Everyone knows that traffic has gotten a lot worse on Portland freeways recently. INRIX, which collects traffic data from all over the world, recently ranked Portland as one of the ten cities in the U.S. with the worst congestion. INRIX estimates that congestion costs you $1,625 every year!
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) just released the 2018 Traffic Performance Report for the Portland area. The department created an easy-to-watch video series about the problems and solutions to congestion.
ODOT's report shows that hours of congestion increased over 13% since 2015. The daily cost of congestion in Portland now stands at $2 million. The causes?
- Growth: rapid population growth, job growth, growth in the number of cars and trucks - all fighting to use the system.
- Bottlenecks: certain portions of the system clog due to merging traffic or where the number of lanes narrows (such as the Rose Quarter), older roadway designs (such as I-5 at the Interstate Bridge), or lots of merging traffic (I-5 at Lower Boones Ferry Road).
What's being done about it? Plenty, as it turns out, with more in the pipeline thanks to Keep Oregon Moving, the transportation investment package approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2017.
- Auxiliary Lanes: One of the big causes of congestion is when cars and trucks merge onto the freeway, but then get off after one or two exits. ODOT is in the process of creating auxiliary lanes at many bottlenecks. An auxiliary lane allows vehicles to use the freeway for a brief period before exiting, without having to weave in and out of traffic. A new auxiliary lane on I-5 from 217 to 205 reduced congestion in the area from five hours to one. ODOT plans more auxiliary lanes for I-205, and new lanes on 217 both north and southbound. ODOT is finding that auxiliary lanes work wherever they are tried.
- High Tech: You've no doubt seen them, the little Advisory Speed signs and the big reader boards. ODOT calls it "Real Time". When traffic slows ahead the signs advise a reduced speed to keep things flowing smoother and help avoid crashes from traffic stopped ahead. The big reader boards give travel times so you can make smart decisions about the best route. The best is yet to come - cars that listen to traffic lights to make the smoothest trip possible, ramp meters smoothing traffic, dynamic adaptive traffic signals that respond in real-time to traffic volumes - and much more.
- Choices: Sometimes the easiest solution to congestion is to not drive at all! Not everyone can do that, of course, but anytime you take a car off the freeway, it helps. So ODOT is working with transit providers like TriMet, helping to fund the largest expansion in historyl. Keep Oregon Moving created a new fund with almost $100 million a year to help TriMet and transit providers around Oregon expand their service as well. The state is also spending $22 million for improvements to sidewalks, bike lanes and cross walks across the state to make routes to school safer so more kids can walk or ride their bikes. And there are many walking and biking routes done or in the works.
Tolling: None of the above options will fully realize the goal of a more reliable trip through Portland freeways. The Oregon Legislature recognized this, and in 2017 directed the Oregon Transportation Commission to apply to the federal government to get permission to toll some of the region's highways. Lots of public comment went into the application (you might have been a part of that!) and there will be much more before anyone starts paying a toll. You can read much more about it, including where tolls will occur, on our special value pricing site.