Editorial Page

Oregon's War on Cars

If you’ve lived in Oregon very long, you may remember a time when traffic wasn’t so congested. A drive to the coast didn’t require taking into account a plethora of like minded motorists. Getting to work didn’t sometimes mean losing an extra half hour or more due to a slower commute. That was then. Welcome to the Oregon of today.

As Oregon has grown, so has our traffic. Portland area traffic is now ranked as among the nation’s worst cities for congestion. If that fact doesn’t get your attention, then consider Portland area drivers spend an additional 116 hours each year due to traffic congestion. Plus, the added financial cost to drivers amounts to $1,625 annually. As a result of this increasingly poor situation, many have been asking questions, like what happened? The answer is relatively straightforward. Oregonians were told we couldn’t build our way out of traffic congestion. So what’s the problem and how does this affect Oregon real estate? Traffic congestion is one marker for livability.

Oregon's War Against Cars

You might be wondering how this problem might be fixed? Unlike command economies, ours is a free market system. This means if there’s a shortage of something, a general rule of supply and demand incentivizes the industrious among us to step in and fill the need. One analogy to Oregon’s traffic congestion is plumbing for a building. You wouldn’t plumb an apartment building in the same manner as a home. Why not? Because apartments need more pipe carrying capacity to serve a larger number of people. Lower capacity that’s fine serving a few simply isn’t suited for more people. 

This line of thinking is pretty useful for car traffic too, unless the state steps in to pick ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ Oregon’s elected officials have decided that for a variety of reasons, a less friendly approach to motorists is a winner. To be fair, Portland is not alone in doing this and it’s not just a war on cars. It has since morphed far beyond. Now there’s a war on parking spaces, too. The loser? Those who now are spending more hours inside their cars. That’s because like house plumbing installed in an apartment, Oregon’s smaller road carrying capacity is pinched. In addition to smart engineers and hard working laborers, it takes budgeting, planning, vision, leadership and political courage to build a road. The undersupply of these elements help to explain our regional traffic conundrum. 

Ironically, another loser of this anti-car mindset is the environment. As we sit longer in traffic, more carbon is needlessly released into the atmosphere. This is despite noble claims of our state’s environmentally friendly focus on bicycles and public transit. Yet these other forms of transportation are used by a minority of Oregonians for daily work commutes and for a host of reasons.  Mass transit is necessary and beneficial as one piece of the transportation puzzle. Yet a simple fact is that many Oregonians derive significant benefits from driving cars, including an appreciation for the freedom it brings. 

Oregon's War on Cars

Oregon motorists have paid many millions in state gas taxes. But that fact is increasingly dismissed. When cars become more fuel efficient, gas consumption declines and so can tax revenue. As a result, if you live in the greater Portland area, plans are now underway to charge drivers with a toll. Portland area commuters may soon pay for the right to drive on area roads at certain times of day. Rather than meeting the need by increasing capacity for added traffic, Oregon officials will ostensibly reduce demand by essentially ‘taxing’ drivers and charge them for the privilege. Such forms of regressive taxation can negatively affect businesses, their employees and our economy. It’s also sadly emblematic of Oregon’s ruling political class.

So the next time you’re stuck in Portland area traffic, don’t blame the diligent road engineers at the Oregon Department of Transportation, or the industrious laborers who help install and maintain our highways and byways. Instead, send a letter to your elected officials. At least then you’ll be closer to addressing those in a position to help fix the problem.