“People are driving less,” said Portland economist Joe Cortright, a critic of the bridge project.
Planners estimated 143,700 vehicles would cross the I-5 bridge on the average weekday in 2010 –13 percent higher than the 126,900 actually experienced, Cortright points out.
Project planners look past blips in the near term to focus on “long-range needs in the corridor,” Mandy Putney, spokeswoman for the project, wrote in response to The Columbian’s inquiries. “Traffic forecasts are not based simply on projecting recent trends, but on developing future forecasts of transportation use based on other variables including population and employment forecast.”
Long-term aside, what has happened to those drivers in the short term?
The Great Recession certainly played a role. Workers lost their jobs in years of record layoffs.
“Even those employees who remain employed tend to reduce their discretionary spending. This reduces travel for the purposes of shopping, entertainment and various other activities,” Putney said. “Part of what we have seen in the traffic counts in the I-5 corridor is a reduction in the amount of off-peak travel, which is consistent with reductions in discretionary trips. Traffic volumes during the peak period, which includes most of the commuter work trips, have remained nearly constant.”
“We have seen people giving it a try and sticking with it, but the numbers aren’t significant,” C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said. The transit agency’s express commuter service has seen big changes over the last decade. Ridership dropped in 2005 when the cost of monthly passes for commuter routes to Portland doubled, then climbed temporarily in 2008 when C-Tran opened the 99th Street Transit Center.
“Really to make a significant impact, we’d need to provide a much higher level of service, and we don’t have funding to do that,” Patterson said.
Boosting transit ridership across the river would take something more drastic — like light rail, one of the most controversial aspects of the I-5 bridge project.