Congestion by design visible on Sellwood Bridge
Portland-area motorists who have to regularly cross the Sellwood Bridge may wonder why the new structure is twice as wide as the 1925 bridge, yet has the same number of travel lanes.
The answer is simple. Portland transportation planners don't want to solve traffic congestion problems; they prefer to make them worse.
We know this because 20 years ago, Metro published a report titled the "South Willamette River Crossing Study" (SWRCS), which found that by 2015, levels of traffic congestion on those bridges in that area would be at "unacceptable or grossly unacceptable levels" if new capacity wasn't provided.
The study also looked at numerous potential sites for a new bridge but ultimately recommended that no new crossings be constructed. The Metro Council decided instead to focus on "transportation demand management" (TDM) to address the growing congestion. TDM is an amorphous concept using public relations campaigns and regulatory mandates to encourage drivers to shift to other modes of travel.
Once the decision by Metro was made to place a freeze on new bridge capacity, it was easy for the city of Portland to implement a new policy downsizing Tacoma Street in Sellwood from a four-lane arterial to a two-lane "Main Street," with lower speed limits. That made it politically impossible for Multnomah County, owner of the Sellwood Bridge, to replace the aging structure with a four-lane bridge.
The decision to build a new bridge was made in 2006, and construction began in 2012. All the proponents claimed that dedicating more through-capacity for cyclists and pedestrians than vehicles would create a world-class, multimodal showpiece that would finally tame the automobile and shift drivers to other modes.
Unfortunately, all of the hype turned out to be wrong. Extensive monitoring by Cascade Policy Institute over the past three years shows that on a typical day, motor vehicles account for 95% of all passenger trips.
With a price tag of $328 million, the new bridge is 43 times more expensive than the original, but it's not 43 times more useful. In fact, it's less useful, because trucks are not allowed and TriMet never restored the promised transit service.
Metro's no-growth policy was a predictable failure. It's time for the Metro Council to admit the mistake, and begin a new planning process with the goal of building at least one new bridge for motorists in the South Willamette River Corridor.
John A. Charles Jr. is president and CEO of the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon's free market public policy research organization.
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