Portland freeways congested but projects help, report finds

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Portland freeways remain congested, but recent projects help, new ODOT report says

Jan. 7, 2022

Contact: Don Hamilton, 503-704-7452

PORTLAND -- In 2019, severe congestion, delays and reliability all had an impact on travel on Portland area freeways, according to the new 2020 Portland Region Traffic Performance Report from ODOT.

Congestion on Portland area freeways declined during the COVID-19 pandemic but is now returning to near pre-pandemic levels, the COVID Traffic Reports show. This indicates the need for congestion relief measures and more transportation choices.

The 2020 Performance Report shows that in 2019 recurring congestion occurred during morning, mid-day and evening peak periods. Several freeway corridors experienced longer travel times during mid-day than the morning peak period.

The report also shows that targeted highway investments in some traffic bottleneck locations have significantly improved highway performance in improved travel time reliability, reduced delay and fewer crashes.

Population growth and increased traffic demand continue to slow the region’s freeway system, the report found.

“Traffic demand continues to exceed capacity on all of the region’s freeway corridors, which means increasing costs to businesses moving goods and longer travel times for residents traveling to and from work or going about their daily activities,” said Rian Windsheimer, ODOT Region 1 Manager. “The good news is that some of our targeted highway improvements are making a difference and ODOT’s new Bus on Shoulder pilots are showing early signs of success as well.”

The report focuses on 2019 traffic performance data and is part of an ongoing effort to monitor traffic performance on Portland area freeways. Future reports will periodically track changes in regional traffic patterns and measure the effectiveness of highway projects. Monitoring these performance indicators will help ODOT better manage the system and help in planning future improvements.

The six highway corridors studied were Interstate 5; Interstate 84; Interstate 205; Interstate 405; U.S. 26 (the Sunset Highway); and OR 217.

Overall, the report shows that traffic performance measures indicate persistent and severe congestion on Portland area freeways, as morning and afternoon commute times continued to spread into mid-day.

Traffic performance in the Portland area in 2019 included:

  • $1.2 million daily cost of congestion on Portland area freeways
  • Up to four times the free-flow travel time in some corridors for travelers to reach their destinations during afternoon peak times.
  • Severe bottlenecks in each freeway corridor in the Portland area during peak periods.

Congestion has taken a significant toll on freight operations. I-5 alone transported up to $188 million in goods daily in 2019 and was affected by persistent congestion throughout the day.

Incidents including crashes, disabled vehicles, debris in the roadway and abandoned vehicles further contribute to less reliable travel. From 2015 to 2019, Portland area freeways saw 92,500 incidents, 23,200 of which were crashes.

ODOT recognizes that traffic congestion on Portland area freeways has worsened over the past decade and is working to keep people and goods moving through a multi-faceted approach:

  • Auxiliary lanes. ODOT continues to invest in these “ramp-to-ramp” lanes to address safety and operations problems at specific, localized bottlenecks. Auxiliary lanes make it easier for vehicles to safely merge onto the freeway and allow drivers to make connections between on-ramps and off-ramps without changing lanes.
  • RealTime signs. The RealTime strategy is a toolbox of active traffic management technologies designed to improve safety and reliability by providing variable advisory speed, queue warning and traveler information to manage congestion. ODOT continues to install additional RealTime signs throughout the region.
  • Incident response. ODOT’s Incident Response team helps out motorists, helps with incidents and addresses delays in many ways that improve safety on the freeways.
  • Bus on Shoulder. As a part of ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan, Bus on Shoulder permits authorized transit agencies to bypass congestion by using designated freeway shoulders in some corridors. This improves transit reliability and on-time performance and makes transit a more competitive regional travel option.

Recent successful improvements include:

  • I-5 southbound auxiliary lane: The report looked at the recent implementation of the southbound I-5 auxiliary lane from OR 217 to I-205. The project helped reduce average daily congestion in the area by 2 hours and 45 minutes. The auxiliary lane cost $10.4 million to build and has produced savings of $13.8 million a year in saved delay times, the report found.
  • I-205 auxiliary lanes: The report shows that the auxiliary lanes added to I-205 northbound (from I-84 to Killingsworth St) and I-205 southbound (from I-84 to Powell Blvd) helped reduce average daily vehicle hours of delay in the area (15% reduction for I-205 northbound and 24% reduction for I-205 southbound). These improvements cost $13.6 million to build and have produced savings of $9.9 million a year in saved delay times.

These improvements reduced the duration of stop-and-go traffic, allowing travel at more constant speeds during peak periods, which reduced greenhouse gas emissions in those sections. Congestion reduction improvements like these also save time and money and decrease the risk of crashes.

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 the continued deployment of the RealTime system, expansion of our Bus on Shoulder pilot program, and is currently studying the potential to implement tolling in the I-5 and I-205 corridors to manage congestion and generate revenue for corridor improvements.

To see the full report, go to: https://tinyurl.com/ODOTRegion1SystemManagement