The focus of Cascade’s research program in transportation is to explore innovative, market-based mechanisms for providing transport services. Examples include privatized transit such as jitneys and bus service, privately built toll roads using electronic road pricing, congestion pricing of both public and private roads, and privatization of airports.

Most transportation services in this country were originally provided by private companies. Roads, bridges, tunnels, and ferry services were paid for by those who used them. In Oregon, early examples included the Barlow Toll Road, built by Sam Barlow in the 1840s for Oregon Trail settlers, and the first Morrison Bridge, built by California investors as a toll bridge.

The entrepreneurial ethic in the American transportation sector was so ingrained that during the 19th century, three different U.S. presidents vetoed legislation calling for a government-built national highway system on the grounds that it was clearly unconstitutional. Transportation infrastructure was properly seen as a market-based service that the government should stay out of.

Unfortunately, during the 20th century, many transportation services were taken over by government monopolies. With the rise of the private automobile as the dominant mode of transport, elected officials increasingly took control of construction and maintenance of roadways, most notably through the initiation of the federal Interstate Highway System in 1956. The passage of the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964 marked the large-scale intrusion of the federal government into the transit industry, sparking the decline of private providers. Not surprisingly, the monopolization of both highways and transit by government agencies has led to a rise in cost and deterioration of service.

The papers on this website cover an array of transportation issues, including light rail, transit-oriented development, congestion pricing, and transit privatization. Forthcoming essays will outline practical legislative concepts for addressing Oregon’s decaying transportation infrastructure through the use of incentives, markets, and private investment.

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John A. Charles, Jr.
President and CEO