A tale of two transportation projects
Last fall, the Vancouver City Council was briefed on Oregon’s “value pricing.” The stated purpose of “value pricing,” also known as “tolls,” is to reduce congestion.
They were told that 72 percent of Oregon citizens say congestion is a very serious problem. Southwest Washington citizens agree. The Interstate 5 (I-5) corridor is now congested over 12 hours a day, with 35 bottlenecks in the region. Portland has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation.
Oregon and Washington each have transportation projects in the Portland metro area to relieve congestion. Both are two-lane highways. Both are two miles long. That’s where the similarity ends.
State Route 14 (SR-14) in Washignton gets congested every morning as traffic pours onto the highway at the 164th Avenue on-ramp. Traffic moves a bit faster for a brief time, until just before the Interstate 205 (I-205) exit. In the evening, it’s just the opposite, as traffic exiting I-205 heading east begins merging with SR-14.
The legislature and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have approved the addition of two lanes, one in each direction, on SR-14 between 164th Avenue and I-205.
The state of Washington will spend $25 million to add one new lane in each direction. That’s four miles of highway lanes being added. It’s new vehicle capacity to help reduce congestion.
Oregon’s Rose Quarter interchange is a two-mile, two-lane section of interstate freeway that has the highest accident rate of any section of road in Oregon. It’s a safety issue, first and foremost, besides being the primary bottleneck on I-5 in the region.
Oregon’s HB2017 would spend just over $1 billion on three projects, including $450 million at the Rose Quarter.
The Oregonian reported in September of 2017: “The state originally proposed a much larger expansion of the freeway. What’s proposed today represents years of negotiations that curtailed those earlier plans. … It will indeed help the operations of the system, but it’s not designed to be a substantial expansion of the capacity.”
The core of Oregon’s proposal are two concrete “lids” built over I-5. There’s also a “Clackamas Bicycle and Pedestrian Overcrossing” which an ODOT spokesman said will cost “$30 million to $50 million,” up to 11 percent of the total. Neither will relieve traffic congestion. An OPB reporter told me these two pieces, labeled “community redevelopment” by politicians, will cost half of the $450 million project.
What are they proposing on I-5 to reduce traffic congestion? They are closing one on-ramp and relocating another on-ramp. They will build two “auxiliary lanes,” one in each direction, where vehicles merge on and off the interstate. These auxiliary lanes should reduce rear-end accidents that happen as a result of vehicles not having enough distance to merge. ODOT indicates these additions “may” reduce accidents by 30 percent to 50 percent.
But you’ll note they are not adding any new through-lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter.
KUDOS to WSDOT — $25 million to add vehicle capacity versus $450 million. Sadly, there’s minimal “value” for Washington drivers in ODOT’s proposal. We shouldn’t pay for Oregon’s “community redevelopment” via tolls.
Editor’s note: According to recent Oregon Department of Transportation data, the Rose Quarter interchange is not in the state’s top 10 most dangerous sections of city, county and/or state roads. The most dangerous, according to a KGW analysis of ODOT’s Safety Priority Index System, is the intersection of Southwest Canyon Road at Highway 217 in Beaverton. Other accident-prone roads include 82nd Avenue near Fremont Street and Powell Boulevard in Portland, and Southwest Beaverton Hillsdale Highway at Highway 217, in Beaverton.