Mel Zucker

Mel Zucker

Mel Zucker, management consultant and former director of Oregon Transportation Institute, talks about his background working with the Oregon Department of Transportation.


Audio timeline:

00:00 Zucker introduces himself and his career.

00:49 Zucker talks about when Neil Goldschmidt became governor of Oregon and how it affected transportation. At the time, Zucker was doing pro bono work for the House and Senate transportation committees. Zucker calls Goldschmidt the “father of light rail in Portland.”

01:22 Zucker explains the differences between light rail, heavy rail and intra-city heavy rail.

02:03 Zucker tells how Goldschmidt’s idea for light rail got started.

02:33 Zucker talks about trolleys.

03:30 Zucker explains how sprawl and transportation go hand in hand, citing New York City as an exception because of subway transportation.

06:06 Zucker explains what happened to the transportation department when Goldschmidt came into office. Zucker says Goldschmidt didn’t have transportation experience and turned a technical atmosphere into a political atmosphere.

07:38 Zucker gives examples of how agendas are promoted by decision makers.

09:20 Madore says it sounds like there may already be a pre-determined agenda with authorized polling studies. Zucker agrees and says it’s an advertising campaign.

09:34 Zucker talks about how important roads are to the economy and to personal living. He feels that fact is being denied because transportation is become so politicized.

11:22 Zucker and Madore talk about gas taxes and what they are used for. They comment that it’s surprising how much goes towards light rail.

16:25 Zucker tells Madore the “dirty little secret” about earmarks. Zucker says it’s always been his wish that money not come from the federal government for local projects because the idea of “indirect” funds causes overspending.

17:55 Madore explains how normal it is for private companies to do market research and assess costs before proceeding with a project. He points out that C-Tran doesn’t seem to follow that model. Zucker compares private industries and the government’s concept about money. He made a recommendation 40 years ago that government department heads get paid more for spending less.

19:42 Madore asks Zucker if the CRC project* is on the right track. Zucker says that one of the two spans on I-5 needs to be fixed. He points out that the city of Portland is the “political powerhouse” and wants to invest in downtown areas, not suburbs, even though suburbs are where all the growth is.

22:34 Madore talks about the founding fathers’ wisdom in creating positions for House representatives and senators. Zucker explains that states have different ways of doing things with their own constitutions. He cites the city of Bend as an example. Zucker answers Madore’s question about the advantage of having a House and a Senate if they are both population based.

27:37 Madore asks what light rail has done for congestion. Zucker explains why some light rail, like the Tiauana Express, works. He tells why light rail along I-84 and the Westside Line aren’t as successful.

30:53 Madore asks why anyone would argue for light rail if it won’t relieve congestions and take money away from widening freeways. Zucker says it’s a means to an end for politicians.

32:47 Zucker talks HOV lanes and mentions the Shirley highway as an example of carpooling called “slugging.” He says one of the problems of carpooling is convenience. He talks about trip reduction program (TRP).

37:34 Zucker says door-to-door service is most important to commuters and explains how he came to that conclusion.

39:24 Zucker says TriMet is broke and wants to get into Clark County to collect. He says TriMet will own the entire light rail line, and once it’s underway Clark County is obligated to pay for it.

40:04 Zucker explains that when a city closes a project, it is obligated to give back the money the federal government provided for the project. He says that projects continue even though it would be cheaper to repay the money. He says decisions makers rationalize some ridiculous lines.

42:54 Even though there were no funds to be able to afford a bus on the route, Tom Ryan, chair of the Washington County Commission, fought to put in a $165 million line from Beaverton to Wilsonville. Zucker says WES adjoins I-5 and 217. His study revealed that half a percent of I-5 and 217 commuters use WES.

44:20 Madore asks, “Where is the accountability? How do we fix what’s broken and do the things that will fix transportation at an affordable cost?” Zucker says there hasn’t been a vote for light rail by the people since 1998. He explains that when a state wide vote of the people doesn’t fall in politicians’ favor, the vote goes to the smaller metro area.

46:15 Zucker says people are led to believe light rail will get everyone off the road.

47:19 Zucker says people are led to believe light rail will create more jobs.

48:33 Madore comments on the media’s responsibility to report the truth.

49:41 Madore explains that before spending so much money on an idea, common sense would test it in the real world or learn from others that have done the same thing. Zucker says private citizens do that with their money but government has a different approach with taxpayermoney. He says there’s a misconception about how much money “government” has.

51:57 Zucker comments on variable tolling.

54:10 Zucker says the money from tolling will be used for transit, not bridge cost or maintenance. He says people aren’t being told the whole story.

57:06 Zucker says Portland has this belief that “it’s great to screw people from Clark County because then they’ll move back to Portland.” He says the high density population isn’t enough. He uses the Pearl District as an example. Like San Francisco, the Pearl District attracts people who go to work early and stay late, hardly ever cook, support area restaurants and are less family-oriented so fewer schools are needed.

59:30 Madore says his quality of life living in Clark County has been very nice.

* The well-documented cost to taxpayers, if the CRC stays on budget, is $10 billion. This was established by the Cortright Report (PDF) which used data from an independent review panel hired by the governors of Washington and Oregon. (View the panel’s final report.)

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

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