Lying about climate: A 5 million mile a day discrepancy

Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) claims it will meet state and regional climate objectives by slashing vehicle travel more than 30 percent per person between now and 2045.

Meanwhile, its transportation plan actually calls for a decrease in average travel of less than 1 percent per person.  Because population is expected to increase, so too will driving.

Rather than reducing driving, and associated greenhouse gas emissions, Metro’s RTP calls for accommodating more than 5 million additional miles of driving a day—a 20 percent increase from current levels.

The RTP climate strategy asserts the Portland area will drive 20 million miles a day and meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.  But Metro’s transportation modeling shows the RTP is planning for a system that will lead to 25 million miles per day of driving.

This disconnect between Metro’s climate modeling, and the modeling it’s using to size the transportation system, and make investments violates state climate rules.

The Portland region is a self-styled environmental leader.  Oregon has a legislatively enacted goal to reduce greenhouse gases 75 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.  Metro, the regional government, adopted a “Climate Smart Strategy” in 2014, calling for taking steps to achieve that goal by reducing driving.  A new, federally required (and state regulated) “Regional Transportation Plan” is supposed to spell out how the region will manage its transportation system and spend its limited resources over the next couple of decades to stay on a path to achieve that goal and other regional priorities.

Unfortunately, the Metro region is nowhere close to achieving its climategoal, is actually headed in the wrong direction, and the new Regional Transportation Plan will likely make things worse.  As we previously documented at City Observatory, the RTP’s climate analysis left out the inconvenient fact that Portland area transportation greenhouse gas emissions are actually increasing, rather than decreasing as the plan assumed–indicating that our efforts are actually failing. In addition, the climate policies in the plan give a pass to a ten-billion dollar plus program of freeway expansion that will lead to more driving and more pollution.  That’s bad enough.

But there’s more:  A close look at the technical analysis that is the foundation for the RTP shows that Metro has two completely different sets of “books” for assessing transportation.  When it comes to demonstrating compliance with state climate laws and regulations, Metro has produced a set of projections showing we’ll hold total driving in the Portland area to its current level—in spite of increase population—by reducing per capita driving by almost a third.  But when it comes to sizing the transportation system—and in particular—justifying investments in added highway capacity, Metro has a second set of books, that assume per capita driving doesn’t change at all, and that as a result, we end up driving about 5 million miles more per day in the Portland area than assumed the climate analysis.  These two estimates are completely contradictory, and they mean that the Regional Transportation Plan doesn’t comply with state climate laws, and that if we actually followed through on our stated climate strategy of holding driving to its current level of about 20 million miles per day, we wouldn’t need to spend any more on expanding highway capacity.

Under state law and regulations, Metro has an affirmative legal obligation to monitor and report its performance—something it simply hasn’t done.  At the state’s land use regulator, the Land Conservation and Development Commission is required to review and approve their climate work and policy.  LCDC should reject the Metro climate plan and RTP as out of compliance with these state regulations, and send Metro back to the drawing board to produce a transportation plan that is consistent with professed climate goals and state law.

The key problem here is two sets of books:  An ambitious climate plan that would dramatically reduce average driving (and comply with state regulations), and a second set of books that is a “driving as usual” projection, that’s being used to fuel a highway spending spree.  The difference is 5 million miles a day—and vastly more carbon pollution.

Ambitious climate rhetoric:  We’ll reduce per capita driving 31 per cent compared to 2020 levels

Metro’s current RTP purports to put the region on a path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making investments in the transportation system that reduce driving.   And when it comes to its climate analysis, the RTP makes a bold claim that the region will cut driving by more than 30 percent from current levels.  The Climate Analysis (Appendix J, page 9) makes this claim:


But that’s the climate portion of the plan.

Reality:  We’re going to drive 20 percent more, and per capita driving will decline less than one percent

A separate portion of the report offers metro’s “system performance measures” for judging the overall operation and success of the region’s transportation system.  Here, the RTP uses its transportation demand model to estimate how much we’ll drive in the future under various scenarios.  These are the numbers that are used to select projects, estimate traffic delays, and guide investments.  And the picture here is very different.  According to this modeling, per capita driving in the Oregon portion of the metropolitan area will decline by just two-tenths of one percent from current levels.  And these performance measures indicate that the RTP investments make almost no difference in reduced driving:  the RTP “constrained” scenario, representing billions of dollars in spending, reduced driving by only one-tenth of a percent more below current levels compared to doing nothing.  Either way, the Metro performance measures suggest almost no change in per capita driving, and as a result, total travel in the region will increase by more than 5 million miles per day—making it that much harder to reach the region’s and the state’s climate objectives.

These data are contained in Appendix I:  Performance Evaluation Documentation

This duplicity is important, because in Appendix J, Metro has concocted an almost entirely fictitious scenario, in which the state government imposes very high per mile fees  fees on driving.  Metro’s climate analysis uses these assumptions to pretend per capita driving will decline sharply.  But the rest of the RTP makes no such assumptions; it plans for a world where we won’t charge drivers much more than they pay today, aside for some tolls, and that we’ll invest in big capacity expansion projects, like the Interstate Bridge and the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening.  In reality, as Metro’s performance measures report shows, the region has no intention or expectation of meeting state climate goals, and is going to continue building car infrastructure as if it were 1950, rather than to head off a devastating climate crisis by 2050.

As we pointed out, Metro uses its climate analysis, with its dubious assumptions, to assert that it doesn’t need to worry about the polluting effects of spending billions of dollars expanding highways.  It claims because we’ll only drive 20 million miles a day, we’ll meet state climate targets, and therefore there’s no need to even examine how much widening roads will increase driving.  But the agency’s own transportation modeling—which it uses to justify these expenditures, and select investments—is planning for a world where we drive 25 million miles a day, with arguably 25 percent more pollution, no matter how “green” vehicles are in 2045.

Make no mistake, Metro planners are really counting on their 25 million mile a day forecast.  They only include the 20 million mile projection as a fig leaf, to be able to assert that they’ll meet climate objectives.

If Metro really believed its climate forecasts, and planned accordingly, it would create a plan that provided for no increase in total driving in the region above today’s levels.  But they clearly have no intention of planning for such an outcome.  They—and the Oregon Department of Transportation—are pushing forecasts claiming we’ll drive vastly more miles and that congestion will only get worse, unless we do something—in this case, spend billions on expanded highways.

Having two completely inconsistent travel forecasts–really two sets of books–is effectively perpetrating a climate fraud.

Metro is failing to comply with state law showing it is making progress

Metro has had a climate plan for nearly a decade.  It adopted its Climate Smart Strategy in 2014, and at the time, as an integral part of that plan, pledged to monitor progress—i.e. whether its efforts were leading to the needed reduction in greenhouse gases.  Since then Land Conservation and Development Commission has adopted further rules that direct Metro to plan to achieve statewide climate goals, and again, periodically report on their progress.

OAR 660-044-0060

(1) Metro shall prepare a report monitoring progress in implementing the preferred scenario including status of performance measures and performance targets adopted as part of the preferred scenario as part of regular updates to the Regional Transportation Plan and preparation of Urban Growth Reports.
(2) Metro’s report shall assess whether the region is making satisfactory progress in implementing the preferred scenario; identify reasons for lack of progress, and identify possible corrective actions to make satisfactory progress. Metro may update and revise the preferred scenario as necessary to ensure that performance targets are being met.
(3) The commission shall review the report and shall either find Metro is making satisfactory progress or provide recommendations for corrective actions to be considered or implemented by Metro prior to or as part of the next update of the preferred scenario.

Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan fails to demonstrate whether the region is making progress, and makes no effort to say that it is making “satisfactory progress.”  In fact, emissions inventories show that actual greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased by between 1.4 percent and 5 percent per year since 2014.

When presented with these facts, Metro’s only response is kicking the can down the road—saying it will revisit this entire subject in its next Regional Transportation Plan (to be adopted in 2028).  That fails to comply with OAR 660-044-0060, which requires the progress report do gauge progress as of now.

Instead of acknowledging the failure of current actions, and proposing stronger and more effective policies, Metro has simply chosen to embrace a new set of assumptions that we’ll make even faster progress by the adoption or enforcement of as yet un-enacted policies in future years.

Metro acknowledges that it is wrong about current GHG trends, but isn’t making any substantive changes to the current Regional Transportation Plan.  Instead, it says it will use the updated as the basis of “future climate analysis.”  In its response to comments made on the RTP dated October 18, 2023, Metro staff says it will:

2. Update RTP climate assumptions in Chapter 7 and Appendix J to:
a. Describe which state assumptions are required to be used in the RTP climate analysis and why.
b. Document state assumptions in more detail, including a table describing key state assumptions (e.g., vehicle fleet turnover rate, share of SUV/light truck vs. passenger vehicles, share of electric
vehicles), as well as current trends with respect to these assumptions and discussions of state policies, programs or other actions the state is taking to support the state assumptions used in the RTP climate analysis.
c. Describe that the region will not meet its targets if the state assumptions used in the analysis are not met, along with the results of the RTP 23+AP scenario, which quantifies how much the region falls short of its targets if the Statewide Transportation Strategy (STS) assumptions are not included in the analysis.
d. Describe current trends in GHG emissions, both in the region and state, and nationally, based on DARTE and other inventory sources.
e. Use the updated assumptions as the basis of future climate analysis.

Part 1 to Exhibit C to Ordinance No. 23-1496
MTAC Recommendation to MPAC on Key Policy Topics, October 18, 2023
(Emphasis added)

These changes to the RTP do not put the document in compliance with OAR 660-044-0060:  They do not include the required status of performance measures, they do not identify whether the region is making “satisfactory progress”—it isn’t: transportation greenhouse gases are increasing when the plan said they would be decreasing—and it doesn’t explain why we’re not making progress or identify actions that would be corrective.  Instead, Metro has in effect, deferred all of these obligations until the next update of the RTP (scheduled for 2028).  And, notably, Metro is not proposing to do anything to reconcile the conflicting assumptions about future vehicle travel in its environmental analysis (Appendix J), with the 25 percent increase in vehicle travel it says it is planning for in its transportation plan (Appendix I).  As we’ve said:  This is a “Don’t Look Up!” climate plan.

As a result of these failings, the Metro RTP isn’t in compliance with OAR-044-0060, nor is it in compliance with Metro’s own adopted Climate Smart Strategy (which similarly pledged to report progress in reducing emissions, and take additional steps as needed).  As shown above, the RTP has two separate sets of books and actually contemplates a future where total vehicle miles traveled in the Portland area expands by 20 percent—completely inconsistent with achieving climate goals, and exactly the opposite of what Metro asserts in its claims that it is complying with state law.

Rose Quarter’s Killer Ramps

The proposed re-design of the I-5 Rose Quarter Project now includes two deadly hairpin freeway off-ramps.

Just last week, Brandon Coleman was killed at a similar hairpin highway ramp in downtown Portland 

The Oregon Department of Transportation doesn’t really care about safety.

The plan to widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter, at the staggering cost of $1.9 billion, has a new added safety problem, a complicated new freeway offramp, of the kind that often leads to serious or fatal crashes.

Earlier, we reported how ODOT’s plan for the so-called “Hybrid 3” re-design of the Rose Quarter project called for moving the I-5 southbound off-ramps about half a mile south to N. Williams and Wheeler, and in the process creating a dangerous 210-degree hairpin off-ramp from I-5.  Even ODOT’s own safety analysis noted the off-ramps would cause big trucks to veer across marked traffic lanes, and would increase the number of crashes.

In part because of these safety concerns—and objections from the Portland Trail Blazers (who own the Moda Center arena abutting the proposed off-ramp location)—ODOT has developed yet another re-design of the project.  This one calls for constructing another off-ramp which would make a second hairpin turn, up and over both the Southbound and Northbound lanes of I-5, and joining the existing I-5 Northbound off-ramp at NE Weidler.

As a result, the latest proposed re-design of the I-5 Rose Quarter project proposes not just one, but two hairpin off-ramps.  Rather than improve safety, this new ramp arrangement would likely be even deadlier for those traveling in and through the Rose Quarter.

ODOT’s initial description called this the “anchor” design, because the freeway off-ramp splits in two, with hairpin turns to both the left and right.  Here is an illustration of ODOT’s proposed “Anchor+Wheeler” Design.  The two hairpin off-ramps are shown in red.  One hairpin off-ramp turns right, and pours traffic exiting the Freeway onto N. Wheeler Avenue.  The second hairpin off-ramp turns left, vaults up and over the I-5 freeway mainline, and then circles back North to merge with the existing I-5 northbound off-ramp as it meets N. E. Weidler Street.  (The circular inset picture with the anchor logo shows the exit ramps emerging from under ODOT’s freeway overpass/cover).

In an earlier commentary, we pointed out the inherent risks of forcing freeway traffic to make a 180-degree (or greater turn) as they exit from a highway (with a design speed of 70 miles per hour) on to local streets with high levels of bicycle and pedestrian users.

We know the combination sharply curving freeway on- and off-ramps feeding into busy arterial streets are deadly to vulnerable road users.  Just this month, Brandon Coleman was killed in a hit-and-run crash where the Morrison Bridge ramps intersect with S.W. Morrison Street and Naito Parkway.  Here’s the police report:

A pedestrian has died in a Downtown Portland hit and run crash.

Brandon Coleman (Portland Police Bureau)

On Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 4:30a.m., Central Precinct officers responded to a crash at Southwest Naito Parkway and Southwest Morrison Street. When officers and EMS arrived, they found a person, believed to be an adult male, laying on Southwest Naito Parkway at the ramp connected to the Morrison Bridge. He was confirmed deceased at the scene. The involved driver left the scene of the crash and was not immediately located.

Just like the proposed Rose Quarter configuration, this intersection combines a curling, high speed and low visibility ramp with local arterial streets and a dangerous pedestrian crossing.  Traffic turning left or right from Naito Parkway does a tight 180-degree turn on to the Morrison Bridge.

Here’s a Google Streetview image of the intersection where Brandon Coleman was killed.


Just like the proposed Rose Quarter project, the Morrison Bridge has two hairpin ramps intersecting with busy city streets.


As we’ve pointed out, ODOT has cynically and falsely portrayed the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening as a “safety” project, claiming (again falsely) that its the “#1 crash location in Oregon.  It’s latest proposed re-designs actually make the area much more dangerous, both for those traveling in vehicles, and especially people traveling on foot and by bike.  The pair of 180-degree hairpin off-ramps proposed for I-5 southbound funnel high speed traffic exiting the freeway right into arterial streets that carry high volumes of people walking and cycling.  They’re recreating exactly the same fatal design error at the Morrison Bridge ramps that led to the death of Brandon Coleman.

ODOT Snow Job: Give us more money, or we’ll stop plowing your roads

Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) says it doesn’t have enough money to maintain roads, fix potholes or even plow snow.

This is a Big Lie: Mega-projects and their cost-overruns, not maintenance, are the cause of ODOT’s budget woes

ODOT has chosen to slash operations, while funneling hundreds of millions to billion-dollar-a-mile mega-projects and consultants

Plowing is a trivial part of the $3 billion ODOT budget; ODOT has voluntarily chosen to sacrifice plowing and other safety operations

ODOT’s gambit is a cynical and deadly version of the “Washington Monument” strategy:  Give us money or we won’t plow your roads.

ODOT has aggravated this problem by repeatedly diverting operations and maintenance funds to road-widening projects

ODOT is choosing to make roads even more dangerous as Oregon road fatalities have increased 71 percent; it’s violating its own “Vision Zero” and “Safety First” policies.

The Snow Job:  “Budget cuts are forcing us to reduce snow plowing

Winter is nearly upon us, and the Oregon Department of Transportation has launched a new seasonal budget campaign, it’s claiming its too broke to plow state roads this winter, with the not-at-all-subtle message that people need to give ODOT more money.  The agency’s PR machine has generated a raft of media stories uncritically repeating this story line:

ODOT says highways ‘may not be safe’ this winter due to budget cut

▶️ Expect less snowplowing of road to Mt. Bachelor, other roads this winter

Fortunately, one media outlet didn’t fall for this contrived message.  KGW-TV’s Pat Dorris has a long-form analysis that asks some basic questions and debunks

In October, the Oregon Department of Transportation began getting the word out that it will not have enough funding to plow or sand roadways over the coming winter to the extent that it has in previous years, blaming a combination of inflation and declining fuel tax revenue. But there is a distinction between the agency’s messaging and the facts. . . .

But the idea that fuel tax revenues have declined is not factually accurate. The Story looked at the numbers behind ODOT’s budget and could not verify that claim.

The Story’s Pat Dooris reached out to ODOT Director Kris Strickler to request an interview, but was told he was not available.

The Big Lie:  Megaproject Cost-overruns, not maintenance are the cause of ODOT’s budget woes

ODOT has chosen to slash operations, while funneling hundreds of millions to megaprojects and consultants

The trouble is, as Dooris reported, the ODOT message is false:  Snow removal (and other operations) are a minor, nearly trivial part of the ODOT budget, which instead is dominated by giant construction projects, which have been so badly mismanaged that they have cost-overruns running to billions of dollars.  ODOT’s strategy is to threaten to slash snow plowing and other vital, and visible maintenance to build public pressure for greater funding.  And in addition, ODOT’s budget is going up, not down:  As KGW’s Pat Dorris has pointed out:

“it’s not accurate to say that fuel tax revenues have gone down — they are still going up”

As Dorris pointed out, the agency’s own revenue numbers show it  has more money for the current fiscal year than previous fiscal years.

What this means is that ODOT is choosing to cut spending on operations and maintenance–and the reason it is doing that is because it is devoting huge sums to and handful of expensive highway projects in the Portland area.  ODOT knows these projects aren’t popular, and it can’t defend its persistent cost overruns and expensive consultants, and so, instead, its threatening to cut vital and popular services like snowplowing, in order to gin up popular support for more funding.

It’s a cynical and deceptive ploy, one that endangers road users.  ODOT is planning to reduce snow plowing on some roads, and not repaint fog lines on the sides of many rural highways.  Cutting these  modest expenditures won’t save much money, but what they will do is  directly endanger road users.

ODOTs Budget Problems are from Squandering Billions on Megaprojects

To be absolutely clear:  the problem with the ODOT budget is not a lack of funds to fix potholes and plow snow, but rather the exploding cost of highway widening megaprojects in the Portland Metropolitan Area.  The maintenance “crisis” is purely a product of ODOT choices to slash funding for re-paving and regular operations, and instead dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to a handful of expensive highway expansion projects–that are all experiencing dramatic cost-overruns.

  • Item:  The cumulative cost of three Portland mega-projects is nearly $10 billion.  ODOT is prioritizing projects costing more than $1 billion per mile of roadway–the Rose Quarter is $1.9 billion for 1.5 miles; the I-5 Bridge is $7.5 billion for 5 miles, and the I-205 Abernethy Bridge,  is $622 million for barely a half-mile.
  • Item:  Each of the three largest projects has experienced 100 percent or more cost-overruns.  The cost increases announced in the past year amount to a total of more than $3 billion ($600 million increase for the Rose Quarter, $2.5 billion increase for the IBR, and $370 million increase for the I-205 Abernethy Bridge.
  • Item:  ODOT won’t even say how much will be saved by plowing less—it is at best a few million dollars, and will come mostly from laying off or not hiring ODOT front-line workers
  • Item:  ODOT’s says it needs to cut its overall budget by 5 percent, but ODOT has chosen to slash operations by four times as much:  20 percent, while holding harmless mega-project construction (in fact, funding continuing cost-overruns).
  • Item:  The Oregon Legislature gave ODOT $500 million in short-term borrowing authority in 2021.  ODOT has used none of this authority to maintain operations.  Instead, it has used all of this authority for highway widening projects–and the debt service on these short term bonds cuts in to revenue that could be used for operations.
  • Item:  The Highway Cost Allocation Study revealed that over the past several years, ODOT has systematically slashed spending for pavement preservation (repaving) and operations, and diverted more money to highway widening projects.
  • Item:  ODOT proposes to plow fewer roads, stop painting fog lines on many rural roads, and not fix as many potholes, just as the number of persons dying on Oregon roads has skyrocketed, with road deaths up 71 percent since 2010.
  • Item:  ODOT routinely juggles its books to “find” revenue for highway widening projects.  It diverted $32 million in maintenance funds to Interstate Bridge Replacement project consultants and planning.  It routinely finds  “savings” and “unanticipated revenue” and uses them to launch expensive expansion projects, that experienced cost-overruns, instead of using those funds to maintain and fix existing roads.
  • Item:  ODOT proposes to spend $40 to 60 million over the next two years, largely on consultants, to advance the planning for the I-5 Rose Quarter project to the “30 percent” level of design—even though it lacks committed funds to pay for the full $1.9 billion project.
  • Item:  ODOT has spent more money on consultants for its highway widenings—over $100 million each for the I-5 Rose Quarter project and the Interstate Bridge Replacement project—than it will ever save by slashing snow plowing.  ODOT has spent more than $16 million on public relations and communications consultants for these two projects (see below for details).
  • Item:  ODOT’s overall budget is more than $3 billion per year and was cut less than 2 percent from the previous biennium, yet the agency is cutting operations (like snow plowing) by ten times as much (20 percent).

In short, ODOT’s PR push to slash snow plowing is a cynical ploy to get Oregonians to give more money to an agency that has been reckless and irresponsible.  The reason ODOT doesn’t have enough money for roads isn’t electric vehicle adoption or faltering revenues, its a spendthrift agency that’s chosen consultants and big contractors over the safety of road users and tax payers.

Plowing is a trivial part of the ODOT budget; ODOT has voluntarily chosen to sacrifice plowing and other safety operations

A close look at ODOT’s explanation shows a strong bias against basic safety operations.  The agency has a $3 billion annual budget, and is seeing revenue increase—plus implementing a 2 cent a gallon gas tax increase in January.  Yet it’s choosing to slash operations, like snow plowing ten times as much as its other parts of its operating budget–like administrative expenses.

While much of the agency is being asked to make a 5 percent reduction, ODOT has chosen to impose a four-fold higher reduction on basic operations, cutting them by 20 percent.  In the agency’s regional “fact” sheets justifying the cuts, it says:

For our next budget, we implemented a 5% cut across all programs funded with state dollars. Within maintenance, we cut our services and materials an additional 15% to account for inflation and our reduced buying power.

ODOT’s region 4 report notes it cut its maintenance budget by 20 percent

Implementing our 2023-2025 budget For our next budget, we implemented a 5% cut across all programs funded with state dollars. Within maintenance, we cut our services and materials an additional 15% to account for inflation and our reduced buying power. We are reducing service in three primary areas:

• Low-volume road maintenance.

• Roadside maintenance.

• Winter maintenance

Despite its emphasis on cutting snow plowing, none of ODOT’s explanations show how much money the state will save by cutting these services.  It’s not likely to be much.  Overall, ODOT spends about $288 million on all “emergency services:–a broad category that includes everything from dealing with crashes, to plowing roads, to cleaning graffiti, and helping disabled motorists .  A 20% cut in that mount is $56 million or about $29 million per year.  $30 million per year is about one-tenth of one percent of ODOT’s annual spending.

Meanwhile, the agency is not imposing these same cuts on its plans for bloated freeway widening projects.  Projects like the $7.5 billion dollar IBR, the $1.9 billion dollar Rose Quarter project, and the $622 million Abernethy Bridge projects–all of which have experienced 100 percent or more cost-overruns, are held harmless from ODOT’s proposed budget cuts.  In fact, ODOT is doing just the opposite:  promising to spend money it doesn’t have on these projects, and likely further cost overruns.

While ODOT has been mum about how much not plowing roads will save, it’s clear that its no a major amount of money in a $3 billion agency.  How much does snow removal cost?  The Pennsylvania highway department spends about $200 million per year on snow removal.  The agency reports plowing, sanding and salting about 94,000 lane miles of highway, for a rough annual cost of $2,000 per lane mile, per year.   The Klamath County road department reports spending about $1 million per year to plow about 100 miles of roadway in the county (about $5,000 lane mile per year).  If ODOT were serious about its budget, it would tell us how much cutting back snow plowing will save–instead, they simply menace us with more dangerous roads, and ask for more money, which will mostly be used for highway widening.

Shorter ODOT:  “Your money or your life.”

ODOT’s PR strategy boils down to:  “Your money or your life.”  We’ve squandered the gas tax increases you approved just six years ago on expensive boondoggle highway widening projects, and unless you give us more money, we’ll stop fixing potholes and plowing snow, and your roads will be more dangerous.  And to be clear, plowing less comes at a cost in human life and limb.  ODOT may not be adequately plowing roads to protect traveler safety.  In 2021, a car plunged off the I-205 bridge, killing the vehicle’s driver; his family is suing ODOT for improperly plowing the bridge, creating a snow ramp that caused the vehicle to jump the guard rail.

ODOT’s plans to reduce plowing come after a decade in which statewide road deaths have spiked by 71 percent.  In spite of the rising death toll, ODOT is choosing to slash its budget for basic safety operations, like plowing snow-covered roadways, and repainting fog lines on many roads.  And ODOT admits its choice to slash plowing and other safety expenditures will likely injure and kill more Oregonians.

Glenn, the ODOT spokesperson, said the state transportation agency is troubled by the trend of increasing traffic deaths, both Oregon and nationwide.

But he said those findings won’t preclude major budget cuts that would eat into the agency’s operations and maintenance budget. The agency is facing a budget shortfall largely due to declining gas tax revenue and inflation.
“We cannot commit that these service level reductions won’t impact safety,” Glenn wrote in an email. “However, we are working to prioritize safety for as many travelers as we can and data like this is helpful in that effort. We are working with our policymaking partners to identify solutions to this structural revenue issue so that we can better invest in building and maintaining a safe system for all users.”

ODOT diverts maintenance funds to highway expansion projects

ODOT routinely diverts funds allocated to and available for maintenance to fund capital construction projects.  ODOT used interstate maintenance discretionary funds to pay for the planning of the failed Columbia River Crossing project.  It diverted funds that could otherwise be used for maintenance to pay for the Interstate Bridge Replacement project.  It routinely prioritizes capital construction in the use of “unanticipated federal funds” and “project savings.”  It cobbled together just these funding sources to pay for the initial work on the I-205 Abernethy Bridge before the Legislature authorized any funding for the project.  Each year it gets a tranche of what it calls “unexpected” federal funds (federal money that is unspent from nationally competitive programs that is allocated to the states).  At its July, 2022 meeting ODOT recommended (and the OTC approved) using this money, which could be applied to the maintenance backlog, to fund $10 million towards the Interstate Bridge Replacement project.

In 2021, ODOT diverted $36 million in funds dedicated to maintenance to pay for consultants for the Interstate Bridge Replacement project.    ODOT’s own memo makes this clear.

This project change requires adjustment to the fiscally constrained RTP. Funds from the fiscally constrained Fix-It buckets in the RTP will be reduced to allow for the $36M ODOT funds to be advanced on this project. Memo with details was sent to Metro 9/17/21 by Chris Ford. We find the analysis is still applicable with the addition of WDOT funds since RTP focuses on Oregon revenue only.

Chris Ford, Memo to Metro TPAC, “I-5:Columbia River (Interstate) Bridge: Requested Amendment to the 2021-24 Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program.” Oregon Department of Transportation. September 24, 2021, aka ODOT/Ford Memo. Page 6. Emphasis added.

This is still going on today:  At its November 9, 2023 meeting, the Oregon Transportation Commission is being asked to approve using $7.6 million in “savings” from a construction project to pay for further overruns on the I-205 bridge.  If it wanted to the Commission could use these savings to pay for snow plowing—but it’s choosing not to.

ODOT excels at playing three-card monte with its budget, “finding” money for projects it wants to build, and while slashing spending on basic operations.  In 2018, after the Legislature provided no funding for the I-205 Abernethy Bridge project, ODOT suddenly “found” tens of millions dollars in “savings”, “unanticipated revenues” and “unexpended funds” with which to launch the unfunded bridge project.  Here’s a slide from ODOT’s December, 2018 briefing on the project:

Most of these funds (regional flexible funds, “reallocated savings,” “unanticipated federal revenue” and especially the “operation program funds,”) could all otherwise be used to pay for ODOT operations and maintenance—but instead they’re being used here to fund a capital construction project.

ODOT routinely pleads “pothole poverty” when asking for tax increases–then diverts the money to megaprojects

This is nothing new.  Back when the Legislature was considering more funding for transportation in 2017, ODOT swore up and down it would use additional money to keep up roads, not build new ones. In 2017, ODOTs sales pitch for gas tax increases consisted of telling the public how much it cared about maintenance: Here’s the agency’s current deputy director, Travis Brouwer, speaking to OPB, in April, 2017 as the Legislature was considering a giant road finance bill.:

Of course, patching potholes are far from the only thing ODOT has to spend money on. So how does the agency decide what to prioritize? According to ODOT assistant director Travis Brouwer, basic maintenance and preservation are a top priority.“ Oregonians have invested billions of dollars in the transportation system over generations and we need to keep that system in good working order,” he said. “Generally, we prioritize the basic fixing the system above the expansion of that system.”

Back in 2017, the Oregon Department of Transportation put out a two-page “Fact Sheet” on the new transportation legislation.  It’s first paragraph stressed that most of ODOT’s money would be for maintaining the existing system:

“Generally,” meaning, unless we decide to build shiny new projects—which they do.  Make no mistake:  When it comes to one of the agency’s pet mega-projects, there’s always money lying around, and if there isn’t, they’ll pretend like there is and charge full speed ahead, maxing out the credit cards to generate the cash.

A deadly take on the “Washington Monument” strategy

Budget wonks talk about a bureaucratic ploy known as the “Washington Monument Strategy.”  Asked to cut their budget by a few percent, an agency chooses its most visible and valued service.  The National Parks Service says if it its budget is cut, it will have to close the Washington monument (the nation’s most visited and visible national monument). The object is to rally public support for the agency’s budget, not to promote efficiency or focus on priorities.  ODOT’s “we won’t plow” because of budget cuts is the same idea, with a lethal twist.  Closing the Washington Monument doesn’t endanger tourists, it merely inconveniences them.  Reducing plowing and not painting fog lines will likely lead to more crashes, injuries and deaths.

Mocking ODOT’s supposed “Safety First” and “Vision Zero” Policies

ODOT plans to slash these basic safety expenditures even as the state is experiencing increasing levels of traffic crashes, deaths and injuries.  Just this month, the Oregon Health Division released a new dashboard showing the increasing death toll on the state’s roads and highways.  Fatal injuries on Oregon roadways are up 71 percent since 2010, with more than 600 Oregonians killed.


The dashboard:  Highway deaths up 71 percent since 2010

ODOT’s own stated goal is Zero fatalities and serious injuries–something it is utterly failing to do.  The state’s Transportation Safety Action Plan says says the long term goal is for zero fatalities and serious injuries.  The state’s target for 2022 was 444 deaths (TSAP, page 9); the actual number was over 600.

Oregon is committed to zero transportation-related fatalities and serious injuries. To make progress and improve traffic safety, stakeholders and partners are tasked with coordinating priorities, leveraging joint resources where possible, and using quantitative data-driven tools (e.g., benefit-cost analysis). Funds are limited; therefore projects, programs, and policies will need to be prioritized to focus on those treatments which will have the greatest benefit toward achieving the vision of zero fatalities and serious injuries. (TSAP, page 72, emphasis added)

ODOT’s own plans call for making safety a priority, even when there are tradeoffs with other objectives.  It’s adopted Transportation Safety Action Plan calls for a quote “Safety First” prioritization.

For those who address transportation and/ or safety in their jobs, including the . . .  ODOT,. . . cultural shifts will be seen when safety is prioritized as a core value. A strong safety culture means that agency leadership and employees, at all levels, are encouraged, and rewarded for prioritizing safety, and identifying safety issues and solutions while carrying out their agency’s missions and their individual job responsibilities.
TSAP, page 60.

ODOT’s decision to slash maintenance expenditures by 20 percent, while cutting its overall budget by 5 percent (and holding harmless a handful of megaprojects and consultant spending) flies in the face of its professed “Vision Zero” policies, and clear direction to prioritize safety first.

Megaprojects and ODOT Cost Overruns

ODOT is pursuing three massive highway expansion megaprojects in the Portland Metropolitan area wiht a total price tag of about $10 billion.  Each of these projects costs more than $1 billion per mile of highway:  The five-mile IBR is $7.5 billion (about 1.5 billion per mile), the one and a half mile  Rose Quarter project is $1.9 billion (about $1.3 billion per mile) and the half-mile long I-205 Abernethy Bridge is $622 million (again, more than $1 billion per mile).  Each of these projects has experiences enormous cost increases in the past three years, totalling more than $2.5 billion in increased costs.  ODOT has shown no ability to accurately predict or control project costs, so further cost increases on all these projects are possible.  These costs dwarf the cost of snow plowing and the revenue impacts of electric vehicles, yet ODOT says nothing about these expensive projects or their cost overruns in their explanation of their budget problems.


Prioritizing Funding for Consultants

These mega-projects involve hundreds of millions of dollars for consultants.  OregonDOT and Washington DOT spent more than $200 million on the failed effort to plan the Columbia River Crossing (the failed earlier version of the IBR).  Its already spent more than $100 million on the new IBR.  Likewise, Oregon DOT has spent about $110 million on consultants and staff for the I-5 Rose Quarter Project.

At its June 2023 meeting the Oregon Transportation Commission approved funding for $40 to $60 million to do more design work on the Rose Quarter project, mostly for consultants, whilea cknowledging that it simply doesn’t have the roughly $1.9 billion it would cost to actually build the project.
For each of these projects, ODOT has spent millions on public relations and communications consultants.  Here is a listing of the amounts paid to such consultants for the I-5 Bridge Replacement and the Rose Quarter.  The total is more than $16 million, so far.





The Week Observed, November 17, 2023

What City Observatory did this week

5 million miles wide of the mark.Portland’s regional government Metro, has proposed a regional transportation plan (RTP) that purports to achieve state and regional policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  But there’s a 5 million mile problem:  The climate analysis of the Metro RTP assumes that the region will hold driving at about its current level through 2045—about 20 million miles per day.  But the region’s transportation modeling and performance measures–which drive project selection and budget decisions, have a very different future in mind, planning for a 20 percent increase in driving to 25 million miles per day.  The plan can’t reconcile the 5 million mile a day discrepancy.

Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) claims it will meet state and regional climate objectives by slashing vehicle travel more than 30 percent per person between now and 2045.

Meanwhile, its transportation plan actually calls for a decrease in average travel of less than 1 percent per person.  Because population is expected to increase, so too will driving.

Rather than reducing driving, and associated greenhouse gas emissions, Metro’s RTP calls for accommodating more than 5 million additional miles of driving a day—a 20 percent increase from current levels.

The RTP climate strategy asserts the Portland area will drive 20 million miles a day and meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.  But Metro’s transportation modeling shows the RTP is planning for a system that will lead to 25 million miles per day of driving.

This disconnect between Metro’s climate modeling, and the modeling it’s using to size the transportation system, and make investments violates state climate rules.

Must Read

The devil is in the detail for congestion pricing.  It looks increasingly likely that New York will actually implement congestion pricing next year.  Still, there are majny details to be worked out, and as Nicole Gelinas points out, the devil is very much in these policy details.  Still to be decided are how to deal with a raft of requests for exemptions from pricing.  According to the MTA, there have been requests for 122 categories of exemptions.  As Gelinas points out, the easiest way to deal with this is to give no exemptions, especially for privately owned vehicles.

The most straightforward way to keep the base price low is for the MTA to approve zero exemptions for anyone driving private automobiles, which constitute 35 percent of core Manhattan traffic.

Gelinas argues that buses ought to be exempt (after all, they are getting cars off the city streets and providing a low cost alternative to car travel).  The problem with exemptions is likely to be a persistent and gnarly one:  The de facto exemption that police and many public employees have wrung from parking regulations doesn’t spawn a lot of hope in this regard.

Cycling in Paris is up 50 percent in the past year.  There’s a biking revolution happening in the City of Light.  Mayor Ann Hidalgo has led an aggressive campaign to add bike lanes to the city’s streets, and Parisians are responding in dramatic fashion.  It’s now the case the on many major arterials, the volume of traffic carried in bike lanes exceeds that carried in lanes open to car traffic.  The following chart shows the change in bike traffic in Paris over the past 12 months (October 2022 to October 2023).  There are notable increases, especially on weekdays and during peak hours:  clearly cycling is carrying a significant and growing part of the urban transport load, especially at peak hours.


Call it a virtuous example of induced demand:  if we build capacity for bike travel, people will bike. The fact that cycling continues to grow at this prodigious rate is a signal that a large scale commitment to redesigning urban transportation systems can quickly produce big changes in travel behavior.

The Rhode Island Attorney General challenges highway spending on climate grounds.  Like many state highway departments, the Rhode Island DOT sees the latest round of federal largesse in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as a way to further pad its budget for widening highways.  But wider roads simply trigger more car traffic, and increased pollution and recurring congestion. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha has formally challenged the state DOT’s plan to spend funds earmarked for fighting climate change on widening freeways. Like several state’s Rhode Island has a legal commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, and federal law requires agencies like RIDOT to show how they’ll make such reductions, but according to xxxx the RIDOT plan is wildly inadequate:

. . . a majority of the funding is earmarked for congestion management projects which, in RIDOT’s own words, “will not substantially ‘move the needle’ when it comes to carbon reduction.”4 That is, the Carbon Reduction Strategy identifies its carbonreducing expenditures as efforts mainly to make it easier for cars to travel—not the transformative changes necessary to remake a carbon-heavy sector to achieve Rhode Island’s reduction mandates. With just six years left before the first interim Act on Climate mandate, the State cannot afford to keep up the status quo and fail to identify needed actions to address the largest sector of emissions.

Would that other state Attorneys General would take up this cause.

Freeway fighter conclave gets national attention.  Last month, Cincinnati hosted the first national convening of grass-roots freeway fighters from around the nation.  Megan Kimble has profile of the conference and some of its attendees at Bloomberg. Kimble featured a number of local activists from around the country, including Portland’s Adah Crandall, leader of a group called “Youth vs. ODOT”

. . . there was a strong sense of solidarity among the attendees, who shared both their frustrations and hopes during a two-minute rant session at the end of the first day. Several younger organizers, such as Crandall, spoke about the intense urgency they feel to act in the face of the climate crisis. “Let’s cause some chaos and make state DOTs really afraid,” Crandall said.

New Knowledge

It’s official:  taller, blunter vehicles are more deadly.  For a long time, traffic safety advocates have pointed to the increasingly aggressive profile of the nation’s pick-up trucks.  Grills and vehicle front-ends are taller and more massive, and as a result, more likely to deliver a deadly blow to the head, neck and torso of people walking or biking, and push them under a vehicles wheels, rather than striking someone’s legs and pushing them over the hood of a vehicle.

A new study from the Insurance Information Institute provides a grim confirmation of these  fears.  The IIHS study finds that towering newer pickup trucks and SUVs are 45 percent more likely to cause death or serious injury than today’s passenger vehicles.  Here is the study’s key finding:

In general, vehicles taller than 35 inches were more dangerous to pedestrians than the shorter ones, mainly because they tended to cause more severe head injuries. Among vehicles taller than 35 inches, those with vertical front ends were more dangerous than those with sloped front ends. Torso and hip injuries from these vehicles were more frequent and severe.

There’s little question that the growth of monster trucks is correlated with the increase in pedestrian fatalities in the past decade or so.  Hopefully the IIHS study will provide additional impetus for the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) which regulates vehicles safety, to acknowledge this crisis, and take action.  They can start, of course, by expanding vehicle safety ratings to include the safety of non-occupants; but that’s just a start.  It’s long past time to regulate these deadly vehicles to protect people outside the monster truck

Hu, Wen, Monfort, Samuel S.,Cicchino, Jessica B., The association between passenger-vehicle front-end profiles and pedestrian injury severity in motor vehicle crashes,Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
November 2023,



The Week Observed, November 10, 2023

What City Observatory did this week

Snow-Job:  Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) threatens to slash snow-plowing and other safety maintenance unless it is given more money, while spending billions on a handful of Portland area freeway widening projects.  ODOT claims it’s too broke to plow state roads this winter, with the not-at-all-subtle message that people need to give ODOT more money.  The agency’s PR has generated headlines like:

“ODOT says highways ‘may not be safe’ this winter due to budget cut”

Scary stuff, to be sure.

But ODOT’s budget claims are a Big Lie:  ODOT’s revenues are up, not down  And a handful of costly billion-dollar a mile Portland highway projects are the real hole in the agency’s budget.  ODOT’s real budget problem—the one it never mentions in press releases— is $10 billion worth of highway widening mega projects.  Three Portland area expansions—the $7.5 billion I-5 bridge replacement, the $1.9 billion Rose Quarter widening and the $600 million I-205 Abernethy Bridge, are the real source of budget stress. Not only is ODOT not cutting spending for these projects, which include hundreds of millions in spending on consultants, each of these projects has experienced 50 percent or more cost overruns in the past two years. 

 ODOT’s threat to slash spending on basic safety measures—like plowing snow and regularly repainting fog-lines on rural roads—is a cynical bureaucratic ploy to get more money at a time when deaths on Oregon roads are up 71 percent in the past decade.

Must Read

Portland’s Interstate Bridge Replacement project is the nation’s most expensive highway boondoggle.  US Public INterest Research Group has released its latest annual report cataloging the nation’s highway boondoggles.  They highlight the Interstate Bridge project has one of the worst.

Interstate Bridge Replacement, Oregon and Washington: Cost: $5 billion to $7.5 billion. Under the pretext of a simple bridge replacement, an expensive and oversized highway expansion threatens to worsen congestion in Portland and nearby Vancouver, Wash.

The report shows how excessive spending on highway expansions have not only failed to reduce traffic congestion and travel times, but have actually made our transportation and environmental problems worse.  The report concludes:

Highway expansion harms our health and the environment, doesn’t solve congestion, and creates a lasting financial burden for the public. Expanding a highway sets off a chain reaction of societal decisions that ultimately leads to the highway becoming congested again – often in only a short time. Since 1980, the U.S. has added well over 870,000 lane-miles of highway – paving more than 1,648 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – and yet, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, congestion on America’s roads was worse than it was in the early 1980s.

Jeanie Ward-Waller, former Deputy Director of CalTrans, is interviewed by KBPS “Freeway Exit” host Andrew Bowen.  Ward-Waller was fired from her job for calling out violations of environmental and spending laws for freeway widening projects.  She’s filed a whistle-blower complaint against CalTrans.  You can learn much more about what’s going on, and the entrenched obstacles and obstinate engineering culture that dominates an agency that still views its mission as building more and bigger roads, forever.  As Ward-Waller says, CalTrans was created to build roads, and is driven by “a mindless impulse to add more freeway lanes.”

Ward-Waller describes how she crashed into a “green ceiling” at the agency, and was dismissed for asking hard questions about why agency officials weren’t following their own adopted policies and state laws that aim to reduce driving as an essential part of the state’s climate strategy.  In addition to Ward-Waller’s detailed insider account, you’ll also appreciate the insightful questions and comments from her interlocutor, KBPS reporter Andrew Bowen, whose multi-episode Freeway Exit series is a “must listen” for anyone interested in transportation policy.

New Knowledge

Narrower lanes produce safer streets.  A very detailed new study looks at the effect of lane widths on crash rates on city streets.  For decades, highway departments have assumed that wider lanes are somehow safer, largely because they give drivers a better field of vision and more room for error (before they hit someone or something outside their lane).  The trouble, of course, is that these features of wide lanes prompt people to drive faster, which both increases the probability and severity of crashes.  This study demonstrates, conclusively, that narrower lanes are better for safety–they prompt drivers to be more careful, speed less and take fewer risks.

The study looked crash rates at more than 1,100 street segments in seven cities.  Importantly, it controlled for a number of other contextual variables that are likely to influence crash rates.  One of the most important takeaways is that narrow lanes–nine foot lanes–have the effect of reducing driver speeds and incidence of crashes on roads in the 30-35 mile per hour category.

. . . street sections with 10-foot, 11-foot, and 12-foot lanes have significantly higher numbers of non-intersection crashes than their counterparts with 9-foot lanes in the speed class of 30—35 mph. • In other words, in the speed class of 30—35 mph, wider lanes not only are not safer, but exhibit significantly higher numbers of crashes than 9-foot lanes, after controlling for geometric and cross-sectional street design characteristics of street sections.

A portion of the study consisted of a survey of highway engineers to better understand their actual practice in reducing lane widths.  The the standard practice is weighted toward wider lanes, typically as much as 12 feet, and that consideration of narrower lanes requires a separate “design exception.”  This hurdle means few states actually implement narrower lanes, even if their policies endorse the ideas of “complete streets” and “context sensitive design” which would encourage departures from a rigid engineering standard.  The report concludes:

Although in theory there has been a significant departure from conventional lane width design standards to promote flexibility in highway design, in practice we are far from implementation of the context-sensitive design solutions by most state DOTs. The design exception for lane width reduction projects seems to be a rare event in most state DOTs that participated in our survey.

This study is important scientific evidence for community activists looking for immediate steps they can take to lower traffic crashes, deaths and injuries.  Narrowing the lanes on city streets helps slow traffic, induce greater driver caution, and measurably improve safety.  Outdated claims that best engineering practice requires wider roadways needs to give way to this new knowledge.

Shima Hamidi and Reid Ewing.  A National Investigation of the Impacts of Lane Width on Traffic Safety: Narrowing Travel Lanes as an Opportunity to Promote Biking and Pedestrian Facilities Within the Existing Roadway InfrastructureNovember 2023, Johns Hopkins University.

In the News

Willamette Week quoted City Observatory director Joe Cortright in its story examining the slow and troubled roll-out of a voter-approved pre-K education program in Portland.


The Week Observed, November 3, 2023

What City Observatory did this week

Killer off-ramps.  The Oregon Department of Transportation’s $1.9 billion I-5 Rose Quarter widening has been repeatedly (and falsely) portrayed as a “safety” project, but the latest re-design of the project may make it even more dangerous than it is today.  An earlier “Hybrid 3” re-design, added one dangerous hairpin off-ramp from I-5 into Rose Quarter neighborhood.  A new re-design, labeled “the anchor” actually doubles up the number of hairpin off-ramps, by adding a flyover exit that crosses back over the I-5 freeway, while reversing direction from South to North.
The design seems inherently dangerous.  The I-5 main stem has a 70 mile per hour design speed, and emerges from a long covered tunnel section immediately before hitting the two hairpin off-ramps.  The danger isn’t just conjectural.  ODOT’s own analysis of”Hybrid 3″ said the trucks couldn’t stay in their lane on the hairpin exit, and that crashes would rise as a result.  Just last month, a similar hairpin ramp in downtown Portland claimed the life of pedestrian Brandon Coleman, who was killed in a hit-and-run.

Must Read

Jeanie Ward-Waller speaks out.  Earlier this month, Jeanie Ward-Waller was effectively fired from her job of CalTrans for pointing out that highway widening projects were violating environmental laws and illegally using funds dedicated to road maintenance.

Ward-Waller gives her first hand account of how calling out illegal activity to circumvent the state’s adopted climate laws led to her demotion:

My concerns centered on a large freeway project described to the public as “pavement rehabilitation,” which is repaving. But I believe the project is in fact, an illegal widening of a 10-mile freeway section of the Yolo causeway between Davis and Sacramento on Interstate 80. After scrutinizing project documents, I realized that Caltrans officials were widening the freeway, using state funds that cannot be used to add lanes. By calling it a “pavement rehab project,” Caltrans avoided public disclosure of the project’s environmental impacts.
As Ward-Waller says “the rot runs deep” in transportation agencies like CalTrans.

TexDOT thumbs its nose at environmental laws.  Kevin DeGood of the Center for American Progress lays bare the environmental lies embedded in the Texas Department of Transportation’s analysis of the proposed $4.5 billion widening of I-35 through Austin.

TXDOT makes the farcical claim that the project won’t have any environmental impact, largely because the agency’s traffic modeling predicts the same number of people will drive the same number of miles whether or not the freeway is built.  TXDOT can get away with this falsehood because the US Department of Transportation has delegated its legal authority for assessing NEPA compliance to the state.  DeGood points out a badly flawed analysis of driving trends and greenhouse gases.

According to TxDOT, the total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) on I-35 in central Austin will rise by 45 percent between 2019 and 2050 as the population grows. But this is where things get weird: TxDOT claims that total VMT and vehicle emissions would be essentially the same under both the build and no-build scenarios — meaning the state is projecting 45 percent growth in driving by 2050 regardless of whether I-35 is expanded or not. Moreover, the agency estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from driving on I-35 will only be seven percent higher under the build scenario. This stretches the bounds of credulity, to say the least.

TXDOT’s second tactic for evading environmental laws is to break up a 31 mile widening of I-35 into three separate projects, which it claims are un-related.  Taken together, they’re a permanent commitment to a more car-dependent, more polluting development pattern for decades to come.  Pretending that a massive new roadway won’t engender more driving and more greenhouse gases flies in the face of well known science of induced travel, and makes a mockery of the National Environmental Policy Act.

More driving is undoing San Diego’s climate progress.  Like many cities, San Diego loves to tout its commitment to climate goals, and celebrate ancecdotal success:  Clean electricity! New vehicle charging stations!  But buried deep in the published, but unpublicized statistical appendix of the city’s latest climate report is the inconvenient truth that greenhouse gases from transportation in the city are increasing because people are driving more. As local public radio station KPBS reports

The climate report found that emissions from the generation of electricity fell by an impressive 27% from 2020 through 2021. This was attributed to an increase in renewable energy purchases by both SDG&E and San Diego Community Power, a government-run nonprofit that began purchasing energy on behalf of homes and businesses in 2021.”  However, the emissions from on-road transportation in 2021 were 13% higher than the emissions in 2020,

And this trend is even being underwritten at public expense by millions of dollars spent on highway widenings, like a proposed $40 million widening of Grantville Road, which might save commuters 10 to 20 seconds (until the induced travel effect kicks in).

Real estate commission price-fixing violates anti-trust laws.  In a potenially landmark case out of Missouri, a federal jury has agreed that a widely used system of real estate commissions violates anti-trust laws.   The jury found that plaintiffs (homesellers) were due damages of $1.8 billion–which could be tripled under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  The Wall Street Journal called it a “big legal defeat for realtors, and summarized the case as follows:

The plaintiffs provided compelling evidence that overall commissions have stayed at roughly 5% or 6% for decades, split evenly between the buyer and seller brokers. This is about two to three times as high as in other wealthy countries where such self-serving industry arrangements don’t exist. The inflated commissions are baked into home prices.

The verdict may force a reform of rules on real estate commissions nationwide.  The case is likely to be appealed, but if the decision holds, it could be a major shift in the way homes are bought and sold.