The Many States of Oregon: Part III

A Three-Part Series: Part III

In September, Oregon Business Magazine hosted an 18-day, 2000-mile road tour around Oregon designed to promote business innovation and share best practices. Included in the tour were elected officials, civic leaders, directors of government agencies, small business owners, corporate executives and, just to make it interesting, the Cascade Policy Institute management team.

We met with researchers, entrepreneurs and politicians and had opportunities to question hundreds of hard-working Oregonians about important local issues, frequently over fabulous dinners served up with great Oregon wines and beers. Here is more of what we learned…

Oregon badly needs to bring the state highway system into the 21st century.

Spending almost three weeks on a road tour is an excellent way to see just how poor our highway system is in Oregon. Many other states have turnpike systems that allow seamless, high-speed travel throughout the state. In states that finance much of the road budget through tolls, most of the tolls are collected by electronic tolling systems that are convenient for the user.

Oregon has neither a turnpike system nor a user-fee system for financing the next generation of highways. In fact, politicians do not even talk about a next generation of highways. This is especially true in the Portland region, where elected officials are busy downsizing the road system through such things as “road diets,” “boulevard treatments,” and designing a new bridge that would be closed to private motor vehicles. This is celebrated as “progressive planning” in the echo chambers of local transportation agencies.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Oregon’s existing highways system becomes more over-subscribed every day as the total number of people, vehicles and businesses grows in Oregon. One of the best ways to better connect rural communities with urban centers in Oregon would be to invest in a modern highway system that enables high-speed motorized travel throughout the state, without having state highways suddenly become the downtown main streets of small towns and cities — as is the case in Newberg, Sandy, Gresham, Sisters and numerous other Oregon communities.

Governor Kulongoski has promised to make transportation funding his top priority in the 2009 legislative session. If so, he’s got a lot of catching up to do.

Oregon is a wonderfully diverse state, filled with hard-working folks who still have the pioneer spirit. But in some quarters, that spirit has nearly been crushed by regulation so severe that people literally have no way to productively use the natural and social capital around them. Our elected leaders have a responsibility to correct those problems. And we don’t need new commissions, centralized “business plans” or pork-barrel spending programs. All we need is for the government to get out of the way so people are free to pursue their own dreams.

Cascade wishes to thank the Oregon Business Magazine and the many sponsors of the tour for allowing us to spend time with so many wonderful people in September.

Did you miss the first two parts of this series? Here are Part I and Part II.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.