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Portland traffic jams hurt shippers

It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to determine that Portland is highway-impaired. Traffic in Oregon’s largest city is slow.

How slow is it?

A few years ago, the state Department of Transportation estimated that 34,600 hours a day were wasted in Portland traffic jams. That’s nearly four years of people’s time that was wasted each day. We’d bet the number is much larger now. And just think of what all that stalled traffic does to the climate. A car or truck stuck in Portland traffic is producing carbon dioxide but getting zero miles per gallon. By that standard alone, Portland must be a major contributor to climate change.

Portland traffic is so bad people headed for the airport often have to factor in an extra hour of drive time just to avoid missing their flights.

And here’s the kicker: Portland traffic is so bad the state Legislature set aside $25 million to help agricultural shippers in the nearby Willamette Valley avoid it. That’s how bad Portland traffic is.

The plan is to build an “intermodal facility” somewhere in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. Trucks will haul containers full of hay and other agricultural commodities from farms and processors to a loading terminal where the containers can be loaded onto railroad cars. From there, trains would go to ports in Tacoma or Seattle for export overseas, thus avoiding Portland traffic snarls. The Port of Portland handles only a tiny number of container ships, making the trip to Tacoma and Seattle necessary.

It should be noted that there are already three such intermodal facilities in the region — including one at the port — but all are in Portland. Trucks hauling containers to those facilities are just as likely to get caught in traffic.

The big problem is Portland traffic. If Interstates 5, 205 and 405 had adequate capacity, and if traffic not bound for Portland could avoid its multi-lane parking lots, many problems could be solved. But, for whatever reason, that is not to be.

Having a $25 million intermodal facility in the valley represents the next best thing for valley growers and processors who still have to get their crops and goods to ports for shipment to overseas customers.

In the running are two proposals. One would be built in Brooks, a few miles north of Salem. The other would be a repurposed paper mill in Millersburg, a few miles south of Salem.

We can’t comment on the attributes of the proposals. Suffice it to say: Any option that allows shippers to avoid Portland traffic jams is well worth considering.