No surprise here: new ODOT study shows more congestion on Portland freeways

Portland Congestion

Portland Congestion

There’s no mystery about it. Portland area freeways are more congested, travelers spend more time on the road and just about everybody is frustrated.

ODOT just completed its first comprehensive study into the impact of traffic congestion on Portland area freeways.

The study will be repeated in a few more years to identify trends in a search for better ways to design fixes.
The 2016 Portland Region Traffic Performance Report, as it’s called, looked at traffic data from the start of 2013 to the end of 2015 and found drivers, commuters and freight haulers alike must allow more and more time to reach their destinations.

“Data for the region’s six freeways show increasing congestion, decreasing travel speeds, greater delays and unreliable trip times,” the report found. “Traffic congestion in the Portland region can now occur at any hour of the day, including holidays and weekends; it is no longer only a weekday peak hour problem.”

The six Portland area highway corridors studied were Interstate 5, Interstate 84, Interstate 205, Interstate 405, U.S. 26 and OR 217.

The report found that:

  • Freeway corridors are operating at or over capacity during peak periods.
  • Drivers must budget enough time for a worst case scenario as the same trip can vary in duration day to day.
  • As congestion grows, freeway crashes and delays contribute to worsening reliability.
  • Peak morning and afternoon periods are spreading into midday, getting longer and shrinking the congestion-free midday windows used by freight haulers to deliver goods and services.

Freight haulers can no longer rely on using the mid-day hours to move goods and services freely. As mid-day becomes more unreliable, freight has more problems meeting delivery schedules, forcing up the cost of shipping.

The report found that crashes are increasing on a rate equal to the increase in congestion. But it also found that recent ODOT improvements, among them RealTime signs and auxiliary lanes, have, in certain corridors, helped the crash trend stabilize or improve. Auxiliary lanes – a direct lane from an on-ramp to the next off-ramp – reduce delays caused by merging crashes.

These targeted improvements include:

  • The eastbound Interstate 84 auxiliary lane at Northeast Halsey Street, which saw a 14 percent decrease in crashes and a 10 percent decrease in delays.
  • The RealTime signs on OR 217, activated in 2014, helped produce a 21 percent reduction in crashes in their first year despite increased traffic volumes through the region.
  • The cost of the delays in these corridors is significant. On the I-5 corridor, for example, the congestion, bottlenecks and crashes caused more than $80 million in lost productivity in 2015.

Future projects may also provide greater reliability in three critical Portland area corridors: Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter; Interstate 205 between Stafford Road and the Abernethy Bridge and OR 217. In addition, ODOT plans to expand RealTime signs along U.S. 26 and I-84.

Approval of HB 2017, the Oregon Legislature’s 2017 transportation funding package, will provide funds needed for targeted safety and congestion projects that can help address the issues found in the new report.

See our Traffic Performance Infographic

See the Corridor Map

Read the full report