The gridlocking of Portland

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Last week the Texas Transportation Institute released its annual congestion rankings, and named Portland the 8th-worst city in America for traffic. Portland officials, upset that even Seattle is now ranked more favorably (12th), complained vehemently that the survey was inaccurate and besmirched Portland’s reputation as the nation’s most livable city.

But it’s difficult to understand why Portland leaders are so surprised. The land-use plan adopted by Metro eight years ago-the so-called “2040 plan”-predicted regional congestion would increase by over 200 percent by the year 2015.

In fact, a central purpose of the plan is to make congestion worse so people will abandon their cars and ride light rail. TriMet plans to spend over $2 billion during the next 10 years to expand light rail into both Vancouver and Clackamas County. The agency knows few people will ride those trains if they can easily get around the region by car.

In a recent lecture at Portland State University former Metro executive director Rick Gustafson said, “I like congestion. I don’t want to make it easy for all those people to drive over from Vancouver.” That summarizes the Portland approach.

The chorus of complaints about Portland’s sullied image brings to mind the famous line from Shakespeare, “The lady does protest too much, methinks.” Local politicians should be honest with the voters and admit that the steady gridlocking of Portland is going exactly according to their plan.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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