OPINION: Transportation Priorities Reconsidered

The purpose of a transportation system is to safely facilitate the movement of people, goods, and services from one location to another. It plays a crucial role in connecting different regions, enabling economic activities, and promoting social interactions.

But the way we prioritize transportation funding priorities is upside down.

There are currently five big Oregon Department of Transportation projects underway in the Portland metro area in addition to numerous projects throughout the state. The “Big 5” projects are the I-5 Interstate Bridge Replacement, Rose Quarter rework, I-205 expansion/Abernethy Bridge work, changes to the I-5 Wilsonville Boone Bridge and Oregon highways 217/26. Big projects inevitably involve contingencies piled on uncertainties topped by imponderables. The question that must proceed prior to initiating the projects is to ask what is the purpose of the project and how does it fit within the transportation system.

The specific objectives of each project may differ, and encompass such goals as fostering the flow of economic commodities, creating economic and social interactions among people, reduce travel times, to provide access to resources, and other such aims.

Overall, the purpose of a transportation system is to create a safe, well-connected and efficient network that supports economic development, enhances quality of life, and meets the diverse needs of the people of Oregon. In sum, to move people and resources from Point A to Point B; whether a person is alone in an automobile or on a bike or on the MAX isn’t necessarily part of that objective.

With that in mind, the question arises of how pedestrian, bikeways, mass transit, and other alternatives ought to be funded alongside new roads and how to prioritize those projects.

The prioritization of funding for bike-pedestrian infrastructure and mass transit alongside new roads depends on various factors, including local priorities, existing infrastructure, environmental considerations, and community needs. However, we often find ourselves in the trap of considering these elements as “add-ons” to a road project, when in fact there are a number of arguments in favor of elevating alternative modes of transportation to parity with new road construction:

  • 1. Safety Considerations: Focusing on pedestrian and cyclist safety, as well as improving mass transit options, can contribute to overall road safety by reducing the number of vehicles on the road and minimizing conflicts between different modes of transportation.
  • 2. Equity and Accessibility: Prioritizing pedestrian infrastructure, bikeways, and mass transit can address issues of equity by providing accessible transportation options for people who may not own cars or have limited mobility.
  • 3. Sustainability and Environmental Impact: Pedestrian infrastructure, bikeways, and mass transit options are often considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly compared to expanding road networks. Investing in these alternatives can contribute to reduced carbon emissions, air pollution, and dependence on fossil fuels.
  • 4. Urban Planning and Livability: Promoting pedestrian-friendly environments, bikeways, and mass transit can lead to more walkable and livable cities. Prioritizing these modes of transportation can enhance urban planning efforts, creating vibrant, accessible communities.
  • 5. Health and Well-being: Encouraging walking, cycling, and the use of mass transit promotes a healthier lifestyle. Investing in pedestrian and bikeway infrastructure can contribute to increased physical activity, while mass transit can reduce sedentary behaviors associated with long commutes.
  • 6. Congestion Management: Mass transit systems, if well-developed and efficient, can help alleviate traffic congestion by providing an attractive alternative to private vehicle use. This can lead to a more effective use of existing road infrastructure.
  • 7. Economic Efficiency: In some cases, investing in alternative transportation modes can be more cost-effective than building and maintaining new roads. Mass transit, for example, can move large numbers of people using fewer resources than individual car travel.

It’s important to note that the optimal approach will vary depending on the specific needs and circumstances of a particular region. In most cases, a balanced and integrated transportation strategy that includes investments in both alternative modes and road infrastructure may be the most effective solution. Additionally, community engagement and input are crucial in determining transportation priorities that align with local preferences and goals.

So, let’s turn the priorities right-side up, and recognize that our objectives aren’t to make more room for cars, but to get people and resources from one place to another. In some cases, that will include cars, but in some cases less so. In light of that revised perspective, we should scope projects like the “Big 5” to include road, bike paths, pedestrian paths, diversion requirements, mass transit requirements, diversion impacts, etc.…..in short, all elements of a complete transportation system.  Then we focus our objectives on moving people, not cars. We proceed first with the non-road, including diversion requirements portions of the project and then the necessary road work.  That way the issues from road work are dealt with first, rather than hoping to get “add-on” multimodal projects and funding after the fact when the legislature and ODOT have moved on to the next big road.

Jeff Gudman is a former member of the Lake Oswego City Council and a candidate for state treasurer in 2024.
He can be reached at