this little spite program to attack the evil rail companies and get the farmers out of the mud had turned into the dominant mode. And, from sitting through many hearings, I learned that right-wingers could stand on their heads and claim to be representing free enterprise by demanding bigger and bigger public spending programs for highways.

    If members of the public want to vote for better public transportation, it's their right and we should provide it for them. I'll work hard to do that. Similarly, if they want to build more highways, they should be able to vote to do that. But don't call one group welfare bums and claim that the other group is somehow paying its own way.

    Oh, and about those gas prices that tripped off this discussion. Of course, inflation offsets some of the increase, depending on which base figure you use. But during the same period discussed here, how much in additional U.S. Federal tax breaks were added to the tax advantages already enjoyed by oil and petroleum products producers? And how much money did we spend in this interim in defense costs to pick up this oil from some of its shaky providers? Might letting fuel prices rise a bit be better than having to keep such a large military establishment in the Middle East? (Read more about how our "cheap gas" transportation decisions have imperiled our national security.)

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