The New Sellwood Bridge: Subsidizing the Two Percenters

By Michael Nielsen

For more than six years, Multnomah County has been considering how best to replace the Sellwood Bridge. The plan that has been adopted calls for removing the current bridge and replacing it with a new one that is twice as wide.

However, none of the new space will be available for cars, even though cars carry nearly 98% of all passenger trips during the peak hours. Only about 40% of the new bridge will be allocated to vehicular travel, with the other 60% dedicated to non-motorized transportation in the form of bikeways and mega-sidewalks. Heavy trucks will be banned entirely from the bridge, increasing congestion on nearby streets and raising transportation costs for businesses.

The new bridge does need more space for cyclists and pedestrians because the current bridge was never designed for them. However, there is no reason to allocate 60% of bridge space to satisfy two percent of all travelers.

County Commissioners were recently shocked to discover that the price tag for the bridge has gone up by $70 million since last year. If city planners want to save money, they should reduce the width of the bridge. Planning for two 12-foot sidewalks to accommodate a few hundred pedestrians is simply a waste of resources.

Michael Nielsen is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.

Insolvency, One Step at a Time

The Oregonian on Sunday examined TriMet’s deteriorating finances and called attention to high-cost union contracts, first approved in 1994, as the starting point of the decline. Due to the compounding effect of these contracts, TriMet now spends $1.63 in benefits for every $1.00 spent on wages, and the agency has more than $1.2 billion in unfunded actuarially accrued liabilities for promised retirement benefits.


As a result, transit service has been cut by 14% in the past four years, and more cuts are due beginning September.


What was revealing in the Oregonian feature was how no one was willing to accept responsibility. At any point during an 18-year period, dozens of people served on the TriMet Board or in top management positions, and they could have demanded change. But they didn’t.


Of course, leadership starts at the top, and it’s the governor who appoints the TriMet Board. In August 1994, then-Governor Barbara Roberts met with the TriMet board chair, Loren Wyss, who strongly objected to the draft contract. Instead of supporting him, she forced him off the board.


The legacy of that decision is a terminally dysfunctional business model at TriMet. Someone on the TriMet board needs to have the courage to say that. But who will do so when it’s so much easier to remain silent?

Subsidized Car Sharing: The Next Frontier in Wasteful Spending

Nine months ago I happily testified (twice) on behalf of a legislative bill that would allow the creation of a privately operated car sharing program in Oregon. I liked the idea of using cars more efficiently, and I loved the fact that the price of rentals would be determined entirely by the market.

A model for this program exists in San Francisco; and as one of the legislative proponents described it, private vehicles there rent for about $9 per hour. But a Tesla electric vehicle frequently rents for $50 an hour, just because some people think it’s fun to drive.

I wouldn’t pay that much, but I’m glad the law allows someone else to.

Unfortunately, a good idea has been ruined by subsidies. Recently, the federal government awarded a $1.7 million grant (requiring $431,250 in local match money) to the City of Portland to promote car sharing and to measure the results. The regional government, Metro, will vote on Thursday to accept the grant.

Car sharing is a great idea, but tax sharing is not. Metro Councilors should reject the federal money and allow the “invisible hand” of the market to work exactly as the legislature intended.

Mandates to Reduce Driving Will Kill Oregon’s Economy

Cascade Commentary

By Todd Wynn and John A. Charles, Jr.

Summary: Numerous federal, state and local policies aim to reduce vehicle miles travelled as a carbon-emissions reduction plan, yet rarely considered are the possible economic effects of these policies. New evidence shows that those effects are likely to damage both the environment and the economy.

Read more

Driving the Economy: Automotive Travel, Economic Growth, and the Risks of Global Warming Regulations

Concerns about climate change necessarily have focused attention on the energy and carbon “footprint” of various sectors of the economy. Particular attention has been focused on the
transportation sector and private vehicle travel in particular. For example, the May 15, 2009 proposal by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg requires that the next federal transportation bill “reduce national per capita motor VMT on an annual basis.” With some state climate initiatives calling for reductions in carbon emissions of as much as 40 percent of today’s levels in a decade, further focus on the transportation system and private highway use is inevitable.
Click here to read the full report in PDF format

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