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CRC highway project hits speed bumps

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 27th, 2008 at 9:45 am

Columbia River Crossing Forum
(All photos © J. Maus)

The Columbia River Crossing project -- A $4.2 billion plan to improve safety and relieve congestion on I-5 between Portland and Vancouver -- continues to hit speed bumps.

On Friday, a coalition of 13 groups issued a press release calling for a 60-day extension to the official comment period currently in place for the project's recently published, 5,000 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). And today, the Oregonian reports that three (of seven) Metro councilors are set to introduce a resolution that calls for tolling the existing bridge (versus going forward with the 12-lane, replacement bridge plan).

Signed on to the statement requesting an extension of the comment period are the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and other advocacy groups that represent issues like land-use, conservation, the environment, and public health.

The current comment period is set to expire on July 1st and the extension would push that date out to September 1st.

The letter (which was sent to directors of the CRC project, the Federal Highway Adminstration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)) states that, "The current 60-day comment period is wholly insufficient for the public to analyze the massive DEIS and provide meaningful comments on the CRC."

On the surface, the call for an extended comment period might seem like just a common, process-oriented measure. But the move is also a clear sign that the project's direction is raising alarm with a growing -- and increasingly organized -- circle of opposition. An extended comment period could also lay the groundwork of a legal challenge, and, if granted, could throw a wrench into the project's funding timeline.

For more details, download a PDF of the letter here and read coverage of the move on the Willamette Week's blog.

Robert Liberty is one of three Metro
Councilors signed on to a resolution
opposing the current direction of
the CRC project.
(Photo © J, Maus)

Making matters worse for the CRC, the Oregonian reports that three Metro councilors (just one vote shy of a majority) are set to oppose a new bridge altogether in a resolution to be introduced at Metro Council this afternoon. The three councilors (Carl Hosticka, Carlotta Collette, and Robert Liberty) instead want the existing span to be tolled.

According to Oregonian reporter Dylan Rivera,

"The resolution calls for charging tolls on the current bridge between Portland and Vancouver, generating money to earthquake-proof the structure, make on-ramps safer and boost mass transit. The tolls would discourage use of the bridge at rush hour, relieving some congestion. Then in a few years, officials would consider a new bridge with additional lanes for cars and trucks."

Tolling the existing spans is also the first phase in an alternative plan put forth by the Smarter Bridge coalition.

Metro is one of eight agencies who have veto-power over the project and they are slated to vote on the resolution June 5th.

For a project of this size (the planning alone has gone on for over seven years at an estimated cost of $60-80 million), any controversy or speed bumps like these could ultimately spell its demise.

The smell of controversy (real or imagined) attracts the attention of newspapers editors (Nigel Jaquiss at the Willamette Week, Amy Ruiz at the Portland Mercury, and Dylan Rivera at the Oregonian all have this project under their magnifying glasses), and it also provides political cover for local elected officials to oppose the project when it comes up for key votes in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned for more coverage and browse my CRC archives here.

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Comments
  • peejay May 27, 2008 at 10:08 am

    A couple of comments:

    1) Let\'s hope that the BTA steps up and takes a leadership role in shutting down the bridge, instead of their current loser\'s bargain, hoping for some crumbs to be thrown their way.

    2) I moved here in 2000, so I wasn\'t around for the battle of the Mt Hood Expressway. For the historians on this site: are there any lessons we could learn about how the opposition worked their strategy? We should model this fight - in part - on previous success stories, if we hope to achieve the same result.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) May 27, 2008 at 10:17 am

    re: mt. hood freeway...

    back in February 2007, when I first raised concerns about the CRC on this site, I met Jim Howell.

    Howell is a 72 year-old longtime transportation activist who was involved with the Mt. Hood Fwy defeat.

    I wrote about meeting him in this post - Concerns about the Crossing.

    Howell said the CRC project reminded him of the Mt. Hood saga and blamed its defeat on \"ODOT\'s hubris\".

    What it boiled down is that a lawsuit was threatened against ODOT because they did not fully examine all the options -- instead they were only wanting to consider the Division Street alignment which went smack-dab through dense residential areas.

    For more on the defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway, see this Streetfilms video.

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  • Dave May 27, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Yikes, they\'re going to jack off over this until the bridge girders rust through and the whole thing falls into the river!

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  • Elly Blue May 27, 2008 at 10:36 am

    You can learn more about the Mount Hood Freeway as well as about the CRC at the Public Day of the Towards Carfree Cities conference.

    The session is Tuesday, June 17th, 9am to 12:15. The first 90 minutes will focus on the history and implications of the Mt Hood Freeway, and the next 90 minutes will focus on the ins and outs of the CRC, including land use, climate, and public health issues. There will be plenty of Q and A time. Amy Ruiz from the Mercury is moderating.

    This event is free and open to the public. Please register, though, at carfreeportland.org/register so we know how many people to have coffee and pastries for.

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  • Qwendolyn May 27, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Three out of seven votes is not a majority of Metro Councilors.

    Do they have another vote? What\'s the strategerie here?

    I\'m interested to see how this pans out. Somebody pass the popcorn.

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  • Doug May 27, 2008 at 10:43 am

    If you haven\'t already, submit an email with your opinion of this project to the Metro and City Councils. The Coalition for a Livable Future has links to automatically submit an email to both councils here:

    https://secure.tumblehome.com/clfuture/columbia_bridge_thanks.html

    With three of the seven metro councilors showing signs of opposition, they are one vote short of a majority. And they have veto power.

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  • Steve May 27, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Hey, and did you NoPo residents notice that the Oregonian article stated that the resolution before council includes a bridge constructed between NoPo and Hayden Is.?

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  • wsbob May 27, 2008 at 11:16 am

    The strategy would be to shake the foundations of support for the project.

    I\'m definitely not in favor of expanding motor vehicle capacity to and fro across the bridge if it\'s primarily for mass job to work trips. The pattern of limiting affordable housing to areas far from peoples jobs has to be changed.

    I can see the need to replace the bridge for improved structural integrity, better passage by river traffic, installation of passenger rail and expanded bike-pedestrian capacity. Growth by means of increased motor vehicle use shouldn\'t be supported.

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  • wsbob May 27, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Make that :\'job to home trips\'.

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  • Allison May 27, 2008 at 11:26 am

    It seems to me that we should be able to make the bridge safe at current capacity, add light rail and a reasonable approximation of a bike/ped route (my significant other calls it \"the loudest bike route in the world\") for less than the current price tag. That has to be a consideration.

    Does anyone think that perhaps we need to work on having Vancouver\'s economy be a little more self-reliant so that their entire population doesn\'t have to drive across two bottle necks (even if one might become a slightly larger bottle neck)? Is that feesible?

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  • ralph May 27, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Remember the Interstate system was put in place to allow for quick deployment of troops for national defense as well as for private and commercial transportation.

    The I-5 bridge over the Columbia is the single biggest choke point between the Canadian and Mexican boarders.

    Right now commercial traffic is greatly affected by the limited restricted capacity and is only getting worse.

    Whether the increase in capacity will increase the number of trips is up for conjecture, but the faster the trip the more we all benefit; through less cost on products that come over the road, and through less pollution due to vehicles sitting in congestion due to this one crossing.

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  • foote May 27, 2008 at 11:48 am

    ralph,
    Nobody here is arguing that congestion is a good thing. It absolutely isn\'t.
    I also doubt anyone is advocating against a nationwide highway system.

    I think the main argument you\'ll find from us is that widening freeways doesn\'t reduce congestion. If we provide an alternative to driving (light rail & a bike route) for residents of Vancouver and an incentive to use it (tolls during rush hour), there will be less congestion.

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  • Matthew Denton May 27, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Remember the Interstate system was put in place to allow for quick deployment of troops for national defense.

    There are 4 lanes on I-5 through most of the state, but crossing the Columbia there are 6 on I-5 plus another 8 on I-205 for a total of 14. Where are these troops going/coming from that the 4 lanes south of Salem won\'t be a bigger bottleneck than the 14 lanes at the river? And if we were at war, I imagine that the enemy that we were fighting against might try to blow up our bridges anyways, (regardless of them being 6 or 12 lanes,) which is exactly why there is a Army Reserve base in my neighborhood with a bunch of boats mounted on semi trailers. Likewise, if we need to evacuate the city (a la New Orleans) the bottleneck will still be the freeways north/south of the city, not the river.

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  • scdurs May 27, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    From #10: \"Does anyone think that perhaps we need to work on having Vancouver\'s economy be a little more self-reliant so that their entire population doesn\'t have to drive across two bottle necks (even if one might become a slightly larger bottle neck)? Is that feesible?\"

    I don\'t think Vancouver\'s economy is why people live in Vancouver and work in Portland. It\'s actually Oregon\'s screwed up tax base that drives Oregon workers to live in Washington to avoid paying high property taxes. They still have to pay Oregon\'s income tax, unless they can evade it.

    I also remember hearing reports on people who live in Oregon and rent apartments in Vancouver so their kids can attend schools here.

    Maybe something needs to be fixed in Oregon?

    Steve \"works in Washington\"

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  • kg May 27, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Something does need to be fixed in Oregon and tolls on the Bridges from Washington should do the trick nicely.

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  • Metal Cowboy May 27, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    In addition to voicing opposition and having discussion on blogs, be sure to send letters to meddia, metro council, Sam Adams, show up at the hearings if you can and write the BTA and , if like me, you feel they have taken the wrong position on this (I appreciate that they have asked to extend the comment perriod, this is a step int eh right direction,b ut I think they should do an about face, come out strongly against the 12 lane option, get behind tolling the existing bridge and educating the community regarding how we redduce the sov trips arcoss that bridge, carpool, bike and light rail it, thus reliminating the congestions and bottlenecks. We could free up the space on that bridge for frieght tomorrow if we carpooled and pedaled. I think the BTA needs to lead by example, stand up to this mistake and help kill the project in its current form.

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  • Rawn May 27, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    #12 foote,

    You\'re absolutely right on. Reduce congestion by having Clark county residents who commute into Portland take mass transit or bike. If that means tolls specific to commuters to coerce compliance, so be it. Reduced congestion means commercial traffic will flow more smoothly. I cringe, every time I see single occupant vehicles crossing the bridge.

    Ron

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  • brettoo May 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    This is the biggest single decision facing our area in the next decade. Adding more traffic lanes for commuters amounts to a gigantic taxpayer subsidy for sprawl and therefore for land speculators, low efficiency development, global warming and all the other well documented ills caused by this welfare for developers.

    According to the press reports I\'ve seen, the vast majority of the traffic over the bridge isn\'t commercial but rather commuters, many of whom got a break by buying cheap McMansions (whose prices don\'t reflect their true environmental costs) far away from where they work. They they expect the rest of us to subsidize their anti-social, anti-environment choices by paying for their climate-changing driving infrastructure. Meanwhile, those of us who pay more in order to live closer to where we work and reduce our impact on the planet get penalized by paying higher taxes to fund the anti-environmental infrastructure that makes their cheap mortgages possible. And in the end, as has been shown every time such capacity has been expanded, it\'ll all just fill up again, with no net gain in return for the huge taxpayer rip off.

    The only way to stop sprawl is to make those who benefit from it pay the true cost -- either by sitting in traffic for hours or paying user fees. As people recognize the true costs of their decisions about where to live, that would discourage bad sprawl development and encourage good close in development.

    We should save that limited money (this single project will consume most of the available funds for 20 years) and instead of subsidizing sprawl, use it to build and repair infrastructure that\'s higher in efficiency and lower in costs to the environment and the taxpayers -- light rail, bike paths, fixing potholes and building sidewalks in Portland.

    According to opponents of a new bridge, the current bridge is structurally sound and could be made entirely safe with upgrades paid for by tolling it now. At a much, much lower cost, we could fix the ramps, put in a light rail and bike/ped connection (either added to or substituting for a current traffic lane or two), and force the me-first single-occupant vehicle drivers to carpool or take light rail. Then let Clark County pay to improve transit connections from the light rail station to Clark County neighborhoods. That, along with soaring gas prices, will reduce congestion substantially, obviating the need for an expensive new bridge that promotes the very kind of development and transportation that\'s killing the planet. If Clark County commuters don\'t like public transportation, fine -- but don\'t expect the rest of us to subsidize their anti environmental lifestyle with this massive boondoggle.

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  • Thedude May 27, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    If this bridge was about freight movement why not just add a freight bridge or even turn one of the 12 lanes to freight only? The bridge is nothing but a money and Clark county Real Estate grab.

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  • RyNO Dan May 27, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    No CRC !!!
    Stop the single-occupancy, motor vehicle subsidy here and now.

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  • 007 May 27, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    AWESOME news! I can\'t express in words how much this potential postponement means to me. What would we do without politicians with spines! Unfortunately, David Bragdon and Rex Burkholder are such disappointments. I can only hope that someone opposes them in their next re-election bids (unfortunately, we have a long time to wait).

    If I were the praying sort I\'d be down on my knees praying for a 4th Metro vote. I wish Mr. Liberty, et. al., all the luck in getting another co-signer.

    foote said: \"I think the main argument you\'ll find from us is that widening freeways doesn\'t reduce congestion.\"

    That and that we Oregonians will have to pay for the Washingtonians wasteful, harmful lifestyle. It is already expensive enough living in Oregonian and now we have to subsidize them when they are living cheaper than us now? Them that plays has got to pay.

    We have to hit Washingtonians in their pocketbooks with tolls because they obviously don\'t mind sitting in their cars for hours at a time. Shows how stupid they are.

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  • dillon May 27, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I see plenty of Oregonians sitting in traffic for hours on Hwy-26 and I-84/405. Maybe we should toll the 26 tunnel also.

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  • zilfondel May 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Actually, the existing I-5 bridge is one of the most structurally sound bridges in the entire state. There is no engineering-based reason for its replacement.

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  • Jim Labbe May 27, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Does anyone think that perhaps we need to work on having Vancouver\'s economy be a little more self-reliant so that their entire population doesn\'t have to drive across two bottle necks (even if one might become a slightly larger bottle neck)? Is that feesible?

    Allison #10. I think you are right on here. Directing more industrial and employment growth to Vancouver would not only cut down commuter traffic but it would curtail the need to expand the Urban Growth Boundary for industrial and employment land needs as currently required to do by State law.

    Some development interests have been clamoring the last few years to expand the UGB on to farmland south of Wilsonville and Willmatte River in order to extending big box and industrial parks development south along I-5 toward Woodburn. Sounds lovely doesn\'t it.

    A 12-lane free-way bridge is going to only worsen the job-housing imbalance in our region and force us to more undesirable \"solutions\" down the road.

    Jim

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  • G.A.R. May 27, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I like the way the three councilors have couched their resolution--as an opportunity to gather information we sincerely don\'t have yet. Given the enormous size of the project--roughly a thousand Flanders Crossings, or about $3000 a head for every man, woman, and child in the metro region--it behooves us to know as much as we can before committing to it. The cost, combined with the fact that the current bridges are perfectly sound, suggests that a methodical approach is best.

    The CRC folks sent me a nice response to a question I had a few weeks ago about where the next traffic jam would be after we enlarge the bridge. They said that it would be in the Rose Quarter in about ten years. Folks, ten years is coming right up. In ten years the enlarged bridge will be brand new, if it is even done that soon. We are contemplating here a continuous, incredibly expensive expansion of the whole highway system. I say we learn more first and take baby steps if there are any we can take.

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  • Dan Kaufman May 27, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    There are many solutions for the freight bottleneck caused by Clark County commuters that are cheaper and more effective.

    - Refunding CTran
    - HOV lanes that allow commercial vechiles
    - Congestion tolling
    - Subsidized broadband for telecommuters
    - Better rail
    - Commuter rail
    - Encouraging carpooling
    - Encouraging cycling
    - (god forbid) an Oregon sales tax that offset property taxes.
    - More housing in inner Portland
    - More industry/business in Vancouver
    - The list goes on and on.

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  • Coaster May 27, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Does anyone have any info about how bridge tolls have effected commuting in the bay area? SF has two bridges going right into the city, both tolled heavily. It would be interesting to see if increasing the tolls has changed Traffic volume, commute times, etc...

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  • peejay May 28, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Thanks, Jonathan, for your response. That video you linked to was gripping. It was sort of like a wistful love letter from New York to Portland. It\'s frustrating that we have to keep fighting the same battles against Robert Moses\' ghosts again and again, but I think with each victory, the next one will be easier.

    While riding the Hawthorne Bridge to work this morning, I looked up and saw that dead little spur jutting out of the Marquam Bridge ramp that they refer to in the video, the one that would have fed the Mt Hood Expressway. That\'s quite a powerful symbol, an important reminder of why we must fight this bridge.

    This is crucial, people! Stopping the CRC is the most important thing we can to for the future of Portland in the next 20 years.

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  • Aaron May 28, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    In response to Comment #5
    We are all working to prevent this massive waste of public money. The project has already wasted enough money (in studies and planning) to almost build a new Sellwood Bridge.
    I\'ve sent a letter to one surprising holdout supporter of the CRC.
    I encourage others to write a respectful letter to Councilor Rex Burkholder and encourage him to reconsider his support.
    Rex has been a longtime advocate for sensible transportation, a founder of the BTA, and he\'s given a lot of time and energy to the bike community. We should therefore support him in looking again at the wisdom of this project.
    If he decides to change his position, that would provide a majority of opposition within Metro.
    You can also read Willy Week\'s article on Councilor Burkholder\'s position - http://wweek.com/editorial/3428/11009/
    Thanks in advance for your help;

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  • Kris May 28, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    And while you are writing Rex, you might as well CC the two other \"bike-friendly\" Metro Council members - Kathryn Harrington and Council President David Bragdon - who have an equally decisive vote as Rex on the position that Metro will take vis-à-vis CRC.

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  • shhambo May 28, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    toll+light rail. The real solution would be to make this a toll bridge and add light rail at the same time.
    Just adding a toll bridge may get more people to carpool. But the light rail will really get people out of their smoke sputtering boxes. Lets face it, were not going to get everyone on bikes in the rain.

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  • Dan Kaufman May 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I am heading out to tonight\'s hearing email me if you want to roll with dan at pdxk dot com. It\'s 5-8pm at the Expo Center.

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  • Todd Boulanger July 1, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Tonight is the deadline for DEIS comments on this project - 12 Midnight Pacific.

    The comment form can be found at http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org

    AND

    Reminder - Columbia River Crossing focus of CVTV Call-in Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    CVTV, cable channel 23, will host a LIVE Call-in, from 7 - 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 1, to allow viewers to ask questions and offer their views about the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project and a new I-5 bridge.

    Moderated by CVTV Executive Director Donna Mason, guests answering questions will include City of Vancouver Transportation Services Manager Thayer Rorabaugh, C-TRAN Director Jeff Hamm, and Southwest Washington Administrator from the Washington Department of Transportation Don Wagner.

    \"People have opinions and they have questions about the Crossing project and this is an informal opportunity for them to be heard and get information as the various public agencies begin to make crucial decisions,\" Mason said.

    Besides the live call-in July 1, viewers can also submit questions via e-mail either in advance of the program or during the call-in at looneyt@ci.vancouver.wa.us. The call-in number will be posted on the screen throughout the evening during the live program Mason indicated.

    CVTV is a government access cable channel funded jointly by the City of Vancouver and Clark County.

    http://www.cityofvancouver.us/News.asp?submenuID=16578&Id=54812

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