Driving new ideas for better Oregon roads.

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For at least the last 50 years, much of the U.S. transport economy has been characterized by government monopolies and private-sector cartels (such as taxi operations), administered by public regulators. The result has been rising levels of traffic congestion, poor maintenance of roads, lack of innovation, and a misallocation of investment capital into passenger rail transit.

In continuation with this tradition, local transit and government agencies in Oregon are attempting to starve motor vehicles off the roads through the use of road diets and by removing traffic lanes in favor of underused light rail, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Their method of addressing traffic congestion is to make it worse.

Cascade’s research program in transportation examines market-based mechanisms for providing transport services, as well as ways to maintain a successful and well-managed road system in concert with a rapidly growing population. Examples include privately-operated bus service, pairing underserved transit with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and electronic tolling of highways with variable pricing.

Oregon has been slow to experiment with highway tolling, but the state legislature passed a law in 2017 mandating the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to begin planning for all-lane tolling of I-5 from Washington State to North Wilsonville, and all of I-205. This will be an opportunity to implement a market-based highway finance system designed to make the Portland regional highway system entirely self-sufficient, with variable tolls ensuring free-flow traffic conditions at all times of the day.

Transitioning away from motor fuel taxes towards electronic tolling will require a change of thinking by Portland-area motorists, but proper implementation promises to provide a much better driving experience along with tremendous gains in economic productivity.

Cascade Policy Institute has published many papers and essays on market-based road pricing since 1995 and will continue to do so in the future. Those documents and others are available in this section of our website.

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