Portland’s highway system: there is no there there

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The Federal Highway Administration has apparently reached its limit with Portland’s fantasy transportation planning. In comments filed recently on Metro’s so-called “Regional Transportation Plan”, the federal government noted that, “it’s difficult to find the transportation focus” in the plan.

Many motorists stuck in our worsening traffic would agree. Metro’s plan places little emphasis on improving the road system, even though it carries 99 percent of all travel trips in the region. Instead, the plan assumes that people will increasingly live in high-density housing and travel around via light rail lines, streetcars or the aerial tram.

To encourage this, cities will be put on “road diets” and streets will gradually be “retrofitted” into boulevards, greenways and bike paths.

In some ways this is a seductive urban vision, and reminds me of futuristic exhibitions I saw at the New York World’s Fair as a kid in 1965. But in the real world, most people don’t want to live that way. They prefer single-family houses with a yard and a double-car garage.

The roads being ignored by Metro will continue to deteriorate. But that’s part of the plan, too. Higher levels of congestion make rail transit look more attractive, so congestion becomes a benefit.

Eventually taxpayers will realize that Metro’s vision is a fraud. But by then it may be too late.

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

© 2007, 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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