Legislating More Traffic Congestion | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Legislating More Traffic Congestion

Imagine yourself trying to negotiate the traffic at the north end of the Bend Parkway, in the area of the Cascade Village Mall shopping center. (We know it's painful, but please try.)

Now imagine thousands more cars and trucks stirred into the mix every day. And imagine that no improvements have been made to allow the road grid to handle that extra load.

About 17 years ago, the state of Oregon wisely adopted a regulation designed to prevent that sort of thing. It's called the transportation planning rule, and basically it says that if new development is going to substantially increase traffic congestion, cities and/or developers must come up with the cash for highway improvements to mitigate the impact.

The transportation planning rule, among other things, blocked the planned creation of a Wal-Mart "superstore" at the north end of town. The Oregon Department of Transportation insisted that money be found first to pay for road upgrades, including $30 million worth at the worst bottleneck, the Cooley Road - Highway 97 interchange. The city's share would be more than $11 million, and the city doesn't have it.

Now two Republican state legislators, Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend and Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles, want to change the rule. Huffman's proposal is slightly more modest: He wants to eliminate the rule for small cities such as Prineville and Madras. Telfer's idea is to suspend it statewide for five years.

Predictably, Telfer and Huffman say it's all about creating jobs. But most of the jobs created would be either temporary (in construction) or low-wage (such as at Wal-Mart). The damage, in terms of livability, pollution and time wasted sitting in traffic, would be permanent.

But why not give Telfer's five-year-suspension idea a try, at least, and see if it helps pull Bend and the rest of Oregon out of the recession? Simply because there's no way in hell the rule will be brought back once it's gone. It's not hard to predict the rationalizations: The economy still isn't that strong, reinstating the rule would inflict hardship on cities and developers, yada-yada-yada.

Anyway, Bend's economy isn't on the skids because state regulations make development too tough; it's in that lamentable situation because it - and, to a great extent, the entire state's economy - depended too much on the volatile construction industry, and when the real estate bubble went pop there was nothing else to fall back on.

Telfer's and Huffman's idea, in a way, reflects the same sort of reckless buy-now, pay-later mentality that caused the bubble and subsequent disastrous bust. Instead of paying the bill for development as we go, they want to let development proceed full speed ahead now and worry about the tab later, when more development (presumably) will generate more revenue to cover it.

It's a sort of Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes it comes to grief sooner or later - as everybody in Bend should have learned by now. The transportation planning rule is simple common sense, and for wanting to scrap it Telfer and Huffman deserve THE BOOT.

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