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Friday, July 30, 2021

Sunrise Applies Heat to ODOT


The Oregon Transportation Commission held a meeting on July 15th. One of the items on the agenda was i205 improvements and expansion of 7 miles from West Linn to Oregon City including the Willamette River crossing. This work would add a third lane in each direction and reinforce the Abernethy Bridge and the eight other i205 bridges in the project area to be able to withstand a major earthquake.

The commission says the project will make the section of i205 "safer and allow more reliable travel to access work and critical services, even after an earthquake or other major disaster as well as address congestion."

This meeting included a public comment section. Several members of The Sunrise Movement made their voices heard.

From their website: The Sunrise Movement is a youth movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We’re building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people.

The Sunrise members brought up several points:

  1. Expanding freeways increases traffic and does not reduce congestion (citing the Katy freeway in Huston with 26 lanes and yet it still has congestion)
  2. 40% of Oregon's emissions are from transportation
  3. Dollars spent on freeways are not available public transit (give people an option other than sitting in their car on a congested freeway)  
This commission meeting and testimony came right after Oregon's "once in a millennium" heatwave. At least 54 people died because of this global warming amplified heatwave. Other estimates put the number of deaths over 100. So there was a sense of urgency to do something to reverse this "global weirding" trend.

The Sunrise Movement is youth-led and one of the more galvanic testimonies came from a 15-year old that started by scolding the commission, saying that she should not have to wake up at 7AM to tell a bunch of adults things that they should already know. This same testimony ended by asking the commission how many people have to die before they take the climate crisis seriously. 

The commission handled this compelling and emotional testimony very professionally. 

So what do we do? What would you do? i205 is a primary path for goods moving up and down the west coast. I-5 runs through downtown Portland, so 205 is the bypass for freight heading north and south. This freight is typically on diesel semi-trucks. I don't want them stuck in traffic, polluting. Are the lanes the problem or the tailpipes of the vehicles that utilize them? If you allow this expansion, is it just one more slice in a death of 1000 cuts? 

The expansion takes this portion of 205 from 2 lanes to 3. This is far from the 26 lanes of the Katy freeway. Most of 205 is already 3 lanes, so it is not surprising that this stretch, where it's choked down to 2 lanes is a bottleneck. I think each action must be considered and, where reasonable, allowed. 

For me, I go back to the three ways to change the world. 
  1.  Pass laws to change/control behavior 
  2.  Set an example that some might follow 
  3.  Invent a better way that people will rush towards
Generally, I lean toward option three. I see electrified transportation as the better option. People want freedom of movement. People want things delivered to their houses. That means that we need freeways, highways, and roads that are kept up and maintained and yes, in some cases, expanded. I'd like to see a multimodal transit center and charging infrastructure added as part of the improvement plan. These would allow more public transportation options and electric vehicle charging. I wouldn't even mind seeing a few more tunnels to give people another option for personal transportation.

You can listen to the complete testimony (and the EV infrastructure presentation that immediately followed it) here.

Let me know what you think.

2 comments:

  1. I fully agree that getting EVs into the hands of the shorter "last mile" delivery type trucks and maybe some of the medium range haul semis should be #1 priority. If they have to be stuck in traffic, they would not be spitting out by-products of combustion. Add to that that so many of these vehicles are exempted from air-quality regulations and the benefit is even stronger IMHO. That said, I think one has to take a serious look at how we can address the elephant in the room and that is - why is the car on the road in the first place? A huge part of the reason that is the case is we simply did not design cities for people - we designed suburbs for people to live with big two car garages so they could drive somewhere. Something on the order of 5 million people in the US are commuting 90 minutes a day which is absurd.

    Lower hanging fruit might be taking a look at the choices in vehicles we make with regards to size and how that might affect vehicle Flow Rate - I am looking you Tesla Cybertruck and America's bizarre fascination with enormous vehicles, but this would probably be a small drop of water in the ocean.

    Myself, I am hoping that my ability to not be on the road because I have a job that allows me to work from home and then frequently bike 9 or so miles will play a small role.

    At the end of the day, in America at least, I personally feel we have to take a lot harder look at the personal choices we make. If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is that you can't make American's do jack-all by telling them - they have to want it.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments Kevin. You bring up some very good points about America's car culture and how it needs to evolve.

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