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Director of ODOT deals with all the strengths and weaknesses in our transportation system, addressing the needs of commuters, transit riders, bicyclists, pedestrians and truckers.

MATT GARRETT

Not a week goes by that someone doesn't bend my ear about congestion in the Portland area. I hear lots of different ideas about what to do, but everyone agrees that increasing congestion is a problem, not to mention an aggravation, a safety hazard and a huge drain on the economy, on our livability.

As director of ODOT, I deal with all the strengths and weaknesses in our transportation system. That means addressing the needs of commuters, transit riders, bicyclists, pedestrians and truckers while taking into account the complexities of climate change, aging infrastructure, congestion, safety, a growing population and finite resources to do what needs to be done.

We work hard at ODOT every day to maintain and improve a system that hasn't kept up with the Portland metropolitan area's surging economy and rapid population growth. The stakes are high. Our transportation system is the backbone of Oregon's economic well-being. Keeping this system healthy and safe benefits everyone in the state.

Numbers help tell the congestion problem. ODOT's latest Traffic Performance Report showed a 20.1 percent increase in the hours of delay on the region's freeways from 2015 to 2017. Morning and afternoon commute times creep toward midday, freight companies dispatch their trucks in the middle of the night to avoid congestion, and people are spending more time in traffic and less time with friends and family.

We're doing what we can to manage these trends but much more needs to be done.

For starters, we're making significant investments in new auxiliary lanes that help reduce congestion. Simply put, an auxiliary lane is a lane leading from an on-ramp to the next off-ramp. That means fewer cars have to merge into the main lanes of the freeway, reducing crashes and smoothing traffic flow.

Last fall we opened a new auxiliary lane on southbound Interstate 5 between Highway 217 and Interstate 205. Preliminary results show congestion on this stretch of I-5 has dropped from five hours a day to just one. This year new auxiliary lanes are coming on I-205, and in future years we'll add them on Highway 217 and along I-5 in the Rose Quarter.

Spending less time stuck in traffic improves quality of life for everyone but also allows freight-haulers to operate more efficiently, saving money for everyone.

The Oregon Legislature made this happen. In 2016, a joint legislative committee visited 11 communities across Oregon to learn about their transportation challenges. A couple of common themes they heard were preserve and maintain the system that Oregonians have already invested in and deal with congestion in the Portland metro area as it creates problems for businesses all across Oregon.

The result of this legislative statewide circuit-ride was HB 2017, known as "Keep Oregon Moving," passed by the Legislature in 2017 with bi-partisan support. The bill touched almost every aspect of the transportation system, because we'll need all modes to reduce friction in the system to address and manage congestion. This includes new paths separating bikes and walkers from auto traffic; improvements to rail and ports to help get products from Oregon farms, factories and forests to markets around the world; and expanded public transportation networks, urban and rural, to provide choice and help people get around and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gasses.

Roads are a big part of the equation, of course, because when we reduce the friction in the regional highway system all the other pieces in the transportation system become more efficient.

If past is prologue, this won't be easy. No magic plan makes everything better. But we can make progress when we marshal our energies into a broad approach that lifts all corners of the system. The steps we take today could improve travel for everyone, with fewer delays, better freight movement and less aggravation.


Matt Garrett is the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. Comments can be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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