Portland can spend hundreds of millions on streetcars and billions on light rail. But it is letting its most-valuable asset–the city’s $5 billion road system–fall apart, says an expose featured in yesterday’s Oregonian. The city’s transportation department, says the article, has enough money to hire eight new employees to oversee streetcars, build more than a dozen miles of new bike paths, and co-sponsor a Rail-volution conference in Los Angeles. But it doesn’t have enough many to repave any badly deteriorating street until 2017 at the earliest.
Even when the federal government was handing out stimulus funds in 2009, Portland decided not to put any of the funds into its streets. None of its projects, the city claims, were “shovel-ready” (as if the high-speed rail projects that did get funded were in any sense shovel-ready).
It is hard to see this as anything but malign neglect. Smart-growth advocates (such as Todd Litman, who the Antiplanner debated last week) insist they aren’t anti-automobile. But they are for spending all your transportation dollars on alternatives to the automobile even as your bridges and streets fall apart.
Nationwide, federal and state highways, most of which are funded out of dedicated gasoline taxes, are in pretty good shape. It is local streets and bridges that have problems, in many cases because cities such as Portland have deliberately decided to ignore them.
The decision by Portland-area local governments to twiddle their collective thumbs about the Sellwood Bridge, which rates 2 on a scale of 100 in terms of structural quality, while spending hundreds of millions of dollars building a light-rail bridge just downstream from Sellwood is a good example. When they finally agreed to build a new bridge, they decided to add no new capacity, as if the region has had no population growth since the bridge was originally built 87 years ago. It appears that smart growth supports driving as long as we drive no more than we did in 1925.