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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to speed up traffic on the I-5 Interstate Bridge

Now that the Metro clones have gotten re-elected, several of them have a really simple solution to traffic congestion: Just add toll booths.

Comments (37)


I guess all the Metro clowns forgot that all those Clark County commuters pay Oregon income taxes also.

... And TriMet's payroll tax.

Thank God someone's finally talking some sense. I think people saw the dollar signs without thinking about what building the CRC would do to the community.

This proposal seems to advocate taking it slow: toll for a few years, see what effect tolling has on the congestion, and use the tolling revenue to upgrade the bridge seismically. That takes care of the immediate concerns, and in a few years we'll be better able to determine if 6 additional lanes are really needed over I-5.

I like it.

Metro government is a cruel joke. Here's what three of its leaders are now saying in effect: "I know you don't like sitting in traffic for minutes on end while trying to cross between Portland and Vancouver on I-5. Let me make it better. I'll now charge you to continue doing what your doing, and I won't provide any discernible new services in return."

The government's version of "Money for Nothing. Tricks for Free."

The government's version of "Money for Nothing. Tricks for Free."

The actual fiscal habits of both the US government under Republican hegemony, and of many individual Americans, suggests that the appropriate motto for our money should not be "in God we trust", but rather "something for nothing". The colonial revolutionary slogan "no taxation without representation" has been replaced by "no taxation, period". The idea of the commonwealth has, for too many people, been replaced by "I've got mine, buddy, now you get lost."


--Nobody likes paying taxes.
--Taxes are your membership dues to society.

How does this pertain to the I-5 bridge? Well, it seems that a lot of folks want a new bridge that can carry more traffic but--shocking news!--want somebody else to pay for it.

I don't know if the bridge toll proposal is particularly smart, but geez louise, folks, let's quit pretending that we can have a new bridge and have somebody else pay for it.

Amazing - They do everything they can to create congestion like building a ton of stuff downtown and high-rises. Then they refuse to expand or repair arterials or refuse to fix anything outside downtown to induce businesses to stay downtown instead of going to less-congested areas.

Then they have the gall to charge for using beat-up roads and bridges. I am sure they will use the proceeds to fix the Sellwood?

What did Kruschev say? When you skin someone, leave a some skin on so you can come back and harvest more later.

How monumentally stupid. Take the "worst bottleneck" and make it even slower by forcing cars to slow down to pay tolls.
Do they even have brains? I know they want to reduce the number of cars, but c'mon..its not going to happen. Its THE major artery through the NW. Idiots.
There need to be more traffic lanes, plain and simple.

I heard the tolling proposal phrased this way:

1) It is essentially a given that any new bridge will be tolled.
2) If the new I-5 bridge is tolled, I-205 will also be tolled to balance traffic.
3) The tolling will only pay for a fraction of the new bridge cost.

Now imagine this - A doctor says "you need major surgery, and afterwards you have to take a pill twice a day for the rest of your life. However, there is a chance you may not need the surgery. The pills may be sufficient."

Building a 12 lane bridge of the Columbia is major surgery, and very expensive. Tolling will take place anyway - You are going to be taking the pills whether you like it or not. So why not start with the pills, and wait and see if the surgery is still needed?

The CRC is hoodriver hwy all over again.

Its a horrible waste for tax dollars.
Tolls make perfect sense, one sure way to reduce traffic and raise money for bridge repairs and roads. This coupled with a gas tax, and you will see traffic go down measurably.

You are not going to reduce traffic folks. Just isnt going to happen. People have to get to work, and truck traffic need to make hauls.

And the people from WA who shop in Oregon...that will go away. The toll will offset the sales tax.
I drive to Vancouver to shop at Walmart...I would drive to Fairview or the newer one on 82nd instead.

Some places elect officials to solve traffic problems. We elect officials to exacerbate traffic problems.

I'm sorry to break it to all the Green-niks out there, but some roads are essential to the economy. Everything you buy in the store got there on a truck. Everything.

What was the last thing you bought in a store? Do you think it got there by light rail? Did someone deliver it on a fixed-gear bike?

I live near a great little organic co-op dealio run by people doing their best for living local and green. Shop there all the time. What is parked in front of the co-op a few mornings every week? A full-sized semi truck, unpacking all that good local green stuff.

It is how the world works. The world is not an antfarm for "planners" to experiment with. The world is the world. It works in certain ways whether you like it or not.

I-5 is the major north/south corridor from Canada to Mexico. Maybe we should screw with other routes to test our little city planning theories. But I-5 is I-5, and it could use a new bridge.

This town is filled with overgrown children, riding around on bikes, spending their trust funds, and waiting for the second coming of Marx. Grow up.

^ Post of the month, right there ;)

I moved to Vancouver back in the 60s when the toll back then was in place. Are these people NUTS?!? Rush hour would last 24 hours a day, ha! You know, not long ago my husband went to a sporting event in archery 'up the Gorge' and when a couple he was walking the course with asked him where he was from and he told them Portland, they said, "We're sorry!" I am too, at times.

The point of the tolls is not to make life worse for commuters - it is to discourage travel during the peak few hours of the day, which is when almost all of the congestion occurs. Every highway engineer knows that when you eliminate the congestion, you increase the capacity of the road, further reducing congestion. So it's a tradeoff: for a $2-3 toll, you will save lots of time on your commute. Would any of you complainers assert that your time is not worth $2-3? If it's worth less than that, why are you complaining?

Jon, you make the point for me perfectly. You assert that peak-hour tolls won't reduce traffic then add that they would keep shoppers of the bridge during rush hour. Bingo.

The present bridge is already paid for, we had a toll that did that. When the debt was paid off, the toll was taken off. We OWN this bridge, our gas tax money is suppose to help maintain the bridge. We do NOT just add a toll because the idiots in Metro want to do that.

Metro is a joke. Ever notice how we are the ONLY area of the country that has this extra layer of fat in our government? Why is everyone else so much smarter that they never started a white elephant like Metro and we are too stupid to get rid of it?

You want to toll us, then build a new bridge and the toll can help pay for it just like it did before. If you don't want to build a new bridge, then keep your tax-money grubbing hands off our present bridge.

What amazes me is people want the public (i.e., other people) to pay billions for a new bridge that they scream is not worth having if it means that they have to pay a $3 toll. Sorry guys, the overgrown children aren't the ones on the bikes, it's the people who think that pouring pavement reduces congestion and that people in cars are more important than people who get around other ways.

Unit makes the assumption that there is a significant portion of the rush hour comprised of people arbitrarily traveling at that time. Huh? Most people I know who have to commute anyway try to avoid the rush hour if at all possible. Does anyone really believe a significant number of drivers will be deterred due to the toll? Get real. Just another way to fund boutique agenda projects that will all be vapor in a so many years...

George, if you're paying attention to the discussion above, people are saying they WOULD pay a toll to help subsidize a NEW bridge. That's NOT what's being proposed!


I think I still have a couple "tokens" stashed away somewhere. As a kid it was fun to toss the money or token into the wire mesh basket while going to visit my uncle's lettuce farm in Vancouver. Motorcycle cop hanging out waiting to nab the motorist who ran through the stations, which probably was a very rare event since there was a sense moral and ethical responsibility once upon a time...

As you say, the idea of establishing a toll on the existing bridge structure and expecting it to improve traffic is ludicrous at best.

PDX Native, I do understand the proposal -- the toll would be used to do the retrofitting for the existing spans to bring them up to snuff. As the folks at betterbridge.com have shown, there's lots cheaper alternatives to a new bridge. Simply tolling the bridge will reduce usage during the tolled hours when the bridge is at capacity -- thereby creating new capacity on the existing spans and providing the money for their upkeep.

Also, as gas prices cruise through $8/gal and beyond, never to return to the prices of yore, people will change over, moving to be near their jobs or moving their jobs to be near them -- either way is fine. People will carpool for serious, and we'll start seeing "slugging" like on I-495 in DC, informal jitneys where people share rides with others going to the same metro areas.

What people seem not to understand is that the gas tax, trivially low, is fixed as an amount rather than a percentage, so even as the price of everything that goes into roadways and anciliary structures skyrockets (concrete, steel, asphalt, diesel fuel for machines, and copper in particular) the highway fund is broker and broker. Why we're even talking about expanding road infrastructure when the gas tax can't even pay for half of the existing maintenance overhang is beyond me.

The bottom line is that everyone who writes that we should stop spending gas tax money on transit and auto alternatives ought to have the consistency to agree that, similarly, we shouldn't be using anything BUT the gas tax to maintain and build roads -- no property taxes, no general fund (income taxes), no special levies. As long as the Constitutions in both states restrict the gas tax to funding "highway purposes" then it ought to be read to say "the gas tax and ONLY the gas tax may be used for highway purposes."

P.S. Modern tolls need not cause any delays. If you have driven in Baltimore or DC you know about Speedpass -- you just drive through and the sensor detects your pass and debits the toll. Given that we're trying to deter congestion, it would be trivially easy to post signs throughout Clark Co. that tell people who don't have speedpasses to exit to pay the toll -- the rest area north of Vancouver would be a fine place to do that; the locals would all get speedpasses and folks from out of the area could pay at a toll booth set up off the freeway (or learn that, if they are willing to adjust their schedule, they can avoid the toll entirely).


Thank you for the explanation you offer. It is an intelligent and enlightening response, which I for one truly appreciate. That's why it's usually worth my time to read this blog on a regular basis. I am not being sarcastic, by the way. I mean it sincerely

I am one of the lucky who works out of my house 75% of the time. When I drive, it's almost always because I have to get somewhere beyond 2 or 3 miles and it usually involves passengers and/or stuff in tow. There are extremely few occasions that riding a bike would enable me to fulfill my reason for travel. 1991 vehicle with 65,000 miles. So I am somewhat skewed in my perspective.

I have trouble, though, thinking that there is assumed to be no alternative in the future to "great quantities of gas" powered cars. This thing called evolution seems to bear out the fact that the direction of technology is usually forward, not reverse. Bicycling is an option for some, but it is a pretty small segment of the general population, I tend to think that those who are able to rely only on their bikes (and more power to them) have a somewhat ego-centric view of the world if they think such a mode of transportation could be reasonably adopted by a significant portion of the population.


Oops! You're probably wondering how bicycling got in there! So am I! Sorry!

Nat -- there is no alternative to gas, or at least, to be more precise, no alternative that will enable us to maintain society as we've come to define it (profligate energy use). You may not be confused about the difference between technology and energy, but many are, so let me point this out: given enough energy, you can do just about anything with almost any level of technology. Where there is insufficient energy --- say, because a chimp acting like a retarded Caligula has bankrupted your country and is presiding over the liquidation of the country's real assets to its creditors --- then no amount of technology will enable us to accomplish the same lifestyle (presuming we don't reach Star-Trek style teleportation level technology, which seems highly unlikely).

So, yes, technology evolves -- although evolution is neither "forward" or "backward." Evolution is to follow shifting environmental niches. The US's immense energy wealth created a certain ecology which we exploited to the fullest -- thus the species Homo Automobilis (Homer for short) flourished and spread far and wide. But that niche now has a couple billion competitors who can outcompete Homer for the sine qua non of his life: cheap gas. We're simply going to do a lot less moving around, and we're going to do even less of it at very high speeds -- it's simply too energy intensive. And energy only evolves in one direction -- from low entropy to high.

The great thing is that if we realize where we are, we can stop squandering any of our remaining wealth on new pavement. We're done -- we've built all the roads we're ever going to need, because from now on out, we're going to live increasingly less and less mobile lives. It's time to shift into maintenance mode and do the best we can to maintain what we have; demand (Vehicle Miles Travelled) is already dropping, and gas prices have just begun to rise -- we will recall $100/bbl oil fondly before too long.

As the shift to hybrids and then all electric vehicles continues, gas tax revenue will increasingly fail to keep pace, and more and more raids will be made on the property tax and general fund in an attempt to prop up the gas-powered auto system. Eventually, perhaps in Portland, someone will figure out how to get voters to approve (or demand) a per-mile payment system keyed to your total consumption of the resource (miles driven) and time of use -- when you recharge your car, a smart socket will read the chip in your car that stores the times you traveled in congested zones and the total mileage and charge you for the recharge accordingly. So, yes, technology evolves, and there will always be alternatives to walking and biking for those who can pay the fare. But the future of mobility is not likely to resemble our current system, and there is a rather rude awakening in store for people who think that auto ownership and use is right there in the Constitution, because it's not.

If you are one of the people who will mourn the end of the auto age, the best thing you can do to prolong it is to stop the road gang from pouring more roadways and building more bridges, because every mile of the road network is just going to be another link in a heavy chain wrapped around our collective necks, and expensive bridges will consume all your maintenance money for decades.

Your top priority should be getting all heavy vehicles off the roads and onto rails as fast as possible, and that includes buses (many buses, because they only have two axles, put more pressure on the roadway and do more damage than a fully loaded 18-wheeler does) -- most of the roads would last far far longer if we stopped sacrificing them to the trucking lobby. We need special reinforced truck-only roads to carry heavy loads to and from rail spurs and barge landings. Rail is four times more efficient than trucks are -- that's a lot of savings available directly in fuel, and a ton of saved maintenance for roadways.

George, are we going to have rail lines to each WholeFoods to compensate for the 49 semi's that deliver their food each day, or rail lines to every Starbuck so that service trucks are eliminated? There is much more to serving a society with goods than your proposal to have "truck-only roads to carry heavy loads". I have a feeling you don't know much about commerce and reality.

If you are right with some of your thinking, society still has to change incrementally and not in the fashion that PDX politicians are forcing on us. The bio-fuel fiasco is an example of how elements of change are not thought out, and implemented in an abrupt fashion.

Whether the business model predicated on abundant cheap diesel survives has little to do with my grasp of commerce and reality. Before we shot our post-war wad on the interstates, most freight went rail, and the distribution was done in wholesale markets and into small trucks. So, no, one would not anticipate all retail outlets served by rail. But, conversely, neither can one say with confidence that Whole Paycheck or any other mega store will continue to be in business, given the huge "driving sheds" that such stores require in order to hit their numbers. People getting hammered by energy prices -- at home, in lost jobs and sales at work, in their travel, in the recession/depression that has always followed sharply rising energy prices in the US -- are not good candidates to support the mega markets.

As for the biofuels mandate, you see the effect clearly (disastrous) but are confused about the impulse, which was not to impose a change but rather to collude with the public in the fantasy that there is no need to change.

The biofuels mandate is a bipartisan, cross-lobby attempt to look reality in the eye and deny it, pretending that the high-energy easy-cheap-oil lifestyle can be prolonged past the peak in global oil production (if only those nasty Chinese and Indian people would just go back to one meal a day and nobody notices that the supposed "green" fuels wind up creating more overall greenhouse emissions than petroleum because, gosh darn it, people insist on eating and when the arable land is diverted to feeding cars, people go make some more arable land for people food -- out of rain forest.)

There is no more abrupt change than making the commitment to blow $4.2 billion on an unnecessary white elephant on a Columbia River Crossing. If you favor gradualism, you should support the idea of trying moderate steps to moderate congestion on the I-5 corridor. Do you try replacing the plugs and checking the timing when your engine runs rough, or do you go straight for engine replacement?

Why the big push of light rail onto Vancouverites? Believe me, travelling from downtown Portland to somewhere like Fishers Landing or even into Hazel Dell would be a couple hour trip considering once you got into Vancouver you would be forced to transfer to a C Tran bus. What is wrong with the C Tran express busses that they have now?

The politicians and bureacrats in Portland are getting way out of hand. I believe what is at the root of this is that a lot of people, and families, are moving into Clark County. Gee......I wonder why? Build the damn bridge and be done with it. If you have to charge a toll after the fact OK then that is the reality of it. Most commuters will just get the "fast pass" or equivalent.

Jon, you make the point for me perfectly. You assert that peak-hour tolls won't reduce traffic then add that they would keep shoppers of the bridge during rush hour.

It wont reduce traffic. And I didnt say anything about shopping during rushhour. You think shoppers are using the bridge at rushour? I doubt it. I would say most of the "shoppers" are probably out on the weekends.
And my point was about the money they spend here in Oregon going away.

Anyone who thinks that tolling the bridge will not reduce congestion should Google "congestion pricing" and read what you find. If you make decisions based on facts and not emotions, you might learn something. Thanks.

George: "think that people in cars are more important than people who get around other ways."

In the sense that we represent 85% to 90% of the population, we are more important.

You think that you are superior to people who don't live the way you do, and you are not. It is not your place to use planning laws and obstruction and general dumb-assery to render public infrastructure unusable for the rest of us and force Whole Foods out of business.

The definition of "fascism" is one shrill overbearing minority group enforcing its will on the majority. To me, that pretty well describes every time the bike lobby opens it mouth in this town.

"This town is filled with overgrown children, riding around on bikes, spending their trust funds, and waiting for the second coming of Marx. Grow up."

Spoken like somebody who's never dealt with anyone half their age except in a commercial transaction.

I'm willing to be there aren't EIGHT people who fit your stereotype who have actual trust funds coming there way in the whole city.

Typical of this blog though: "I got mine. You can go to hell."

That would be "'their'way: not "'there'way" -- never post angrily at beer o'clock!

"beer o'clock?"

Some of us ignorant old folks are still hard at work, sonny!

And some of us young slackers were at work at 7am, gramps!

And I'm checking out at 12:20, young buck - at $200.00 an hour.

And my day started with making breakfast for my kids at 7:00 am. You really want to take me to the mat, young boy?

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