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.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 22 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    The left-leaning politicos who espouse light rail, high density housing, bike riding, etc. have totally destroyed the economic viability of Oregon.
    Sad, but true.
    Now, I say get off the dime and pass legislation that would provide an immediate state tax credit of at least $500 for anyone purchasing a bike that was made anywhere except China.
    This plan will accomplish several good things.
    1. It will reduce the steady flood of our dollars to China.
    2. It will encourage people to ride bikes. Not many will buy a bike just to get the credit and never ride the bike.
    3. It will reduce our dependence on foreign oil as every single time someone pedals instead of drives we will use less fuel.
    4. It will help with our failing health – as the exercise will be beneficial to all who ride.
    5. It will promote an awareness of the horrible conditions with our infrastructure, as people will see the blight first hand from the saddle of bike, not hundreds of yards away cacooned in their auto. Then, maybe, people will hold the politicians accountable for the horrible mismangement of Oregon’s infrastructure.

    I say quit talking about nonsense, back my plan, get it in place NOW, and watch the success!
    Please, join me in doing something positive and doing it now.

  • Henry

    Sorry Jerry I’m not buying it.
    Of course the left-leaning politicos continue to conspire and spend more on light rail, high density housing, bike riding, boondoggles and endless planning etc. All while neglecting growth, basic needs and infrastructure.

    But your idea for a bike tax credit fails to emerge from that same fog, or rather fantasy.

    1. It will have no measurable effect on the steady flood of our dollars to China. I can’t even imagine how you imagine it would.

    2. It will encourage few additional people to actually ride bikes instead of driving while those who already do will needlessly get a 500.00 tax credit. Giving the casual recreational bike user a tax credit will have no public benefit.

    3. Your plan really clings to the status quo with your baseless, theoretical claim that it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
    You’d be hard pressed to show even a penny of real reduction in exchange for the $500.00 tax credit. That infinitesimal, if at all, benefit leaves it essentially imaginary. Just the sort of credibility the lefties currently use to justify all of their planning.

    4. Also infinitesimal would be the help with our failing health. We can’t be adopting another policy based upon a feeling or an assumption that it might be a good thing. I could make a case that it would make more sense to give a $500 health club tax credit instead?
    5. A bike tax credit to advertise blight? Sorry again but that is just more nonsense.


      I’m going to have to agree with Henry on this one, sorry Jerry.

  • Anonymous

    I have to laugh at Jerry’s bike idea. I live 150 miles from anywhere. In town, it’s small enough I can walk anywhere I want to go in 15 minutes. Bike!!!!!

  • Is this a snark?


    Is this some kinda satire? Normally, I ‘get it’ when you reply, but this is so far out there, you lost me at ‘get off the dime’.

    Maybe a government rebate check for a new bike, but never a state tax credit. (snark)

    • Jerry

      Is the Metro transportation tax proposal a better idea????? The state’s gas tax proposal?
      The county’s vehicle registration tax proposal?

  • Jerry

    Well, at least I tried to come up with a plan that would help.

    I just think it makes as much sense, if not more so, as the tax credit people are getting for buying a hybrid car. All of you arguments can be made against that tax credit, too, but they are not. I wonder why?

    I wonder if my proposal, in fact, may just point out how stupid and idiotic tax credits are in the first place, when they try to change human behavior. I don’t see that many hybrids out there and I KNOW they have not made even a tiny dent in our fuel usage. Why should those people get tax credits (much larger than what I proposed by the way)????

    Remember, too, my original idea was to give the tax credit for actual miles ridden as measured by GPS, but guys were going to strap the bikes to their cars and drive around just to make money.

    Here is my latest idea. REDUCE taxes so that people can keep more of their own money and perhaps buy either a bike or a hybrid with their money they get to keep. What a concept.

    I guess the only good news of the day is seeing Hillary implode.


      Now I can agree with ya!

      • NoBama is the BestBama

        Wrongo, righties!

        Hillary implosion is best done Nov 2008, not Jan 2008. With the Bama-mania growing, who knows what the Bamapaloozzza will bring come Nov 2008.

        • CRAWDUDE

          What? I reread this 3 times and it still makes no sense! Dean, can you translate this for me?

  • Joanne Rigutto

    Bikes are fine and dandy for those who live in an urban area and don’t have to haul much more than themselves and perhaps a bag or two of groceries.

    I’m a construction contractor and also have a small farm. I wouldn’t want to put a 1/2 ton of mortar and tile on the back of a bike, nor would I want to do that with a ton of hay.

    One of the things I see the urban planners miss time after time, is that you can’t have the type of growth they are anticipting in the next 50 years with out increasing the transportation infrastructure for independant vehicles. Not everyone can ride a bike or take the bus/train, in fact a substantial percentage can’t. Going anywhere on the bus or train takes much more time than driving unless your residence and your work are on the same line. I used to live on the MAX line on Burnside right on the edge of Gresham. When I was working on buildings in downtown Portland, I’d take the train sometimes – it was cheaper, as fast as driving, and if I wasn’t grinding stone I didn’t get too much dust and dirt on the seats. I was also working as an employee, so as long as I had already brought my hand tools to the job site, all I had to transport was myself. As soon as I changed locations and the job wasn’t right on the line I lived on, I had to drive, it just took too long to get to work and home.

    Another example is from when I went to highshcool. I grew up in the Sellwood/Moreland part of Portland and went to Cleveland highschool. It took 45 minutes to get to or from school on the bus, it took 45 minutes to walk. It took between 5 and 10 minutes to drive…..

    The way things are going in the Portland area, things are just going to get worse and worse as far as congestion goes, because everyone in charge is saying ‘we can just let them ride bikes and buses/trains’. It ain’t going to work.

  • Henry

    “I guess the only good news of the day is seeing Hillary implode”

    Yes it would be better if she in imploded in the general.

  • Sybella

    Yes seeing Hilliary go down would be, is excellent news. Of course Im not too impressed with any of them.

    I don’t live in or anywhere near Portland, at one time I was required to go there once a year for an hour of compliance to keep my insurance license. We always stayed at the same motel and drove the same route. Over a period of ten years they were redoing the road in the same place each time. I would imagine the cost was shocking. I wondered whose pockets were being filled and why did it have to be redone over and over annually. How many other roads and highways could have had some attention with that money, but then I forget Portland is Oregon and the rest of us don’t matter.

    Goodbye Hilliary, Goodbye Obama and Most of all Goodbye Edwards.

  • dean

    On John Charles’ analysis and proposal:

    1) Odot has been trying to attract private investors for at least 2 proposed tollway projects, the Newberg Bypass and the Sunrise Corridor. My understanding is that neither project penciled out. In Newberg they (the private contractor) even had the audacity to propose tolling the existing Highway 99 to make the new road profitable.

    2) A larger, state or regional turnpike system is problematic. Whose land would be condemned by government for this system John? How many formerly private land acres would be paved over so that you could drive around the state more easily? Who would suffer the increased noise, pollution, and so visual blight the new roads would bring?

    3) Unless the turnpike system were heavily travelled it could not generate the tolls to pay for itself. Thus it would only decrease congestion for a short time at best. I used to use an older tollway in Chicago and it was just as congested as the non tollways, plus I got to pay for the privledge of being stuck in traffic.

    4) State highways did not “suddenly” become downtown main streets. In most cases in Oregon state highways were the original main streets (back when cars were few) and evolved into highways. Many began as Indian trails by the way, then were farm to market roads, then the state took them over.

    5) ODOT by law cannot restrict land uses along its roads.
    Given your past advocacy for private property rights and less land use regulation, it is strange for you to make an argument that a private property owner should not be able to develop a “highest and best use” along a major highway, which in most cases is a commercial enterprise, i.e. strip development, even if it ends up clogging traffic for everyone else.

    What happened to freedom John? What if my “dream” is to build and operate a car dealership on a state road? Does government know better than I what is best for me?

    • John A. Charles, Jr.

      The Oregon Transportation Commission has had some interest in tolling, and did put quite a bit of time into negotiating with a private vendor regarding a possible Newberg-Dundee bypass. That didn’t pan out because the availability of a “free” road nearby (HW 99w) would make the project infeasible. What I told the OTC was that it’s not realistic to try and do little 10 mile projects here and there via tolling when the larger system is financed through gas taxes and other non-toll sources. My suggestion was to split off the limited-access highway system from ODOT and have it under the jurisdiction of a new Turnpike Authority, funded entirely with tolls collected electronically, with variable rates in dense urban areas to ensure free-flow conditions at all time (this has worked quite well on SR 91 express in Orange County and other places). Gas tax revenue would then be used only for local roads. In this model, incremental improvements like the Newberg by-pass would not have to be profitable on a stand-alone basis; they could be financed out of tolls from the entire turnpike system. The same would be true for other needed improvements, like a 3rd or 4th bridge over the Columbia river.

      I doubt that eminent domain would be necessary for any of these projects, since increased road capacity is so valuable that you could easily pay well above the market price for someone’s land and still have it be cost-effective for the turnpike authority. If you paid a 25% or 50% premium for right-of-way, I think you’d have a lot of willing sellers.

      As for downtown “main streets”, I never said that state highways hvae “suddenly” become main streets; I just said that to the road user, it’s very disconcerting to be traveling along at 55 mph and then have to come to a screeching halt as the highway is transformed into a local road. I understand that these patterns evloved over time. But we need a high-speed turnpike system that provides for by-passes around these local streets, which will make the highway much better for road users, while making the main street more pleasant for local retailers, peds, cyclists, and local road users.

      John Charles

      • dean

        John…thanks for clarifying the suddenly part.

        For many landowners in rural areas money is not their main motivation for wanting to preserve what they have. In some cases the land has been in their family for generations, and having a new highway for noisy trucks go through it would not be acceptable even at the market premiums you suggest, and that by law the condeming agency would not have to offer in any case. Also, there will be many landowners who live in eye and earshot of the new turnpikes who won’t be bought out, yet they will suffer loss of quality of life. Do we compensate them or just free ride on their misfortune?

        By splitting off the existing FREEways and giving them to a turnpike (TOLLway) authority (I assume this is a new public/private bureaucracy by the way,) aren’t we the public being asked to hand over an asset we already paid for and use for “free,” that we will now have to pay to use in the future? Is that politically feasible? Won’t people who read this site say its money grubbing politicians finding a new way to get into our pockets, or words to that effect?

        To sum up, we can get a new turnpike system that allows us greater auto mobility in exchange for:
        1) condemnation of thousands of acres of private land
        2) creation of a new bureaucracy
        3) having to pay for highways we now use for free
        4) impacting the lives of thousands of rural residents who live along the new turnpikes
        5) having to pay to use the new roads as well
        6) all this to primarily benefit corporations who depend on the trucking industry.

        Good tradeoff? We report…you decide.

        • Chris McMullen

          Dean: Also, there will be many landowners who live in eye and earshot of the new turnpikes who won’t be bought out, yet they will suffer loss of quality of life. Do we compensate them or just free ride on their misfortune?

          This happens all the time. I’m now subjected to a commuter rail line traveling near my neighborhood every half an hour. Even though I attended many public hearings, my request went unanswered. Why should rural folk get different treatment?

          Also, ODOT already has ROW through the center of Dundee. The most logical thing is to widen 99 at that point. Of course, Sleepy Ted has shown absolutely no leadership in this area. Typical of a lifelong state worker beholden to special interest unions.

          • dean

            Chris…I’m not saying rural landowners should get special treatment, and I’m sorry for your situation. I’m just saying that a brand new turnpike system would eat a lot of someone’s private land using eminent domain, and “conservatives” (I’m not one) ought to think about that before they sign on to the idea.

            About Dundee and Ted. Don’t highway construction companies have lots of union employees? If Ted is in their pocket wouldn’t he be pushing for the widening? What unions are against widening?

  • Jerry

    If ODOT can’t get private investors then they are stupid or the plan is stupid.
    Private toll roads are working fine in Virginia, for example, so it most certainly can be done.
    If the private sector wants no part of it, then the plan is bad, nothing else.
    It is clear we need a much better road system than the one ODOT has pieced together without much thought over the years if we are to grow.
    Many don’t want us to grow, which could be one reason the roads in Oregon are such a joke.
    It is sad to see so many people waste so much money with little or nothing to show for it.
    Sad indeed!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dave A.

    So glad I am retiring in about two years and moving to Nevada. At least there, they have well maintained roads and none of this light rail and streetcar nonsense.
    By the way – the monorial in Las Vegas is considered by most locals to be an expensive failure. It has only marginally reduced traffic on the Las Vegas Strip.

  • William Neuhauser

    I think you mix some apples and oranges decrying bike lanes vs rural highways.

    One of the best solutions to the Dundee blockage is the “regional bypass” — an I-5 connector near Donald or Woodburn to south of Newberg, which would be, I believe, a major business boon as goods movement and airport access would be hugely eased well along the 99W corridor. It is a nonstarter because those benefits are mostly in Yamhill County (and access to the casino and the coast) but much of the road goes through Marion County which count commission repeatedly and unanimously opposes it.

    Its not some mythical liberal vs conservative problem. (Though a regular and sustained effort to keep from paying enough taxes to fund transportation projects of scale in Oregon is no doubt contributing — there is no private funding solution for our public infrastructure issues of this scale and where the benefits are distributed and long-term.)

  • Jerry

    Maybe we should just move the casino. That would be cheaper. Legal gambling is a great tax on the poor and ignorant, so let’s do all we can to maximize it in Oregon.

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