Comment of the Week: ODOT and the Robert Moses approach

Like probably a lot of readers, I had my head in my hands as I waded through last Friday’s post about the funding shortfalls the Oregon Department of Transportation faces with its I-5 Rose Quarter expansion and the I-205 Abernethy Bridge projects.

What is it about the words millions and billions that befuddle everything?

But maybe it’s not actually the numbers that cause the confusion, maybe it’s the looking under the cushions for quarters (or billions of quarters) aspect to the story that is so disorienting. In either case, I appreciated the clarity that JaredO’s comment brought to the issue:

This is the Robert Moses approach.

Promise the world. Pretend it’s going to be cheap. Lie outright to legislators to fund it. (Bent Flyvbjerg has documented this across the world).

Get something started, be shocked – shocked! that it costs more than you claimed, then make everyone feel like it would be a waste to stop it.

Steal money and projects from the least powerful people in a community. Pretend there are no opportunity costs.

The whole conversation makes me sick.

As a side note, if we don’t value something enough to pay for it, and are only doing it because the federal government will pay for most of it … we’re making the wrong decisions.

Perverse incentives from the feds means safety – road maintenance – and transit, walking, and biking projects will be destroyed. ODOT claims safety is their top priority. This is exhibit #1,412,342 on why that’s simply not true.

It’s time to provide real leadership and avoid sunk-cost fallacy.

Cancel the projects. Keep the commitments to the Oregonians around the state who need safety and choices. We’ve done it before. Time to do it again.

Thank you JaredO, I was kind of leaning that way myself, but it sure was nice to have someone else just lay it all out. You can read JaredO’s comment in context under the post.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at

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Dan McFarling
6 days ago

Be sure to read Joe Cortright’s comments on City Observatory:

Drew Millegan
Drew Millegan
6 days ago

Seems like there should be equal opportunity for matching funds in transit if we’re just going to light money on fire chasing highway projects. At least we’d get something with a better return on investment at the end of the day!