New report: Road work ahead

Business leaders begin lobbying for more funding of transportation needs to keep state companies competitive in the future

If Oregon's economy is still stuck in traffic by 2025, it could cost the state millions of dollars and thousands of lost jobs, according to a new statewide transportation study.

To keep that from happening, business leaders from Washington County, Portland and across the state began this week a full-court press to boost investment in Oregon's transportation system.

Their goal is to persuade legislative leaders to pump more money into improvements for roads, rail and shipping facilities, all of which will be needed to keep the state competitive in the next two decades.

'This is not just a Portland problem,' said Marion Haynes of the Portland Business Alliance, one of the study's sponsors. 'It's the lack of sufficient roads all across the state. I think what the study does a good job of showing is that this truly is a statewide transportation network and it needs to function statewide to work.'

A panel of state and local business leaders will discuss the study's findings this morning during a breakfast meeting of the Westside Economic Alliance. The meeting is from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Kingstad Center, 15450 S.W. Millikan Way.

Local leaders also talked by conference call Wednesday afternoon with chambers of commerce across the state to promote the study and gather support for the long road ahead.

The statewide study grew out of a November 2005 report about the costs of congestion on Portland-area roads. That study found that local traffic problems cost the region millions in lost trade and jobs.

The new study, which was completed this week, was done by the Economic Development Research Group for the Oregon Business Council and the Portland Business Alliance. Other partners in the process were the Associated Oregon Industries, the Port of Portland, Oregon's Department of Transportation and the Westside Economic Alliance.

Among the study's most significant findings was the estimate that without improvements or changes, by 2025 the state could lose $1.7 billion a year in lost trade. It also could lose 16,000 jobs because of the problems.

According to the study, about one of every five jobs depends on transportation, such as trucking, shipping and rail. The state's industries will need improvements in every part of the transportation system to get ahead, the study reported.

Interviews with a dozen major businesses across the state - including Powell's Books in Portland, Intel Corp. and Roseburg Forest Products in Dillard - found that traffic congestion was a huge headache.

Clogged roads and slow traffic forced some companies, like Intel, to shift its shipping times and others to reroute products by dozens of miles and to build new plants outside the state.

In a week, a steering committee of business leaders will meet with the House Transportation Committee to discuss possible legislation. No concrete proposals have been discussed yet, but the business groups expect legislation proposed this session to achieve some of their goals.

'We need to make a business case for investing in transportation across the state,' said Bernie Bottomly of the Portland Business Alliance.

'We don't want to end the '07 session without legislation to improve the transportation system,' said Steve Clark, a member of the Westside Economic Alliance and president of Community Newspapers, which publishes the Valley Times.

Although the 60-page report doesn't include firm cost estimates to accomplish all its goals, the Oregon Business Plan saw a need for $300 million to $350 million to be invested in statewide transportation projects each year during the next several years to keep trade on the road.

ODOT's transportation plan estimated that the state would need about $1 billion more each year to pay for necessary projects.