Think Traffic's Bad Now? Fund Highway Expansion Initiatives.

By Karli Petrovic of Portland, Oregon. Karli is the communications and membership coordinator for 1000 Friends of Oregon.

There's a reason why the statistics published in the Portland Business Alliance's 2014 Economic Impacts of Transportation study are attention-grabbing: The possibility of spending 69 hours per year in traffic and congestion by 2040 is enough to persuade even the most ardent public transit advocate to support the construction of massive superhighways. After all, who wouldn't want an additional $928 million in annual economic output and sales or 8,300 new jobs as a result of an improved system? These statistics were reported in the Portland Tribune's Jan. 6 article, "Think traffic's bad now? Just wait."

The problem with these striking figures is that they can empower people to vote for initiatives that won't actually decrease congestion. Here at 1000 Friends of Oregon, we advocate for an alternative view. Despite the long-held notion that building more roads means fewer drivers on each, research has shown that more roads actually mean more drivers. People who might usually hop on their bikes start reaching for their car keys. Need a real-world example? Ask people in Los Angeles how much they enjoy their daily commutes.

This isn't to say that Oregonians shouldn't support transportation legislation. But we need to be smart about how our tax dollars are used to make improvements. To illustrate this point, let's look at the proposed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) was a plan to redesign five miles of freeway and interchanges including the Interstate 5 Bridge. It required Oregonians to approve a $2.79 billion project that would decrease biker and pedestrian safety, support costly urban sprawl from Portland into Southern Washington, and increase pollution (especially in certain communities of color). This is a small sampling of the problems that would have resulted from a project that purported to alleviate congestion on the I-5 Bridge. Inaccurate traffic analysis and projections -- in addition to overly ambitious new job totals -- contributed to the misconceptions about how effective the project would be.

The lesson here is to take the same cautious approach when supporting proposed transportation legislation in 2015. And there are some great initiatives that perpetuate the ideals Oregonians value: reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more prevalent bus services and safer walkways and bike paths. How do we know these are the issues people care about? Both millennial and Baby Boomers are "voting with their feet" by walking, biking and bussing more and driving less. One package of transportation funding proposals from the Oregon Transportation Forum includes funding the $100 million multi-modal ConnectOregon program, the $75 million transit service for senior and disabled Oregonians, and the $20 million youth transit access program. The plan also requests additional funding to fix existing roads and highways. Both Transportation for Oregon's Future and 1000 Friends of Oregon support these elements of the package. I strongly urge you think about these initiatives and what really makes sense when it comes to reducing congestion and improving business operations.

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