In Our View: Tourniquet on Traffic

Oregon finally inching forward in fixing thorny patch of Rose Quarter congestion

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Oregon transportation officials are starting to show interest in correcting the Rose Quarter bottleneck on Interstate 5. A story in Saturday's Oregonian reported, "The state is seeking money to pay for the plan's initial engineering, design work and a slate of environmental studies."

No need to reach for the confetti bags, though. As citizens in both states have learned from observing the Columbia River Crossing, these kinds of baby steps are nothing to get excited about. And as with the CRC, there's some local resistance to what's called the "I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plan." And no funding source for the project has been identified.

That's too bad, because traffic has almost doubled on I-5 at the Rose Quarter since the freeway was built 47 years ago -- from 66,000 vehicles a day to 126,200 in 2011, according to the story in The Oregonian by Cornelius Swart.

Three complaints by project critics just don't hold water:

The project is too big, they say. But the way congestion mounts during rush hours on this two-lane (each direction) freeway, adding one lane, as the project calls for, appears reasonable. On nearby streets, other congestion and collision rates also call for the kind of relief this project offers. Help would arrive for two one-way couplets that run perpendicular to each other: Broadway/Weidler running west and east, respectively; and MLK/Grand running south and north, respectively. Area neighborhoods would see strong benefits from this project.

Others say the project is unneeded. But in addition to reducing congestion, state transportation officials believe the number of crashes could be reduced by 30 to 50 percent. Pursuing those goals doesn't strike us as unnecessary at all.

Still others complain that the project would only serve the interests of the freight industry, Swart wrote. Even if that contention were true, what's wrong with helping freight haulers? Industry officials say the Rose Quarter is one of the 35 biggest bottlenecks in the nation. And when trucks are delayed, those costs are paid by the public in the forms of higher prices and dirtier air.

We sort of feel like we're preaching to the tortoise here. The funding of this project is a stool with three legs missing. The feds have soured on earmarks, and other projects in other states are much farther along in the race for limited federal funding. As for the state, The Oregonian reports that the state is looking at a 7 percent drop in revenue, and 13 percent of transportation cash will be used to pay down debt. Also, there's that $450 million the Oregon Legislature dedicated recently to the CRC, contingent on matching funds from Washington. Scant hope comes from the city of Portland, which has a $21.5 million budget shortfall and about a $750 million backlog in road maintenance.

Nevertheless, we hereby urge the tortoise to, please, pick up the pace. Granted, with the glacial pace of the CRC, folks on this side of the river are in no position to lecture Oregonians against foot-dragging. But as manufacturing logistics manager Tracy Ann Whalen told The Oregonian, "People say, if you fix one bottleneck, you're going to run into the other. You need to fix both."