For the eighth straight year vehicle miles traveled declined. In this recent report (see link above) the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) stated that there is little correlation between fuel prices and per capita VMTs. However, the SSTI hypothesize that there are a variety of factors responsible for the VMT decline including a retiring baby boomer generation, more compact development in numerous cities across the country, tolling and market-pricing of parking. Further emphasis was placed on additional trends that may have influenced the growth of VMTs but are now subsiding such as: the completed transition of women working outside of the home, car ownership has become common place, and the time allowance that people budget for car travel has likely hit a peak.
I agree with the SSTI’s report regarding why VMTs have been on the decline. In fact the very reasons listed by the SSTI’s report are some of the reasons why I am concerned about the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge project. CRC staff have planned for the financing of a new bridge to be based on bonds. These bonds would be paid back over a twenty year period. In order to pay those bonds back and meet the twenty year timeline traffic across the bridge would have to increase more than 1.2% every year for twenty consecutive years; which has never happened before. On top of that these VMT increases would be on a bridge that would have a toll.
Does anyone really believe that daily vehicle trips across the Columbia will increase enough to pay down the bonds in time? If the bonds aren’t paid down on time the cost of a new bridge could rise from the estimated $4 billion to more than $10 billion. Leaving future generations paying the tab.
Although almost $200 million have already been spent on the planning, design, and environmental impact analysis of the CRC, it just might be time to go back to the drawing board. Certainly there must be a way to build a less expensive bridge that would accomplish the same goals while not handcuffing our children with the bill.
This article edited by Ahmed