Increasing congestion on the freeway route from Hillsboro to the Portland International Airport is causing shipping problems for Washington County’s high-tech manufacturers.
Finding the funds for even short-term fixes is a problem, however, as was revealed at Monday’s meeting of the Washington County Coordinating Committee.
Future sessions of the Oregon Legislature are going to have to come up with much — if not most — of the funds, said members of the committee, which represents local government jurisdictions within the county.
“This is really something we’re going to have to present to the Legislature over and over again,” said Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden.
Ogden made his remarks while discussing a recently completed study of transportation problems along the route to the airport that runs from U.S. Highway 26 to I-405 to I-5.
The “Portland Region Westside Freight Access and Logistics Analysis” was commissioned by Greater Portland Inc., a regional economic development organization. It was prepared by DKS Associates as part of the Greater Portland Export Initiative, which is intended to greatly increase exports from the region.
Among other things, the study found that the region’s export economy is heavily dependent on the computer and electronics industry located in and around Hillsboro. Businesses in those fields, which include Intel and Lattice Semiconductor, account for over half of the value of the region’s exports and support other businesses as well.
But the study also found that transporting goods from the Hillsboro area to the Portland International Airport is difficult and getting more so. Congestion along the freeway route has increased substantially since 2005, when it was last analyzed as part of a “cost of congestion study” commissioned by the Value of Jobs Coalition, a business advocacy organization.
“Where the previous study noted that 3 p.m. was a general cutoff time after which reasonable freight movement could not be expected, this time has now been pushed back to 2 p.m.,” read an excerpt of the new report.
As a result, many freight truck drivers headed to the Portland airport from Hillsboro are now using Cornelius Pass Road after 2 p.m. This is a problem, the report explained, because the portion of the road in Multnomah County is narrow and winding and poses a safety hazard.
The report proposes three specific strategies for increasing the efficiency and reliability of freight shipments in the afternoon. One is to install technologies on area roadways to better measure and report actual traffic times. Another is to create a dedicated travel lane on freeway on-ramps for trucks to reduce wait times at metered lights. The third is to improve the response to accidents to clear them faster and reduce backups.
Although the report does not include any cost estimates for the strategies, they would be cheaper than building new freeways or rail lines.
The report also noted that governments would have to be involved in the strategies. Businesses that stand to benefit from potential improvements could also help support them.
The report is in addition to a comprehensive westside transportation study funded by the 2013 Oregon Legislature. That study, which is now getting under way, will examine congestion problems and potential solutions throughout Washington County.
The new report focused on five computer and electronics manufacturers in the county, including FEI Company, Intel, Lattice Semiconductor, Oracle and TriQuint Semiconductor. In addition, representatives of seven dispatch and transportation companies were interviewed. They were Expeditors, Javelin Logistics, Kintetsu Worldwide Express, OIA Global Logistics, United Van Lines, Jet Delivery and FedEx.
The study found that a large portion of the manufacturers’ products are trucked to Portland International Airport, even though they are not always shipped out by air. Instead, much of the cargo is consolidated into other truckloads at various locations at the airport and driven to various destinations, including other airports in the rest of the country that offer more direct links to domestic and international markets.
“While not all C&E goods fly out of PDX, the freight consolidation area, generally located north of Columbia Boulevard and south of the terminal, is home to several firms that support international and domestic service by handling and combining C&E goods before trucking them north or south of the Portland region for consolidation at other airports,” read a section of the report.
The study also found that two other methods of reaching the Portland airport are impractical — using MAX trains and flying out of the Hillsboro Airport. Although MAX goes to the Portland airport, it does not reach the consolidation areas. And the Hillsboro Airport does not have adequate facilities for loading shipments onto airplanes.