Transportation isn’t sexy. And when it works, no one talks about it. We fly under the radar for the most part. Now, it seems that every time you turn around, someone is talking about transportation. It could be congestion in Portland, the Port of Portland, container exports, trucks on the road, CARB (California Air Resource Board), LCFS (Low Carbon Fuel Standard), or the upcoming transportation package the Oregon Legislature is going to tackle in the 2017 Legislative Session.
If you are reading this from a state that has transportation figured out – I envy you! Us Oregonians seem to be on the struggle bus these days. (Transportation pun intended!)
I spoke at the Oregon Seed League convention last month and updated everyone on current issues regarding exports, transportation and Port of Portland. In fact, there were two agenda items dealing with transportation and port issues! I told the audience: “I’ll bet you’re looking forward to the day we stop talking about transportation.” It got a few laughs, but I’ll take it. I’m really not that funny.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a laughing matter. Also unfortunate is the amount of misinformation out there when it comes to transportation, trucking, and ports. I’d like to tackle a few of those here.
- CONTAINER TRUCKS AREN’T CAUSING CONGESTION IN PORTLAND.
What? I know I know, you’ve been told it’s container trucks, and it seems like it would make sense because of the Port of Portland not having container service at Terminal 6 any longer. But it’s not. Did you know: Only 200 out of 120,000 vehicles are related to containers moving to ports other than the Port of Portland. Trucks aren’t going anywhere they haven’t gone before.
But but but… congestion! Yes, Portland is awful. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. But it’s not trucks. It’s cars. Next time you’re in traffic, take a look around. You notice the trucks because they’re big rigs. But, compare the number of trucks to the vast amount of cars. And how many of those cars are single passenger?
When is Portland the worst? Rush hour. When are container trucks driving to or through Portland? I can guarantee you, it’s not rush hour. If we get caught in rush hour traffic, it’s because something has gone wrong at a terminal somewhere. We leave our plant early enough to miss rush hour in Portland, and we are typically back before rush hour in the afternoon. Does this always work every day? No, but, for the most part, we’re not stuck in rush hour traffic.
What’s the real problem? Traffic congestion increased recently along the Portland metro-area roadways. Vehicle volumes have increased 6.3% over volumes from last year. This increase is nearly twice the national average. The rise in vehicle volumes means that roads are running at or near capacity during the peak hours, commute times are growing longer, and driver frustration is building. Growth on the system is due to new users. The number of out-of-state drivers’ licenses increased to approximately 85,000 in 2015. In addition, a drop in unemployment means more people heading to and from work. Lower gas prices than one year ago also makes it less expensive to travel. (Information from Oregon Department of Transportation)
For more information on what ODOT is doing to help the traffic and congestion problems crippling Portland, click on info-graphs above.
2. IS THERE INCREASED TRUCK TRAFFIC ON I-5 SINCE PORTLAND LOST CONTAINER SERVICE?
Short answer, yes, there is increased traffic on the roads. And we are some of those trucks on the road. We also utilize Northwest Container Service (NWCS, a remote container yard) located in Portland. NWCS then rails containers north to the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. We can drop off and pick up containers at NWCS, but they cannot handle all of our volume, and there are increased risks to only using NWCS (namely less ability to have on-time delivery). So, as part of our business strategy to keep our shipments on time and to best service our customers, we deliver to a combination of NWCS, and ports of Tacoma and Seattle. If and when Portland brings back container service, we will use Terminal 6 at Port of Portland. Diversification is a key strategy in being successful in the strange world of international container shipping.
In summary, yes there are more trucks on the road because Terminal 6 at Port of Portland lost container service… but don’t blame the Portland traffic and congestion problems on trucks. These are 2 separate problems that really don’t have anything to do with one another.
I love and appreciate trucks and the truck drivers that deliver 75% of our goods to us. In fact, I think it’s time to thank a trucker. Today and every day. It’s not an easy job, and those that safely do their job day in and day out, you are appreciated.
If you’d like to learn more about the Port of Portland and why Terminal 6 is different than the rest of the terminals on the West Coast, you can read more here.
There’s so much more to talk about in regards to transportation in Oregon! I know, so exciting… but for those of you who are interested, stay tuned for Part 2!