BC, Building Our Way To Gridlock.

Someone please memo this to the Minister of Transportation; the Premier; the Mayor of Delta and the BC Liberal party.

Guest column: Wider roads wonai??i??t solve congestion problem

(AP Photo / Jae C. Hong) 6356725
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Build it, and they will come.

In the context of the Legislatureai??i??s transportation plan, this common saying could be reworded to ai???Build more lanes and the congestion will remain.ai??? Oregon lawmakers are rightfully taking action to address our ailing infrastructure. But their solutions could not be more wrong. In fact, there is even a paradox ai??i?? Braessai??i?? paradox ai??i?? that outlines the fact that adding lanes will not reduce congestion. Discovered by Dietrich Braess, the paradox is the result of simple logic: When we make something easier, more people do it.

Our transportation system chokes commerce and the environment. Due to congestion and poor planning, Oregon attracts and retains fewer businesses than it could with a better transportation system. When a company includes the added costs of the hours spent delivering products, the Willamette Valley becomes a far-less attractive location. An inability to attract talented workers may dissuade companies from settling down here. At above-full employment, workers are in higher demand. Itai??i??s hard to attract the best workers to a job that requires a mind-numbing commute. Every hour spent on the road is an hour away from family, friends and Oregonai??i??s outdoors. The opportunity costs are tremendous.

The costs to our environment and our life spans may be larger. Air pollution from congestion, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study conducted in 2010, contributed to at least 4,000 premature deaths and was responsible for at least $31 billion in health care costs in 2000. The study estimates that even with lower emission vehicles on the road, the cost of emissions to our health and wallets will be immense. Researchers estimate that congestion will play a part in 1,600 premature deaths in 2020 and that health costs will surpass $17 billion in 2030. These are lives we can save and costs we can cut.

It is encouraging to see legislators from across the state working to reduce these costs and improve our system. They have spent countless hours receiving input from stakeholders large and small, urban and rural, young and old. We should commend their perseverance and pursuit of a transportation package that would substantially make Oregon a better place to call home. We should condemn the proposal they put forward or at least the proposed $1.1 billion for congestion relief.

The evidence is clear. In the blunt words of Charles Marohn, a civil engineer, ai???Trying to solve congestion by making roadways wider is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants.ai??? Economists cite adding lanes as a prime example of induced demand. In layman terms, induced demand means that an increase in supply is quickly met by an increase in demand. A University of Toronto study found a perfect correlation between adding lanes and adding drivers. According to the co-author of the study, Matthew Turner, ai???If you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities.ai??? Californiaai??i??s Department of Transportation has published a study showing that increasing capacity has a slim chance of improving congestion.

What is the answer? To reduce driving, we have to reduce the incentive to drive. In Turnerai??i??s opinion, the only solution is congestion pricing. Itai??i??s a tactic used in London, Singapore and Stockholm that places a toll on people entering the city center that varies based on demand. Trying to head into the city at rush hour ai??i?? expect to pay more. When driving hits the pocketbook, people will hit the brakes on taking out the car.

Oregon has a congestion problem. Our solution should not make matters worse. Build lanes, and they will drive.

ai??i?? Kevin Frazier is legislative deputy director at Children First for Oregon and director of Passport Oregon. He lives in Portland.

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