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A conversation with Rex Burkholder: Part One; the CRC

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 16th, 2008 at 1:16 pm

metro hearing on the CRC-4.jpg
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last Friday, I had the pleasure to host Rex Burkholder here at BikePortland.org Headquarters. We often cross paths at events and parties, and I work with him as a source on stories now and again, but it's rare that we get the chance to talk uninterrupted for over an hour.

Earlier this month we did just that and I've decided to publish the conversation in several parts. In this first installment, I'll share our conversation about his views on the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project.

But first, here's some quick background on Burkholder...

Burkholder is something of a Godfather figure in Portland's bike story. The 5,000 member strong Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) was founded in his kitchen and he has come up through the ranks -- from leading the BTA to being elected to the Metro Council. Burkholder also serves as Chair of the region's powerful Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and he is a sought-after speaker on transportation, land-use, and livability issues.

"You've got to figure out how to move things along and sometimes it's a crooked way to get there."

Now, let's get on with the conversation.

Burkholder's support for the Columbia River Crossing has surprised (shocked?) many in the community and it was like an elephant in the room. The first thing Burkholder wanted to get out of the way was that a comment left on this site back in July on one of our CRC stories was not written by him. The comment was signed "rex burkholder" and it was critical of my coverage of the project (saying I've been unfairly harsh).

With that out of the way, Burkholder and I talked about leadership. In speaking about making unpopular choices as a leader, he said*,

"You need to be able to make new allies all the time because the people who were your true believers are going to feel like you've abandoned them because you're making decisions that aren't pure."


*(Burkholder was paraphrasing one of his instructors from college who said that, "Leadership is losing friends at the rate you can absorb.")

As an elected leader, Burkholder said, he feels a responsibility to "fix things," not just oppose them:

Three Bridges dedication ceremony
Burkholder on the Springwater
Corridor Trail.

"When you have to fix things, when you're responsible for it, you just have got to do it. You can keep going back and say, I oppose everything. But that's not your job. Your job is to make things happen, you have to deliver projects to people. If you are in a group of seven people and you vote no all the time, you're useless. If you're always the one person out, you're not changing anybody. You've got to figure out how to move things along and sometimes it's a crooked way to get there."

[Note: The rest of this story is in Q & A format, with my question/comment followed by his answer.]

Is that how you'd characterize your support of the CRC?

"Yes. Something had to be done. We have to do something. It's too important to not fix."

I think a lot of people see the CRC as a litmus test. They see it as a mega highway project and here we are in progressive Portland and there's an opportunity for leaders, especially those like you who are progressive, to stand up to it. I think they see your support as a failure of that test.

"I had to go back and make sure all my connections were still good. I went back and talked to the leaders in the environmental community and people who oppose it. I told them that one thing we can disagree on but there's this huge agenda that we can agree on. We have to agree to let that one (the CRC) go because I disagree with you and you disagree with me. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but there's still a huge agenda we're trying to move forward."

"I consider the CRC a tree in the forest."

So your idea is to move that larger agenda forward within the CRC as best you can?

"I consider the CRC a tree in the forest. The forest is how we live and the fact that we're totally dependent on the car. So the question is, how do you change that? Fixing a broken bridge, in my mind, as well as in all the analysis, shows that it's a tiny impact on the system on the whole. It's not like you're putting a new freeway out there; you're just saying, 'here's a link that already exists and we're fixing it and it's expensive because cause we're gonna have light rail and all these interchange improvements and we've gotta' replace a bridge over a big river. Just by it's own nature it's expensive.

If you just look at it based on cost, you elevate its importance beyond what it is. We have a lot of other projects that are bigger that we have cancelled...like the I-5 99W connector. That's only 1/8 the cost and yet it would have opened up everything to the SW (Newberg/McMinnville). Sprawl would have gone crazy."

Tour of Tomorrow

On right, riding on the
Eastbank Esplanade.

On what basis was that project cancelled?

"Because it's not going to get us what we want. Washington County recognized that they'd never get support from the rest of the community. Another example is the Sunrise Corridor. That's been on books for 30 years -- gone. it would have created a situation like we have in East Portland with the I-205."

I think many people wouldn't agree that it's just another tree in the forest. Because what's being talked about isn't just replacing what's there but vastly increasing the size. Are you worried at all that by supporting the CRC that the end result might be something really huge that's overbuilt?

"You have to have a certain amount of faith in the work that's going on. If you're going to believe that the modeling we have tells us ways to get away from the car and you can trust it, you've gotta have a faith that if it tells you something else it's not lying to you.

Models aren't perfect, but today (12/5) we heard at the oversight committee meeting from an independent outside group that said we're (Metro) actually doing better than anyone else in terms of modeling...and that the induced demand is not an issue. It's only like a 1% shift of population that might locate up near Ridgefield that wouldn't locate there without the bridge.

In exchange for all the other benefits you're getting -- like putting light-rail across, putting bike and ped in there, solving the congestion problems -- you're going to get just a few more living further north. And those models were run before the housing market crashed 30-40% in northern Clark County and dropped only about 5% in inner-city areas. Some of that data is fighting against the mentality that someone would live on their ranchette in the country and drive their big SUV 30 miles to work every day."

Let's talk about design. Let's imagine that we have all the money needed to build the CRC; do you think you and Metro Council will have adequate design oversight?

"It's my job to do something and I'm sorry if you're not happy, but guess what? I can't let nothing happen, so that's how it goes."

"I think so. Well, I'm not at the table. I let David (Bragdon, Metro Council President) get to the table. It had to be Metro involvement, not Rex anymore, both for personal/political reasons and also because I put three years into it and it became about me instead of being about 'Is this the right project or not, what should it look like and what's Metro's proper role?'

I think David is a very able representative of the concerns we have. Also, he's able to back off and take a different look than I would because I was so deeply involved and felt I had to jump in and keep it from disappearing because of the lack of political acumen at ODOT -- they just didn't know how to do anything without poking somebody in the eye.

They've (CRC Task Force) empowered the oversight committee. It's going to be a dance between the north side of the river and south side of the river. The DOTs (Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation) just want to build a project...but they can't succeed unless there's an agreement on both sides."

What about Mayor Adams? Have you or David Bragdon talked to him personally about this project?

"David has. Sam didn't show up today (to the oversight committee meeting). That's actually one of my fears is that he'll delegate this important project (Editor's note: Adams sent newly elected commissioner Amanda Fritz to the meeting as the City of Portland representative)."

The reason I ask is because I think a lot of people have the same feelings about Adams as they have about you. They hoped he would have stood up to this big thing, but he didn't.

"Well, there are only two elected officials who voted against this project in the region; Robert Liberty and Carl Hosticka. Everyone else voted to go ahead. Everybody had conditions, and the conditions are all very similar. They're saying justify everything more than six lanes and make sure light rail, tolls and bike access is in there."

To me, it still seems like there's a chasm between what a lot of people in the community think about the CRC, versus the overwhelming support it has gotten from their elected officials. What do you tell someone who comes up to you at an open house and says, 'Rex, I'm disappointed, we shouldn't build this'?

"I just say well, I'm sorry, we have to do something and this is the smartest thing to do. We spent three years going through all these same questions and doing nothing is not an option. It's my job to do something and I'm sorry if you're not happy, but guess what? I can't let nothing happen, so that's how it goes."


Stay tuned for the next installment of my conversation with Rex Burkholder. Other topics we covered were; the role of electric cars and light rail in Oregon's sustainable future, how to shift the statewide discussion toward bikes as a high-priority transportation solution, the role of Metro in promoting bikes, and more.

-- See more of BikePortland's coverage of the Columbia River Crossing project in the archives.

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Comments
  • Red Hippie December 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Incredible article.

    It is really good to hear what one of our political leaders has to say. Not what the spin or sound bite says, but their actual thoughts.

    Bravo to Johnathan for bringing this to us.

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  • Aaron December 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I've spoken to Rex many times and have long admired him for all the fantastic work he has done. He has been an advocate for as long as I've been alive. I believe that this conversation came out of a feeling of alienation that Rex has felt from the bike community. I remember one event at City Hall in which he appeared quite lonesome. I would like to take a moment to share my view (which I hope reflects many in the bike community).
    Rex was not only a single vote on this project, he was a tie-breaking vote. Counselor Robert Liberty and another Counselor voted against this project (1).
    Since Metro has had veto power on the project, they could make or break it. Rex's vote was one of the votes that 'makes it.' If Rex had been one of four votes, we would have been more accepting.
    In addition, Rex attended a City Club debate with Lenny Anderson in which he spent 20 minutes arguing in favor of the bridge again.
    Rex hasn't simply made a vote on a project, he has been it's strongest advocate.
    With the cost of steel and concrete rising astronomically, this project could be for Metro what the tram was for Sam Adams.
    Additionally many in the bike community haven't considered what a high-span bridge would mean. The current bridge stays pretty much flat (like the steel and Hawthorne bridges) whereas the proposal is a bridge which would clear river traffic. So imagine going over something the height of the Fremont bridge on your daily commute.
    Finally we should keep in mind that the money spent so far just to STUDY the project (without any physical changes) could pay for a new Sellwood Bridge.
    This is why I believe that this project has reflected the wrong agenda. I would be interested in hearing the rest of the conversation. Thanks Jonathan for sharing this article.

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  • Matthew Denton December 16, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Liberty voted against the bridge. But he didn't just say "no" he said that we should do other things instead. There is a lot of room between obstructionism and spinelessness.

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  • a.O December 16, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    We voters will remember this, Mr. Burkholder. Your days of enjoying the reputation of a progressive in this community are over. We can and will find someone better to represent our interests at Metro.

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  • Jeff Bernards December 16, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Vancouver residents are only agreeing to the light rail aspect of the bridge to get the bridge. Vancouver must commit to invest in light rail throughout their community and connect at I-205 too, before we spend 4-5 billion dollars. Having Max end at the Washington State Border is no commitment to mass transit.

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  • ValkRaider December 16, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    I only oppose the CRC as it is currently planned.

    I don't oppose finding a solution (prefferably lots of smaller solutions that are easy and cost effective), I oppose a massive expensive monolithic monument to outdated thinking.

    We can improve transportation to and from Clark county without a gynormous project that doesn't even solve the problems.

    Rex makes it out to be all-or-nothing and it should not be.

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  • peejay December 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I believe Rex is mischaracterizing the anti-bridge argument as being the "do nothing" position. There's plenty more that can be done if the bridge is not built. In fact, politics being what they are, the bridge -- if it goes forward -- would suck up a whole lot of the public desire to do many other worthy projects. I might choose to say that the bridge proponents are the "do this and nothing else" side.

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  • GLV December 16, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    "Rex was not only a single vote on this project, he was a tie-breaking vote. Counselor Robert Liberty and another Counselor voted against this project (1)."

    How would a third no vote have been a tie breaker on a 7 member council? It wouldn't have.

    "Rex attended a City Club debate with Lenny Anderson in which he spent 20 minutes arguing in favor of the bridge again."

    It was Joe Cortright, not Lenny freaking Anderson.

    "With the cost of steel and concrete rising astronomically, this project could be for Metro what the tram was for Sam Adams."

    Are you sure about that? The price of pretty much everything is plummeting. If steel and concrete prices don't reflect that yet, they will. How many construction projects are gearing up these days?

    "We voters will remember this, Mr. Burkholder."

    No they won't. He just got re-elected, and that 4 year term hasn't even started yet. He's not even involved in the project anymore. This will all be ancient history by 2012. Unleash your wrath on Bragdon in 2010; I'm sure he'll shake in his boots.

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  • Scott Mizée December 16, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Jonathon. I'm curious why you don't go back and correct the record if that comment was falsely posted by someone other than Mr. Burkholder. There were a whole string of comments that followed after that and I think it is important to note in that string that those comments are not claimed by Rex.

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  • Jim Labbe December 16, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I had a chance to talk briefly with Rex once since he stepped back from the CRC process. I still don't understand his willingness to equate "making something happen" with building a new bridge. This assumption makes me think he got caught up in the bureaucratic momentum of DOTs that- as he admits- "just want to build a project."

    Of course the proposal to toll the existing bridge and add light-rail was not the same as "let[ting] nothing happen." The main problem with the Draft EIS was that this "no-build plus" option was never fully explored and analyzed. It should have been and seems that Rex could at least have been the one calling for this option to be fully and objectively considered.

    But that is all history. The real question now seems to be whether the new bridge will lower vehicle miles traveled, avoid shifting congestion into North Portland, produce improved and expanded bike and pedestrian connections, and not induce low-density sprawl in Clark County.

    Jim

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  • Lance P. December 16, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    It sounds like he doesn't care what people think. Maybe someone should check his finances and see if he is getting paid off.

    "I can’t let nothing happen"

    Are you kidding me. This sounds like typical suburban spin. Typical Dallas spin.

    I'm ashamed of you Rex Burkholder. Ashamed.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 16, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Scott (#9),

    that's a great idea. I just went back and edited that comment.

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  • Brad December 16, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    So, if all of the bike riders that voted for Rex abstained or voted for his opponent in 2012 would it make a difference?

    If Mr. Burkholder coveted a higher office, would his chances be helped more by "I kept some bike riders happy." or "I supported a project that created thousands of living wage jobs and $4.2 billion in stimulus during dark financial times."?

    Progressive ideals or not, he is still a POLITICIAN and they always tend to do the expedient thing with an eye towards bigger prizes.

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  • Coyote December 16, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Jonathon, you did not ask the question I am keen to hear the answer to. If the rail/ped/bike facilities are cut from the project/slashed/reduce/downsized/et. al., where does Burkholder stand?

    As cars fall away, all the car roads will become all the infrastructure self-propelled will need for the 100 years. Grade separated roadways will be among the last to cave in. In short, we need rock solid options to the private car. Car head will persist long after cars are completely impractical.

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  • PdxMark December 16, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I've been a CRC sceptic, so I'm interested to hear Rex's thoughts on the matter. If I remember correctly, CRC isn't "really" 12 (through)lanes because the "interchange improvements" account for 6 of the lanes... I hope the next installments explain this and how the CRC would actually solve congestion problems, rather than just move them down the road a bit.

    We hear in this installment that the existing bridge situation needs to be fixed. What we haven't heard is why the CRC is the best solution to the problem. This is an important point and deserves a more detailed explanation, even if it involves explanation of complex points. In addition to maintaining a working relationship with other political leaders, Rex could re-instill confidence in those of us who are his historical base. Otherwise, the CRC just looks like a political solution, rather than a technical solution, in which extra vehicle lanes are the price we all pay to get Vancouver/Clark County to accept light rail.

    If it's not a simple quid pro quo, Rex ought to make the effort to articulate the technical reasons why all those lanes make sense from a regional and green transportation perspective.

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  • Bill Stites December 16, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    While we in the citizen community can often be dismissed as not having all the info at hand to make a prudent decision [as regarding CRC], there is also the tendency for folks in positions of authority to glaze over from TOO MUCH INFO and become focused on a limited viewpoint.
    I can't speak to why Rex is such an ardent CRC supporter, but I would say that whenever I've heard Robert Liberty discuss alternatives, they sound reasonable and certainly worthy of deeper consideration.

    The CRC project is still a very bad idea, due to its huge scale and minimal [geographical] reach, for genuine transportation solutions for the region.

    Just toll the existing bridge, already! That would be a great start IMO.

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  • rev December 16, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    This matter is more complicated than I originally gave it credit. The problems of the railroad bridge downriver (because it is a private bridge they are restricted in what they can do at a federal level... i think) and the tugboat operators issues (which are still kinda confusing to me) means that a easy solution probably wont work.

    Instead of just hearing from Rex I would love you to get a similar interview with other members of Metro.

    great article on a important topic. thanks!

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  • Donna December 16, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I'm not sure where Rex and others think the money for this bridge is going to come from. We're already spending our grandchildren's GDP on the TARP & AIG bailouts - is he thinking it's time to move onto the GDP of our great grandchildren??

    Absolutely insane.

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  • bikieboy December 16, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    thanks, Jonathan, for covering this. Rex is as thoughtful & intelligent a person as you'd care to meet, and everyone who bikes in Portland is in his debt whether they know it or not for his tireless volunteer efforts back in the day, but: he's just flat out missed it here.

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  • Another Doug December 16, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    It is sad to see Rex joining the rest of the politicians in embracing the results of the traffic demand models. We are delivering a commodity (roads) at less than 10 percent of the cost of providing them. It doesn't take very much analysis to establish that demand will exceed supply--regardless of how many lanes are added.

    To make matters worse, the models are not sensitive to energy prices and grossly over-estimate future demands. About the only thing they are good for is giving politicians cover as they look for more money to add motor vehicle lanes.

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  • wsbob December 17, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Burkholder may be a great guy and true-blue hero of bikes for transportation, but none of his comments from the interview above are particularly persuasive in favor of a new bridge. The present bridges basically do the job, so why do we need this thing?

    Basically all Burholder is saying is trying to claim, is that this multi-billion dollar bridge is worth building because it adds light rail, better bike/ped infrastructure, and improved shipping clearance to the present level of service offered by the existing bridges.

    Those amenities would be nice...the shipping clearance seems like a genuinely needed improvement rather than an amenity, but the other two don't really seem to justify the expense.

    The money might be better put towards regional planning that dramatically reduced the need for job to work cross-river commuting.

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  • Jeff Bernards December 17, 2008 at 7:13 am

    #18 Thank you, this generation in power has spent more than it's fair share of our countries future. The people demanding this $5 billion bridge aren't even willing to spend $5 to cross it. Where are we going to borrow more money? Communist China? Now Vancouver can shop tax free in Oregon 10 minutes faster.
    The Sellwood bridge is rated a 2, yet we can't find money for that, but we can find $5 billion for the CRC.
    Currently there are 6 lanes of traffic entering Portland from every direction, I-84, 26, & I-5 Northbound, Vancouver has 14 lanes into Portland counting I 205. All the highways entering Portland are backed up too. Are we going to fix them too? Will there be any money left?

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  • JR December 17, 2008 at 7:29 am

    To answer someone's earlier question about how those 12 lanes work and why they don't "really" count... 6 of the lanes would be "through" lanes, meaning there are three lanes in each direction that continue throughout the project length and are intended to serve traffic passing through that area. The remaining six lanes (3 additional lanes on right side of each direction) are "auxiliary" lanes and serve traffic exiting and entering the highway through the project area. These auxiliary lanes are intended to improve highway safety (through the eyes of a traffic engineer), by giving cars ample room to merge into and out of traffic at the appropriate speeds without slowing down the entire highway. The result is a project that can move many more vehicles per hour through it because of the additional lanes and higher speeds they allow.

    It's confusing to listen to anyone from the CRC project office or Rex because in their myopic view, this project isn't increasing capacity - but anyone with a bit of brain power knows that this project does increase vehicle capacity which will simply move the bottleneck further down the highway and deeper into the more dense parts of Portland - just what we need!

    It's always interesting to hear how politicians describe the "model". They each do it a little differently and they always give it more credit than its worth. The model has generally performed well and yes, Metro does have one of the best-performing models in the country, but... 1) the model doesn't currently understand bike or pedestrian behavior at all because the only factor it considers is distance and cost (which is irrelevant to bikes and peds); 2) the model has difficulty accounting for tolls because we have no regional behavior to model; 3) the model can't do everything that's asked of it... and it certainly can't forecast induced suburbanization of Clark County from providing this "red carpet" to their suburbs - it forecasts traffic flows based on land use INPUTS.. it doesn't create land use OUTPUTS; 4) and finally, no matter what the model tells us regarding traffic flow, if we succumb to the predisposition than traffic is bad and free-flow highway speeds is good, we're setting ourselves up for self-destruction from massive road building.

    Thanks Rex for your prior role in the history of biking and alternative transportation modes. However, your more recent role and position with the CRC will likely keep those alternative transportation modes (bikes and peds) JUST alternatives. Sorry if I sound overly dramatic, but Vancouver has always been the weak link in our region's planning and expanding their ability to grow outwards will choke the highways and arterials on the Oregon side of the border for the foreseeable future.

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  • 007 December 17, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Burkholder et. al., could have made a politically inexpedient (to Vancouver commuters) but logical decision to toll the the current bridge which would result in income to our state.

    Instead, Burkholder made a hideously expensive, politically inexpedient (to Oregonians) decision that will cost us IF IT HAPPENS more than $5 Billion, probably a lot more, IF IT EVER HAPPENS.

    His lack of courage will do nothing but increase single occupant vehicles driving over here from Washington State - which stands at 70,000 every day, I believe.

    I agree with the commenter above who said Clark County needs to agree to and invest in light rail infrastructure over there, not just to the border or their downtown area.

    Someone else said, and I agree:

    "We voters will remember this, Mr. Burkholder."

    And another commenter responded:

    "No they won't. He just got re-elected, and that 4 year term hasn't even started yet."

    Burkholder's support of the beastly bridge did not come out until after votes were cast -- otherwise I would not have voted for him. I am confident that neither he nor Bragdon will get reelected. Both have become typical politicians and are grave disappointments.

    Here here to a Robert Liberty interview on this site.

    Thanks, Jonathan.

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  • GB December 17, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Many people have discussed the "alternatives" we could spend the 5 billion on. What hasn't been mentioned is that a large part of the funding for this project is federal money that can only be spent on federal highway projects. If we don’t use it for this project, the money will not be spent in this region. As far as I know, Sellwood Bridge is not a federal highway.
    I think this needs to be acknowledged.

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  • Angela December 17, 2008 at 9:55 am

    If I were Rex, I would be sick and tired of going back and forth for 3 years on the stupid issue and not having anyone on the councils listen to the drawbacks and sticking to the flawed and uninspired models. I'd also feel weighed down by the inability to stop the "political forces" that carried the CRC forward and I'd move on and hand it over to someone else...

    He did the responsible thing in my view. Now he's freed up to be much more effective on our other burning issues.

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  • matt picio December 17, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    GB (#25) - That federal money is never going to materialize. At worst, we won't see any federal money for this project, and at best, the money will be re-allocated into transit. The financial system has collapsed, unemployment is rising, and the "bottom" of the current fiscal troubles lies 2-3 years off at best. CRC is a bloated dinosaur, and no one realizes it yet. We'll be lucky if we get the funding to replace the Sellwood Bridge, much less build a 12-lane multiuse corridor to Vancouver.

    Metro needs to take the lead, and realize that the game has changed. It's a new world out there, and hopefully they're still nimble enough to adapt to it - if not, then hopefully they're crafty enough to anticipate it.

    By this time next year, we'll all be scrambling to find funding for $100M projects, and $4B projects won't be an option.

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  • RyNO Dan December 17, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Weak sauce !
    The CRC as litmus test is an unproductive idea. The CRC is waaaaay too big to be a "litmus test".
    Oh, and there is nothing "broken" about this bridge. It works perfectly, there are no engineering issues.
    Trust ? If you have to invoke "trust" to defend your position, there's a problem.
    So he's gonna use the CRC to do a little horse trading so he can advance his REAL agenda ? Just "letting this go" is a preposterous position.
    "A tree in a forest" is a rediculously useless analogy, that.....deserves ridicule.
    Did he even say whether he supports this project on its merits ?

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  • Matthew Denton December 17, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    rev #17:

    The railroad bridge opening span and the lift span on the I-5 bridge line up. There is also the "high" span, (the bump in the bridge,) that most (all but 4 vessels: 2 sailboats, a barge mounted crane owned by Washington state, and another one that I'm forgetting,) river traffic will physically fit under. However, when the river is flowing fast (i.e. most of the winter,) the tugboats can't make the S turn from the high span to the railroad opening, and so they get the I-5 bridge lifted, which delays traffic on I-5.

    Several years ago, the tugboats requested that the Coast Guard apply for a grant to modify the railroad bridge opening, so that it was further south, so they didn't have to make that S turn, (the tugboats are [rightly] worried that one day they will misjudge the flow, attempt the S turn, and miss, either hitting the I-5 bridge or the railroad bridge, and damaging it.) The Coast Guard did a study, and determined that while it was a great idea, the benefits of moving the railroad bridge opening didn't go to the tugboat operators, but to I-5 users, because it meant that they weren't delayed by a lift. The Coast Guard also told the tugboat operators that they should just be more careful and when in doubt about flow conditions, should request a bridge lift. So the Coast Guard said that they couldn't apply for the grant because it wasn't their problem, but it was a great idea and that the highway departments should spend the money instead.

    The railroad was fine with the idea of modifying their bridge, in fact, it would benefit them because it would result in the bridge changing from a swing to a lift span, which open and close much faster. However, they, like the Coast Guard, doesn't care if I-5 jams up or not, so they weren't willing to spend their own money modifying their bridge. But if the highway departments would give them money, they could have it done in a year or so, a bunch of setup time, and then it actually only takes about 2 days of very intensive work to switch it over, (they did the same project on the Willamette River bridge a couple decades ago.)

    So ODOT and WashDOT can all but eliminate the "I-5 is a drawbridge" issue, if they'll just write Union Pacific a check to move the lift span on the railroad bridge. The cost: About $50M or less than the planning budget for the CRC...

    And with the rest of the planning budget, they could buy a duplicate of the 4 vessels that don't fit under the high span, so that the owners could keep one above the bridge, and one below, and then weld the drawbridge shut, and it would become a completely non-issue. Or they could not, because those 4 vessels don't need to go under the bridge very often anyways, unlike the tugboats...

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  • John Reinhold December 17, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I like and respect Rex Burkholder. I believe he is wrong on this issue.

    We are all wrong occasionally...

    I believe that we have a new administration in Washington. We have a new Congress in Washington. We have a new Oregon state Legislature. We have a new Portland Mayor.

    I say - change the laws and do what needs to be done to move us into the future instead of the past.

    Allow tolling now, on 205 and I5.

    Paint High Occupancy lanes on I5 and enforce them.

    Build a small local bridge to Hayden Island on the Oregon side, and close the I5 ramps to Hayden Island to all but emergency vehicles.

    Reconfigure the railroad bridge to align with the hump and get rid of bridge lifts.

    Seismic retrofit the I5 bridge, and add larger sidewalks off the sides like the Hawthorne.

    Put in large scale bus rapid transit to Vancouver.

    And that is how you solve the problems without needing 5 billion and a 12 lane bridge.

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  • revphil December 19, 2008 at 3:34 am

    OMG! Matthew Denton (#29), could that be the most clear answer I have ever gotten via the internet?

    As I recall the Portland City Council was very concerned with the matter of safety regarding the Tugboats. I believe that both Randy Lenard and Dan Saltzman both expressly referred to this matter.

    humm. how advance is the warning on the bridge lifts? does it make sense to direct more traffic to I-205 Columbia crossing?

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  • Scott Mizee March 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    This article has whole new meaning now that the Metro President race is on...

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