Why Is Portland’s Transit Chief Advocating for More Highways?

TriMet's Neil McFarlane is perfectly willing to undermine transit with highway expansions. His agency will get a light rail expansion in the bargain. Photo:  Bike Portland
TriMet's Neil McFarlane is perfectly willing to undermine transit with highway expansions. His agency will get a light rail expansion in the bargain. Photo: Bike Portland

After suffering an embarrassing defeat a year ago, the Oregon highway lobby is rattling the can for more money again. They have a list of highways they want to widen, and they say Portland’s economy depends on it.

In addition to the usual suspects like the Portland Business Alliance, the highway cheerleaders include Neil McFarlane, general manager of TriMet, the regional transit agency. Why would a transit chief support road projects that weaken the transit system? Michael Andersen at Bike Portland has the answer:

The top executive of Portland’s mass transit agency said this week that the Portland region has four top transportation priorities, and three of them are to expand capacity of urban freeways.

“These are projects we’ve known we need to do for some time,” Neil McFarlane told the Washington County Public Affairs Forum on Monday, according to the Portland Tribune. “They are necessary to keep our region moving and our arterials flowing.”

Why is the head of a transit agency actively promoting freeway expansion projects?

The fourth project, McFarlane said, is a proposed light-rail line through Southwest Portland into Tigard and Tualatin, along either Barbur Boulevard or Interstate 5.

Contrary to the warnings about impending economic failure, Andersen points out that Portland’s economy is outperforming the rest of the state by just about every metric, despite its relatively low number of freeway miles. In fact, since 2008, Portland’s GDP has grown faster than any other metro area in the nation. Andersen says:

Traffic congestion is not a cause of economic collapse. It is an effect of economic success.

In fact, the choices that lead to congestion — a relatively compact urban area that hasn’t been sliced up by freeways, and has spent its money on things like mass transit and libraries and parks and restaurants instead — might actually be a cause of economic success.

It is true that the Portland area’s auto congestion is annoying. But attempting to “fix” it — at least in the way that Courtney and apparently TriMet are urging us to — is the last thing Oregon’s economy needs.

More recommended reading today: Systemic Failure criticizes the bipartisan consensus around funding infrastructure by repatriating overseas corporate profits. FABB Blog explains how a British county is enforcing safe-passing rules to protect cyclists. And Modern Cities shares photos of recent walking and biking improvements in Tampa.

  • J

    This is truly crazy. Is he getting some $$ for his support? Supporting bigger highways is perhaps the quickest way to destroy a transit system’s ridership and sprawl out a region. Get rid of this guy!

  • Ray

    Congestion is a sign of the public taking advantage of a government subsidy. If roads were priced based on their value, there would be no congestion. Instead, we would have a system that rewards more efficient vehicle transportation. We would have private/public on-demand comfortable vans, shuttle, and buses moving around on uncongested roads. Rail lines would only go where the transportation corridor demand causes pricing to reach a level that impedes increased density. The worst thing governments do is expand on an already heavily subsidized system, which lead to further addictive behavior for more subsidies. Road pricing to control the number of vehicles on the road is the only way forward for a healthy transportation and economic future.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Article doesn’t answer the question.

  • Walter Crunch

    Because nobody knows why his shilling for the freight and road complex

  • Miles Bader

    How does he get to work? How does he go shopping.

    QED.

  • Last year when I visited I took the light rail/streetcar whenever possible. However, when I looked at a map of the city I was really amazed that

  • In SF, the vision is to tear down portions of freeways and dump traffic on surface streets. Meanwhile, investment in transit upgrades continues to stall.

  • He’s ‘shilling’ for roads because he wants a tax increase. The easiest way to get that approved is to offer something for the 90% of residents that dont use public transportation.

    It’s common sense

  • Patrick Jackson

    2 of the highway projects actually make sense (217 and 205 widenings, because they get rid of short stretches of 2 lane highway in between 3 lane stretches of highway, but his proposal to expand the 5 through Rose Quarter is horrendous–that is a stretch of freeway that should be removed altogether. Furthermore, he ignores the very real need for several new LRT lines (Oregon City MAX, Vancouver MAX, and Downtown Subway LRT.)

  • Baloo Uriza

    Portland’s economy depends on reigning in the housing prices, population growth and hate groups more than anything else at this point.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Actually the section that needs to be removed worse would be the Mile 300 interchange that was added early last decade (or was it in the late 1990s?) connecting I 5 Northbound to I 84 East. Really I 5 could be removed between the current Mile 299 and Mile 300 (basically the Harbor Freeway/Stadium Freeway/Marquam Bridge interchange) to the I 84 interchange, including the Marquam Bridge. Before the Mile 300 interchange opened, the whole loop actually worked better with traffic going to I 84 East having to do so via I 405…

  • Baloo Uriza

    More like 70%, not 90%. Nobody drives in Portland. Too much traffic.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Freight makes sense in Portland. It’s one of the west coast’s largest ports and the one best connected to rail.

  • You’re referring to Portland proper I hope because the figure is 90% in the Portland metro area

  • Walter Crunch

    Are there two lanes out of the city? Yep. Freight has plenty of space. Arguing Freight needs more lanes is like arguing your opioid drug addicted cousin needs more pharmacies around the corner.

  • Walter Crunch

    Freeways are surface streets. Just without access to anything but exit ramps. Plus they are great places to die-often. Many cities around the world do just fine without highways bisecting them..

  • Walter Crunch

    Great, so let’s build more roads…so we can get more traffic!

  • Patrick Jackson

    I think you’re being insufficiently ambitious. Personally, I envision something more like this:

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1nH38cc2d7NMIAxijWbVLVqtUxvM&usp=sharing

  • Baloo Uriza

    If you’re defining Portland proper as “anything within a 40 mile radius of the Burnside Bridge”, sure.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Maybe Portland should get an economy that isn’t based entirely on heroine, meth and the damn port then.

  • Baloo Uriza

    I think TriMet lacks the will to increase the capacity to deal with that. The Banfield mainline’s needed express tracks since the Red Line opened to the airport. Not to mention the shit bus capacity on the feeder lines since they keep cutting bus routes, frequency of service and the size of the buses.

  • Walter Crunch

    As someone who has worked in the freight industry in Portland, it’s just fine. Quit shilling for Trump

  • Walter Crunch

    Widening will simply move the gridlock into the void you just created. Widening is pointless and Oregon has proven over and over this point.

  • Walter Crunch

    Of course he is getting something. He isn’t stupid. He, for whatever reason, is trying to kill trimet by eliminating buses in favor of very expensive trains.

  • Walter Crunch

    If Portland were truly visionary, it would be to take down 405. Dig it under, sell the land to commerical and residential developers.

  • Baloo Uriza

    I’m not shilling for Trump. Portland’s just a transportation hub. It was briefly more in the 90s, now it’s just a place Seattle sends it’s homeless on greyhound and a place to load things from ships to trucks and vice versa. Nothing wrong with that so long as Portland realizes it’s going to be another hundred years before it’ll be more than that again.

  • Baloo Uriza

    That’s not visionary. That’s just Boston.

  • nah, transit ridership in the portland metro area is about 12%

    look it up

  • Walter Crunch

    Would not consider a town that consumed more transportation dollars on a single project as visionary. If they truly would have gotten rid of the freeway, then maybe.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Well, there explains your increase in traffic, then. Bring back TriMet Bus service.

  • Baloo Uriza

    That’s my point. You’re asking to do exactly the same thing.

  • Walter Crunch

    No, I am saying get rid of 405 completely. No 405 Freeway at all.

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