Grumblings about lengthy commute times are now officially valid, as clogged-up highways and heavy traffic have begun to impact freight transportation, significantly affecting businesses trying to bring their products to market.

The Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel released a final report May 17 on transportation issues across the state, offering recommendations to the state’s traffic challenges. Congestion on Portland metro highways impacts the economic competitiveness of the entire state, the report found.

The panel included 35 members who are legislators, business owners and civic leaders around the state, who held a series of public meetings throughout 2015 to assess challenges facing Oregon’s transportation system and visualize the next 30 years of its future.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - A recent report by the Governors Transportation Vision Panel said that Portlands congested roads are impacting the entire states economy.

“While the landscapes differ in our vast state, this report finds we have much in common in relation to our transportation system,” said Transportation Vision Panel co-chair Gregg Kantor. “We share in our desire to make this great state better, and we understand the importance of being one Oregon.”

The report takes into account the potential statewide effects of the Cascadia Subduction Zone quake expected in the next 50 years. If and when the Cascadia Quake happens, it could result in a $92 billion economic loss. The report found that through a $1.8 billion investment in seismic resiliency, that loss can be avoided.

Other commonalities that affect the whole state’s economy include increasing populations of students and workers (commuters) and truck transportation to marine ports (freight).

Right now, metro area commuters spend 52 hours stuck in traffic annually, a 13 percent increase from five years ago. Concurrently, congestion affects shippers from across the state who struggle to provide on-time deliveries.

“Improving freight mobility in the metro area and enhancing freight alternatives such as barging options on the Columbia River is vital to the region’s agricultural economies,” the report found. “But a growing population and a congested freight network have presented a number of challenges for the state and regional economy.”

Increasing population

In 2010, Oregon’s population was 3.8 million. By 2030, the population is projected to reach 4.77 million, and 5.59 million by 2050.

“Oregon’s population is straining our heavily-subscribed and ever-aging transportation system,” the report reads. “Rapid growth could challenge our ability to remain economically competitive ... and make it harder to simply get to work.”

By 2040, Portland-metro households will spend an average of 69 hours a year stuck in congestion without new investments in transportation.

Freight transportation

“Many producers cannot avoid moving goods through already congested corridors, which creates delays and adds expense, and they do not have adequate alternatives on the non-roadway system,” the report found. “Investments in alternative freight hubs and transload facilities in less congested areas could help keep Oregon moving.”

When the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 lost weekly container shipments in February, it cost the trucking industry $15.1 million. By 2035, freight traffic is expected to increase by 60 percent.

“Congestion along I-205 in Portland during peak hours is brutal for our company,” said Mike Card, president of Combined Transport located in Central Point in Southern Oregon. “To make timely deliveries, you simply can’t travel through Portland near peak hours. You are basically forced to add a day to your delivery.”

The panel recommends investing in freight enhancement such as truck rest areas and port drop sites that reduce trucking during peak hours of congestion, improving existing roadways to reduce bottlenecks on high-priority corridors like I-5 and I-205, investing in the capacity and efficiency of rural highways like Highway 97 and investing in alternatives including transit, ridesharing, biking, walking and employee incentives.

All of this would reduce highway demand for freight traffic. Oregon is heavily trade dependent, so intermodal freight infrastructure is key.

COURTESY: EO MEDIA GROUP - Although a second container company has decided to leave the Port of Portland, containers are still an important part of the economy.

Marine and Ports

Freight trucks’ delivery delays from bogged-down state roads are spilling over into the next levels of product exportation that rely on road infrastructure to move goods.

The report found coastal and lower-Columbia River ports are the backbone of Oregon’s coastal economies, providing valuable links for waterborne freight movement and commerce.

There are 23 ports in Oregon, including five deep-draft marine ports (for loading large ships) and four shallow-draft marine ports.

“Underinvestment and underutilization of these port assets hinder the economic potential of the region,” the report found.

For example, in 2011, the Port of Morrow contributed $915 million the Oregon’s GDP and supported 13,247 jobs. Its major exports include grains, root vegetables and dairy grown in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and is a major economic engine for the region’s agricultural production.

The Port of Morrow grew by 88 percent from 2008 to 2013. Close access to the highways, a rail and a barge system means the Port can ship agricultural products from local food processors across the region and around the world.

“Agricultural commodities which form the backbone of the region’s economy rely on Portland’s road, rail, and marine systems to move their products to market,” the report found. “But increased congestion in the Portland area is creating challenges for ranchers and farmers to get their products to a global market.”

Tying it together

The panel recommends

investing in linking Oregon’s ports and marine transportation system, which would tie the marine system with the freight plan, help determine statewide funding priorities that impact the marine system like roads, rail and waterway system improvements, and organize shipper alternatives like barging containers along the Columbia River.

They recommend identifying and investing in intermodal freight facilities and connectors like transload facilities, port drop sites and inland ports.

The report found airports are crucial in supporting business development and firefighting efforts in the rural regions.

Without forward movement, the Southern Oregon region will experience a 40 percent increase in travel delay by 2038, the report found.

Clearing up the gridlock needs to be solved quickly, or the freight will further mire Oregon’s entire economy from the students and the workers to the exportation of goods.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Oregon suppliers of agricultural and industrial products were anxious at the rising cost of road travel and the inflexibility of rail travel. Doing everything by ship would be much easier.

The money

For necessary maintenance of bridges and pavement, Oregon currently faces an annual shortfall of $324 million. Oregon has already invested billions into the transportation system, but no longer raises enough revenue to maintain it — or enhance it.

“These assets are too important to the state’s economic vitality to let them deteriorate due to underinvestment,” the report found.

Since 1980, Oregon’s Constitution designates state gas tax money and other fees on vehicles solely to construction, improvement, operation, use and maintenance of the state’s highways, roads, streets and rest areas.

For decades, transportation investments have been thought of under the “user pays” platform, supported by trust funds which are no longer sufficient. Oregon’s annual average taxpayer tax and fees per vehicle is $157, which is 85 percent lower than the national average of $1,058. Oregon’s lack of a sales tax and low property tax restrictions also force local governments to be creative in their transportation funding approaches — or go without.

Revenue from the fuel tax and vehicle user fees, the foundation of the Oregon State Highway Fund, does not increase over time like property, income and sales taxes, leaving it eroded by inflation. As vehicles become more fuel-efficient and Oregonians look for transportation alternatives, fuel taxes will continue to shrink.

The panel recommends creating a permanent ConnectOregon fund, which would support non-highway transportation assets and help Oregon coordinate as a state.

“We believe the report offers a path to improve our shared transportation system, but all of us must be willing to act,” said Kantor. “Oregon will have a safe, reliable, and efficient multimodal network that supports Oregon’s businesses and enhances Oregonians’ quality of life. But to get there, we must take immediate action.”


COSTS: who gets to foot the bill?

Portland voters last week approved the highest local gas tax in Oregon at a rate of 10 cents a gallon, which will sunset after four years.

The tax is projected to raise $64 million in revenue by 2020, and be used for road repairs and pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvements, particularly near schools.

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