Light rail won’t solve congestion problems

Letter: Light rail won’t solve problems

By John Ley, Camas

Published: March 22, 2018 in The Columbian. (here)

Opinion Editor Greg Jayne’s March 11 column was right on target — citizens rejected light rail because it won’t solve congestion problems.

Only 1,500 people use C-Tran’s express bus service to Portland. It’s faster than light rail, even in current traffic. At almost $200 million per mile, MAX serves few people at significant cost.

John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute reports (here) that TriMet’s mass transit serves 2.4 percent of commuters; ridership has been flat for decades. C-Tran ridership is down from its 2011 peak.

“Only 2.4 percent of total travel in the Portland region takes place on transit, making it irrelevant or even a nuisance to most taxpayers.”

— John Charles


When Interstate 205’s Glenn Jackson Bridge opened in 1982, 110,000 vehicles crossed the Columbia River on an average day. Today, there are 300,000. A new transportation corridor provided needed congestion relief back then. But refusing to build new vehicle capacity and new transportation corridors for three decades has caused our problems.

The Interstate 5 Bridge was “at capacity” with 100,000 vehicles when we built I-205. It’s easy to see that we need a third bridge, with 300,000 daily crossings now, and a fourth bridge in the near future.

At $500,000, buses can affordably serve mass-transit needs. Light rail is just too expensive at $200 million per mile. As Jayne says, it doesn’t go where people need to go. The $4 billion would have been better spent on roads and bridges and buses.


Jayne: Light rail’s local unpopularity shouldn’t beg the question

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

Published: March 11, 2018, 6:02 AM

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

It was a good question. It was a fair question. It was a question that seemed born of genuine surprise: “Why don’t people here want light rail?”

That was the query from a member of the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee during a recent meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. And while the question was honest, it also was disconcerting.

You see, in addition to having a name that breaks the record for overly wordy euphemisms, the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee is considering options for placing tolls along Interstate 5 and Interstate 205. The goal is to reduce congestion on the freeways that connect Clark County with Portland by charging people for driving on them. In other words, the name could be changed to the Portland Tolling Committee and save us all a lot of ink.

Considering that the issue is important to Clark County residents, representatives of the committee were gracious enough to meet with us and answer some questions. And when we mentioned that a lot of people here are not interested in light rail, there was a bit of surprise.

“Why don’t people here want light rail?”

It is a reasonable question. And while I cannot profess to speak for all of Clark County, I do know why I would rather gouge my eye with a pencil than invite light rail into our community. The primary reasons are my mother and mother-in-law and five sisters-in-law. Wait, let me reword that. The primary reason is the fact that Portland has spent more than $4 billion on a system that remains out of reach for most residents. I have numerous relatives who live within the Portland city limits, and none of them are within walking distance of a MAX station.

Most people who ride MAX need to drive their cars to a station and park, which kind of defeats the purpose of mass transit. Spending $4 billion — with about one-third of that coming from local funding — has been less efficient than building additional freeway lanes and increasing bus service.

Portland’s population density is roughly 4,400 people per square mile; this is not New York City, with a density of 28,000, or Washington, D.C., with density of 11,000. It is not New York or D.C. or even Seattle when it comes to millions upon millions of people visiting each year. This is Portland, where fixed-rail mass transit makes sense in the city’s core but not elsewhere. And it certainly does not make sense in Vancouver.

Fear doesn’t hold up

Now, before we go any further, it is important to debunk one of the reasons often cited for opposing light rail. The idea that transit would provide criminals with easy access to this side of the river is akin to saying, “some, I assume, are good people.” Last year’s TriMet report showed that there were 1,247 alleged crimes on or around the transit system in 2016, including buses and light rail. That is out of 99 million rides, meaning there was one reported crime for every 79,390 passenger trips. Odds are that climbing out of your bathtub is more hazardous.

There are valid reasons for opposing light rail in Clark County without generating unfounded fears. And there are valid reasons for explaining all of this to the Portland Tolling Committee.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for congestion relief throughout the Portland area. But in focusing upon I-5 and I-205, the committee seems intent upon targeting Washington drivers; if easing congestion truly was the goal, highways 26 and 217 to the west of Portland also would be considered, along with I-84 and I-405. And in focusing upon getting people out of their cars, they likely exposed a ploy for making light rail more acceptable to Clark County.

To be fair, committee members insist they are in the early planning stages and that all options are being considered. But in demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the roughly 70,000 Clark County residents who commute to Portland for work, they probably raised more questions than they answered.