November Message from Board Chair Scott Parrish
It’s no surprise transportation is an important part of doing business in Oregon. We need ways to move our products into and out of the state, and within Oregon’s borders. Whether it’s shipping the products we manufacture, sending items to retailers and stores, bringing crops from fields to processors, or getting items directly to our customers – it all happens on Oregon’s roads, waterways and railways.
And there are a lot of those pieces of infrastructure in Oregon. The state has 79,275 miles of public roads, 8,161 bridges and 2,382 miles of railroad. According to this interesting report I found at the U.S. Department of Transportation, some 241.8 billion tons of freight moved through Oregon in 2017, the most recent year calculated, and it was valued at $279.9 billion.
Those figures include vehicles like new cars, valued at $18.1 billion, electronics valued at $15.2 billion and wood products valued at $6.3 billion.
With a manufacturing operation in Newberg and markets across the United States and in several countries around the globe, my own business, A-dec, knows how important reliable freight movement is. Bottlenecks at any point on our freight routes makes it more difficult to ship our Oregon-made dental equipment to customers on the other side of the country – and that can become a competitive challenge when we are up against East Coast manufacturers.
I hear the same from colleagues in all kinds of freight-dependent industries. Whether they are dependent on highways, rail or air transportation, maintaining a reliable and affordable transportation network is a top priority for Oregon companies.
Infrastructure also affects the most valuable part of any business: our people. Traffic impacts how and when our employees can get to work. At some companies, workers shift their schedules to avoid rush hour, or telecommute. But not everyone can do this: I don’t think we have figured out how to telecommute if you work on a manufacturing line.
It’s plain to see Oregon needs good infrastructure to keep things moving.
At the top of everyone’s list – and on many of your minds I bet – is the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River, which tops ODOT’s list of nine bottlenecks that need to be addressed. Oregon and Washington recently reopened talks on this issue with a meeting on Oct. 25, setting a goal to start construction by 2025. When Gov. Kate Brown spoke to the OBI board of directors in September, she said the bridge is one of her top priorities, too.
We have long known this bridge needs to be replaced. Originally built in 1917, the bridge was built initially for horses, and parts of it still rest on the original Douglas fir pilings. Geologists say the bridge is unlikely to withstand a major earthquake and, as a drawbridge over a major shipping channel, it contains the only stoplight on the entirety of Interstate 5, from Canada to Mexico. Transportation companies tell us the unpredictability of the bridge impacts shipments up and down the West Coast, and we were all disappointed in 2013 when the state of Washington failed to match Oregon’s commitment to replace the bridge. Hopefully, this new effort will resolve the political bottlenecks and get a new bridge built.
The other bottlenecks listed in the ODOT report include seven in the Portland area: I-205, Highway 30, Highway 26 and I-405. The other two are on I-5 south of Salem and the and the Highway 97 business route through Bend.
Recognizing how critical it is for business to be a strong advocate for transportation investments, OBI recently relaunched our Transportation Committee, which met for the first time in October. We expect the committee will prepare OBI to advocate for transportation investments most important to business, including a new I-5 bridge and addressing freight bottlenecks. We can be a voice urging lawmakers to keep Oregon moving. The committee is being chaired by Rich White of Boeing and Brian Shipley of PeaceHealth, and I am certain they would welcome more voices at the table. If you would like to participate, contact Sharla Moffett, of the OBI team.