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In my opinion: On livability and the CRC, USDOT Sec LaHood can't have it both ways

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 8th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

National Bike Summit-Lobby Day-5
I want the new freeway to be this wide!

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has some explaining to do.

LaHood, who famously stood on a tabletop and thanked bike advocates for their hard work at the 2010 National Bike Summit and later posted on his blog that, "This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized," has now become an enthusiastic booster of the Columbia River Crossing project — a five-mile long, highway widening mega-project being proposed by the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation.

"We are big, big, huge supporters of the Columbia River Crossing."
— Ray LaHood, USDOT Secretary, November 2011

"... people do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods... This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." — Ray LaHood, USDOT Secretary, March 2010

Often characterized as only a bridge project (the result of masterful PR work by project consultants who have spent millions on messaging), the CRC would also significantly widen five miles of I-5 as well as beef up and add five new highway interchanges along the way. The project's main purpose is to make driving an automobile easier, safer and more convenient.

Look into my eyes... it's only
about a bridge, it's only
about a bridge, it's only....
(Screenshot from CRC site)

Many critics of the project fear it will induce traffic as well as encourage sprawl in northern Clark County. The project is estimated (by the CRC staff themselves, so it could very well be much more) to cost $3.1 to $3.6 billion dollars, an amount that could suck up much of the region's transportation funding — at the expense of other projects and needs — for years to come.

Despite the controversy around this project and what many smart people see as significant flaws and risks in moving forward with it — LaHood and the USDOT are eager to see it break ground.

"We are big, big, huge supporters of the Columbia River Crossing," LaHood told KGW TV last month. "We think it is a classic example of what America has always been known for doing big things."

I'd put an emphasis on "classic." He's right. This is indeed a "classic" project in the sense that it harkens back to the 1950s with its focus on moving as many cars and trucks as possible right through the heart of many (formerly livable) neighborhoods and two major cities.

Project map: That's a heck
of a lot more than just
fixing an old bridge.

Today, the USDOT released a major endorsement of the project with approval of the "record of decision."

Contrast this support of the CRC with LaHood's proclamations in 2010:

"People want walking paths, biking paths... I've been all over America, and where I've been in America I've been very proud to talk about the fact that people do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods."

"People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized."

I'm one of those people who wants to live in livable neighborhoods. My family and I live just two blocks from I-5 and the CRC's new mega-highway comes to an end just a few tenths of a mile north of my backyard. I'm worried that the CRC's please-try-out-the-awesome-new-freeway-we-built-for-you welcome mat will only lead to more traffic in my neighborhood and massive bottlenecks to boot.

As the national bike advocacy community has fallen over themselves in praise of LaHood for his outspoken support of livability and a new way of doing business at the DOT, I've held back. Maybe I've grown cynical over the years; but while I still feel a tinge of excitement when a powerful person like LaHood says nice things about something I believe in, I'm waiting for action in the face of difficult and politically challenging conditions.

Policy proclamations and rosy rhetoric are easy. Challenging and questioning the merits of a mega-project that has a lot of political power behind it is hard. An era based on that power won't end easily; but it's what has to be done and some of us thought LaHood was the one who would do it.

Perhaps LaHood feels like because the CRC includes a light rail line and a wider bikeway it's all good. But I'm not sure everyone who had faith in him — not to mention the many adoring advocates he spoke to on that that memorable night in D.C. — agree.

I'm curious what readers think: Is it possible to support something that is as "motorized transportation" centric as the CRC while still making proclamations about livability and promoting active transportation? Can leaders like LaHood have it both ways?

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  • 9watts December 8, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    My answer to your question is a resounding 'no.'

    "Many critics of the project fear it will induce traffic as well as encourage sprawl."

    While these are well-founded 20th Century fears, my concern is that this project has been handed down to the 21st Century and as such it has no relevance to the transportation world we are about to enter. It is an enormous piece of concrete that won't be useful to us once climate change and Peak Oil have caught up with us. We can argue about whether that is 2 or 20 years from now but the larger point is that bridges & highway expansion projects are meant to last much much longer than that, and their enormous costs are justified on the basis of their longevity as well.
    CRC is completely insane.

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  • Allan December 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    We'll see what happens with the funding picture. I agree that LaHood seems to be in contradiction, but I don't think that he has heard all of the livability arguments. To some extent, isn't the 'Record of Decision' something that you get if you meet all of the requirements at the federal level? Even though this isn't a 'good' project from a livability perspective, this is quite a 'good' project relative to many others in the US. Its all Perspective, and I don't think that LaHood has ours

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  • Paul Souders December 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    "Is it possible to support something that is as "motorized transportation" centric as the CRC while still making proclamations about livability and promoting active transportation?"

    A wise person once told me: "anyone can say anything."

    Or: "All hat, no cattle."

    Light rail and bike paths are Livability Paint slapped onto a big bad highway.

    The CRC is a good example of why I'm leery of "infrastructure" panaceas and secretly am kind of excited by PBOT's shortfall (different topic I know, but I'm on a roll here)

    Maybe, radical thought, we need *smaller* bridges and *narrower* roads and *less* mode separation. Maybe transportation infrastructure is overbuilt and unnecessarily expensive already. Maybe instead of improving roads we should start downsizing them. Maybe roads running through cities should be "streets" not "highways," and maybe streets should be built for people, not transportation devices. Not because of Peak Oil or even livability (necessarily) but because it's way past time to get cars off welfare.

    Who's talking like THIS? Besides me, obviously.

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    • Dan Kaufman December 10, 2011 at 1:06 am

      I am. I totally agree. We'd do more for livable streets and the environment if we just ended the motor, oil, and war subsidies.

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  • Alexis December 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I think this is well-said, Jonathan:

    "...while I still feel a tinge of excitement when a powerful person like LaHood says nice things about something I believe in, I'm waiting for action in the face of difficult and politically challenging conditions."

    I feel like this about a lot of ostensibly active transpo-friendly politicians and bureaucrats, including some local ones. When I see actions like the ones JSK and Gabe Klein have taken, I feel confident those people practice what they preach and aren't just saying it because it sounds nice. When I see how slowly Portland and the region move on innovations and how poor the federal picture looks, I don't feel that same confidence.

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  • sorebore December 8, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I will be for the CRC and all the cars when the state of Oregon outlaws Benzene. I call for its immediate ( not a 20% reduction in 10 years as proposed) use as a gas additive. The CRC, I-5, and added flow of autos and truck will contribute to the already absurd levels of Benzene toxins in the Portland metro area.
    Johnathan, since you mentioned your proximity to I-5, you might want to check out the numbers on Benzene levels in your own backyard. Since most states including my home (Missouri) outlawed Benzene in gas in the 1970s, it makes one wonder who controls it in Oregon, and why we still have to put up with it.

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    • El Biciclero December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      "Johnathan, since you mentioned your proximity to I-5, you might want to check out the numbers on Benzene levels in your own backyard."

      I was going to say this, only not so benzene-specific. I live a semi-woodsy almost-mile (as the crow flies perpendicularly) from US 26, and I worry about the harmful effects of general auto emissions on me and my wife and kid. Living that close to a major freeway can't be a health-enhancer.

      On sorebore's specific benzene note: what does benzene do to enhance gasoline? Here this whole time, I thought benzene was a "natural" component of refined gasoline. Now I hear it is added after the fact on purpose? Is it an octane booster? Stabilizer? What? All I know is that it is a known carcinogen. If driving cars is like transportation smoking, it would appear burning benzene is like a cigar with a cigarette in its mouth.

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  • Alan 1.0 December 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    It might depend how one defines '"motorized transportation" centric' but the Common Sense Alternative answers all the concerns I've seen about I-5 seismic safety, automobile capacity, local access, lift span openings, roadway safety and highway freight, not to mention ped, bike, light and heavy rail, so I'd say, "Yes, it is possible to promote that, livability and promoting active transportation."

    Now if only CSA could get some traction...

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    • Jacob December 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      Unfortunately, the rail line and bridge are privately owned by companies that have no interest in improving what works for them. Convincing them to change is easier said than done.

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      • Alan 1.0 December 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

        Public/private ventures are nothing new. Has any public agency approached the railroad company about those options?

        (Considering the RR bridge has at least as serious seismic concerns as the I5 bridge, the RR might be interested in a deal.)

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  • dwainedibbly December 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    The contradiction was what he said in 2010. What he's saying & doing now are probably more true to heart. Shame on us for believing him.

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  • BURR December 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Freight, construction and other special interests pay big money to lobbyists and make large campaign contributions to elected officials to ensure that people like Secretary LaHood are in their corner; while the US people were busy being apathetic our government has become a pay to play system, and this is par for the course. No one should be surprised.

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  • John Lascurettes December 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Isn't Blumenauer tight with LaHood? Couldn't we get him to bend his ear over this?

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  • Dennis December 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I fear, that this project will unleash the same kind of rush-to-sprawl, that followed the opening of the I-205 bridge did. Imagine, tens of thousands of california-style housing developments, all the way to Kelso, Washington. All of those new commuters crossing into Portland each day. Yes, it's building like it's 1950 all over again.

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  • Joe Cortright December 8, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan, for this thoughtful reflection on what the CRC says about USDOT's priorities. Squandering $3.5 billion on this massive freeway widening project--at a time when traffic levels on I-5 are at 1998 levels, and going down--is embracing a dying past and not a sensible future. There's no guarantee that this project can be brought in under budget or that any extra federal money will come to the region, and therefore CRC will be, for a decade or more, a financial black hole--sucking up every dime of transportation money in the region.

    Like you, I've admired Ray LaHood's policy statements on cycling and moving away from car-centric policies; but this project seriously undercuts his credibility.

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  • Todd Solomon December 9, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Signing off on the ROD for CRC is completely consistent with Secretary LaHood's 2010 pronouncement. The Secretary has said repeatedly that DOT will continue to support all modes including bicycling, walking, riding transit, taking rail, and driving cars. And, let's not forget the continued importance of shipping the supplies and finished goods that fuel our economy over the roads via truck. Yes, a river crossing on an existing interstate highway will necessitate a few miles of widening on either side to accommodate the lane drop from a future-looking bridge to an aging highway. But in what universe does a crossing that supports bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and--horrors--cars and trucks--constitute a "favoring of motorized transportation?" There is not space enough here to enumerate all the ways LaHood and US DOT have supported multimodal transportation, sustainability, and livability in Portland and across the nation (check http://fastlane.dot.gov for yourself). If your local leaders had sent him a plan for the CSA, maybe he and DOT would have signed off on that. But they didn't, and you're barking up the wrong tree.

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    • Spencer Boomhower December 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      @Todd,

      I once heard an Oregon state rep explain her support for the CRC in part by saying that this region pays more into the federal budget than it gets out of it, and that CRC would be a way to get some of that money back.

      But as a gift from the federal government (just in time for Christmas) the CRC is the epitome of a white elephant:

      A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant

      For every dollar the feds will supply for the CRC, the local region will have to pay two dollars. Overruns seem inevitable (projects this big have a habit of blowing budgets in a big, big way), so the region will likely be on the hook for even more matching funds. That's local money that'll be drawn away from other vital transportation projects in the region.

      Yes, a river crossing on an existing interstate highway will necessitate a few miles of widening on either side to accommodate the lane drop from a future-looking bridge to an aging highway.

      And then what happens to that aging highway after all that widening? It seems likely that a domino effect of freeway expansion will occur.

      Look at where the traffic really backs up on a typical morning:

      http://preview.tinyurl.com/6lp85no

      That big red line describing the average 8am Wednesday traffic jam is located south of the southern end of CRC project area (near Delta Park), and north of the Rose Quarter (which is typically thought of as the next bottleneck down the line, and is already being lined up for the next round of freeway-building).

      So if the CRC is built, it'll be the freeway expansion that keeps giving more freeway expansion, and in places where this stuff isn't even being discussed yet.

      But in what universe does a crossing that supports bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and--horrors--cars and trucks--constitute a "favoring of motorized transportation?"

      The CRC is primarily a freeway project both in proportion of its cost and in that its five miles is mainly freeway lanes. Its cost is being incurred mainly to solve a problem that is essentially local auto commuters clogging up an interstate highway. Funding the CRC project wants to suck up could otherwise go to infrastructure more appropriate to urban places, and more naturally supportive of multimodal transportation, such as roadways that are designed to move that something less than 55 mph. (Which is a great speed for moving *between* cities, but is a bit much for traveling *through* a city.)

      Just sticking a walkway onto a freeway bridge doesn't make it (or its surroundings) a walkable place. And a freeway bridge this high is going to be really steep; not exactly the kind of thing people will be wild about biking over. (The current bridge is terrible for biking too, but at least it's fairly flat.) The path under the freeway is likely to be dark, a little forbidding, and isolated, despite the computer renderings portraying it as a sun-shiny place. And it's unlikely the tangle of freeway ramps on either end of the CRC will be all that welcoming, and conducive to the movement of people on foot or bike.

      Including bike and ped facilities has the main benefit of diffusing some the criticism for this form of infrastructure that fell out of favor in the 1970's, and continues to be seen as a fuel for sprawl, which in turn is starting to be seen as a kind of unaffordable ponzi scheme: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3roxmut

      If your local leaders had sent him a plan for the CSA, maybe he and DOT would have signed off on that.

      I'm guessing the local leaders would never expect the federal government to support the CSA because it doesn't include much in the way of expansion of the Interstate Highway infrastructure. So I can't imagine them bothering to send it. But maybe that opportunity will come around again if the CRC turns out to be unfundable.

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      • Peter W December 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm

        Spencer, I always enjoy reading your remarkably informative comments.

        Thanks!

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  • spencer December 9, 2011 at 8:11 am

    The bridge will get built in some form. Its a shame. Lets not subsidize more sprawl. While we're at it, lets bury I5 from Marquam to the bridge and unite the neighborhood back together.

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    • Sigma December 9, 2011 at 8:22 am

      That would cost at least twice as much as the CRC.

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  • Bob_M December 9, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Ray LaHood sees the bridge improving bicycle access and the bridge will provide a light rail connection. The bridge will also facilitate motor vehicles which are (for right or wrong) the mainstay of America's transportation system. Yes he can have it both ways. The existing bridge is obsolete and far short of current safety standards.

    I admit I am concerned that facilitating movement over the river will move the bottleneck to the rose quarter and into neighborhoods, but other than that it is just an expensive bridge and road improvement project.

    This blog is an echo chamber for agreeing opinions who, on this issue, are in a significant minority.

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    • 9watts December 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

      "motor vehicles which are (for right or wrong) the mainstay of America's transportation system."

      I don't think we have the luxury of tossing out phrases like 'for right or wrong' anymore. This is a multibillion dollar hunk of concrete, dude. We've got to make some decisions.

      "The existing bridge is obsolete and far short of current safety standards."

      Funny (to me) how you elevate 'safety standards' above the arguably much more consequential financial, environmental, political trainwreck that building this thing would represent. Are you really going to elevate the potential for eleven cars falling into the river in the event of a subduction quake vs. $4B+ in sunk capital that we won't be able to utilize/pay for/maintain without cheap oil and a stable climate? And don't be too sure that a CRC won't also dump cars into the river during that subduction quake. I'd say all bets are off if/when we get one of those.

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    • spare_wheel December 9, 2011 at 8:35 am

      the existing bridge is hardly obsolete. some seismic upgrades and she is good to go for another generation. the real question is why are we even considering spending billions to build a multi-lane highway exapansion that will simple push an existing bottleneck a few miles closer to central portland?

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      • J_R December 10, 2011 at 8:16 am

        How can you possibly claim "the existing bridge is hardly obsolete"? I commute by bike across the bridge most days, but drive sometimes, too.

        Obsolete features are:

        Narrow, uncomfortable walkways shared by pedestrians and bicyclists.

        Absence of shoulders on the bridge.

        Narrower than normal vehicle lanes on the bridge.

        A stop light and a lift-span bridge.

        Ramps from SR 14 on the north and from Hayden Island on the south that merge with I-5 within a few hundred feet of the bridge proper.

        I've lost track of how many crashes I've seen in the immediate vicinity of the bridge over the years.

        Have a debate if you like about whether there should be an interchange serving Hayden Island whether all of that should be included in the project, but to claim the bridge isn't obsolete doesn't stand up.

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        • 9watts December 10, 2011 at 8:24 am

          J_R
          when I read your list of complaints about the bridge alongside Spencer Boomhower's list of ill-considered dead ends building this thing will lead us down I have to laugh.
          It is like saying 'How can you stand commuting on that 40-yr old Craigslist bike? It has no disk brakes, no suspension, no ergonomic seat. The paint is not reflective, and where do you attach a U-lock? Here, you need this $5,000 winner of the Bike Manifest if you really want to commute safely and in keeping with the times!'

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          • Alan 1.0 December 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

            I don't know any 40-y.o. Craigslist bikes which support 2M people locally and ten times that on the Wet Coast, which routinely injure or kill people who are near it, along with substantial property damage and impact on local commerce, and which will cause extremely serious regional distress when (not if) it fails catastrophically.

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            • 9watts December 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

              If we all rode bikes we would hardly need TWO I-5 bridges. Did you forget we have a I-205 one as well?

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              • Alan 1.0 December 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

                If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

                There are many things I agree with you about, but not with all of your views on your strategic forecast of metropolitan Portland over the next 50 years. In my view, Portland (the greater metro area) will remain vibrant and commercially viable for much longer than that. To support that, it will need multiple bridges over the Columbia. The two existing I-5 bridges (along with the Glenn L. Jackson) can be part of that plan, but they need to be structurally reinforced (footings), they need to overcome the problem of frequent openings, traffic volumes (and max speed) need to be reduced, and they need to be supplemented with crossings for other modes and for local traffic. In their existing configuration in the regional grid, they are obsolete.

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          • J_R December 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm

            My collection does include a 40-year old bike. I'm not one who always goes for the newest.
            My old bike has been well maintained but it isn't ridden every day anymore. It's not been left out in the rain every day for 90 years (the older bridge has) or even 53 years (the newer bridge). My old bike also has not been subjected to loads twice what it was designed for. (Trucks in the mid-1950s weighed about half what new over-the-road trucks do.)
            There gets to be a point when the bike frame is corroded, the bearings are shot, the sidewalls of the rims have been worn away from braking, and the spokes break with regularity. Yes, you can fix all those things individually, but maybe it's time for an upgrade. Think of the replacement of the cables on the I-5 bridges in 1998 as the replacement of your bike's chain, but other components are still original. How long do you want to keep replacing pieces knowing that the originals were not all that great by today's standards?
            The old bridges are still hanging in there, but with a million people being added to the region in the next 20 or 30 years, do we really think the old bridge will meet or needs forever?

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            • 9watts December 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

              "with a million people being added to the region in the next 20 or 30 years, do we really think the old bridge will meet or needs forever?"

              I am under no illusions that the old bridge will meet our needs *forever*--that would be silly. But I am also under no illusions that the proposed CRC (which as others have pointed out is not simply a replacement of the existing bridge but a huge expansion of freeway) will ever meet our actual needs either.

              Both the million people over the next few decades and the growth premises upon which the CRC is based are extrapolations of past trends. I have tried to argue here that this strikes me as unwise, ill-considered, willfully myopic. The future, our future, will almost certainly be nothing like the past. We know enough to realize that we very soon won't have any use (or ability to pay) for this monster bridge that harkens back to our Cold War approach to infrastructure: colossal, domineering, expensive.

              Let's keep the limitations of our current bridge--which in any case are far less pressing than other infrastructure challenges we face and will face--separate from the CRC-as-solution-to-these-problems. The CRC as I've understood it is a jobs program, a fishing expedition, an ideological poker chip; but it is not first and foremost a seismic retrofit of the existing bridge.

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            • wsbob December 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

              "...but with a million people being added to the region in the next 20 or 30 years, do we really think the old bridge will meet or needs forever?" J_R

              "...the million people over the next few decades and the growth premises upon which the CRC is based..." 9watts

              Society seems to display very little if any inclination to limit population and residential growth. If there's a way...and there most likely is...the population and some sort of supporting residential and urban development will very likely happen.

              On rare occasions, I seem to recall it having been reported that the new bridge isn't particularly intended or expected to be able to handle a substantial increase in motor vehicle carrying capacity. Never the less, the idea of a new bridge being able to move greater numbers of motor vehicles, seems to be one of the carrots dangled by new bridge proponents.

              I'm not much of a numbers guy, but some numbers are simple to figure. Using the current number of daily motor vehicle trips across the bridge, would the capacity of a new bridge be able to double, triple or quadruple that number of trips? I'm thinking, definitely, absolutely not.

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        • Spencer Boomhower December 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

          @J_R,

          I think the DOTs do technically define the I-5 Interstate Bridges as "obsolete," but as I recall that simply means it doesn't meet the current standards of the Interstate Highway System. Which sounds like the way you're using the term, so I think you're basically correct. But I think other people take "obsolete" to mean, "broken down," and "no longer usable," and that might be how spare_wheel is using it.

          ("Broken down" would be closer to the way ODOT defines the Marquam bridge, which is rated as "poor" and "structurally deficient," a lower rating than they give the Interstate Bridge.)

          In general I think your concerns are quite valid, but there might be ways of addressing them that don't require the construction of a 3600 million dollar stretch of freeway.

          For instance, the concern about too-short ramps. Yes, the current ramps are too short for comfort when it comes to launching cars onto a freeway at 55mph; that's part of what earns them the definition of "obsolete." Ramps like the ones we see in the CRC plans would be better at this kind of high-speed car-launching. Unfortunately those ramps have a couple problems: they require way more space in order to get cars up to that kind of speed, and they're incredibly expensive. But that's what it takes to meet the accelerating-to-55mph-in-comfort design requirement.

          So what if we just changed the design requirement? What if cars only needed to accelerate to, say, 45 mph in order to merge? That would mean reducing the speed on the highway, of course, but maybe the current ramps would then function just fine.

          I first encountered that eye-opening idea in an article by EngineerScotty, who often blogs at PortlandTransport.com, and at his own blog, the Dead Horse Times (and who posted a comment above). Here's the article:

          http://deadhorsetimes.blogspot.com/2010/07/unorthodox-and-maybe-crazy-but-really.html

          Freeways perform fine at lower speeds. The most important attribute of a freeway is not a high speed limit, but controlled access and grade separation--the free flow of traffic.

          ...

          And in the urban context, where the regional mobility function of a highway frequently comes into conflict with the access functions, attempts to simultaneously improve mobility while keeping speeds high, generally are expensive--and interfere greatly with the surrounding community.

          Trading speed (or other performance measures) of for reliability is a common solution in many engineering domains, not just traffic engineering. Yet the tradeoff seems to be something which is regarded as unthinkable by many.

          Which is unfortunate. We could vastly slow down our need to engage in expensive and destructive highway re-designs... if we could simply slow down.

          He cites precedents:

          [T]here are plenty of examples of freeways with lower speed limits, many of them labeled as "parkways". In Washington DC, for instance, one finds the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Clara Barton Parkway--both controlled access, divided highways which look and act like freeways; yet are signed with speed limits ranging from 25-50 MPH (40-80 km/h). Even the Baltimore/Washington Parkway, a major freeway between DC and Baltimore, is signed at 45MPH for quite a bit of its length. Yet all three roads are widely used (and widely accepted) by Washington-area commuters.

          As for the narrow bikeways and walkways, some have suggested widening the paths, like they did on the Hawthorne. I have no idea how feasible this is though.

          I have my own pet idea: preserve the current bridge, but devote its three lanes in each direction to transit, a car lane (with breakdown lane) and a nice bike lane. Designate the outer sidewalk pedestrian-only. Then build a new six-lane freeway bridge just for cars that swoops overhead, connecting Vancouver to Portland, but bypassing Hayden island (which could still of course be accessed by the current infrastructure).

          It sounds like a nice idea to me, but I've been told that there would be no getting the freeway-builders to stick to such a simple plan. Which makes me think: OK, just designate this a local highway and move the I-5 designation to the current I-205. Make a bridge, just not an Interstate Highway System bridge.

          It's probably more complicated than I make it sound. :)

          But if interstate highways are so expensive and in many ways damaging where they cut though cities, maybe they shouldn't be there in the first place.

          As for the stop light and lift-span bridge, this is again considered terrible within the context of sticking with interstate highway standards for highways that pass through the hearts of our cities. But Gordon Price, former Vancouver B.C. city councilor, is very proud of the fact that I-5 ends at a stoplight when it gets to his city, and suggests we should be proud of our stoplight too :).

          It has been pointed out that fixing the downstream rail bridge would reduce something like 95% of the lifts that do occur. I did a one-minute video on this http://vimeo.com/21585967

          And it's worth noting that the lifts aren't even allowed during rush hours, so they're not contributing to the really bad traffic jams.

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          • J_R December 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm

            Spenser: I could respond to several of your claims, but will pick just one. The claim that fixing the downstream railroad bridge would reduce the need for bridge lifts by 95 percent.

            The beneficiaries of improvements to the downstream RR bridge are barges. One of the issues for barges is the S-turn with which you are familiar. Another is the width of the passage for the RR opening. Since maintenance lifts and private sailboats account for more than half of all bridge lifts for the I-5 bridge, there is no possibility that fixing the downstream RR bridge to help barges would reduce bridge lifts by 95 percent. If you eliminated the downstream RR bridge, you would not reduce bridge lifts by 95 percent.

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            • Spencer Boomhower December 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm

              Hi J_R,

              The 95% number was derived from numbers found Exhibit 4-6 of this document, from the CRC DEIS:

              http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/FileLibrary/FINAL%20EIS%20PDFs/CRCTechnicalReports/Navigation/CRC_Navigation_Technical_Report.pdf

              It's on a page numbered 4-5, about halfway down, and it shows a chart with columns for: Vessel Type, Clearance Requirement, and Approximate Annual Frequency

              Tugs and Tows | 49 feet to 58 feet | > 500 trips
              Sailboats/Recreation | 76 to 88 feet | 24 trips
              Marine Contractors | 100 to 110 feet | Infrequent
              Marine Industrial | 65 feet | 6 trips
              Cruise/Passenger | 50 to 60 feet | 25 trips

              My understanding is that these are the vessels that requested lifts that year (the document is dated 2008, so I'm guessing the year recorded is 2007).

              While I'm sure you're correct that there are plenty of sailboats on the Columbia, apparently, according to this chart, only 24 requested bridge lifts that year.

              The 24 Sailboats/Recreation in the 76-88 foot range and the "Infrequent" number of "Marine Contractors" (presumably less than six because six is listed elsewhere, so five at a maximum would be considered "infrequent" compared to six) in the 100-110 foot range are the only ones that need the height a bridge lift affords. That's 29 vessels max that really need the height of the lift. The rest could go under the bridge's hump. The only reason not to go under the hump is the s-curve problem, so we're assuming eliminating the s-curve would eliminate the lifts for the 531 shorter vessels.

              So 29 out of 560 - or 5.178% - of the vessels couldn't possibly go under the hump while the other roughly 94.822% (rounded up to 95) could go under the hump if it was more easily navigable, i.e. if the s-curve were eliminated.

              Here's that s-curve video again - http://vimeo.com/21585967 - in case anyone stumbles upon this comment in isolation and needs that explained.

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              • J_R December 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

                Spenser: I see why you are confused. You are assuming that all barges and tows call for bridge lifts. The numbers you cite are from total river traffic - regardless of which channel they use. According to a friend with whom I've sailed and who used to work on tows, they most often use the barge channel or alternative barge channel. They call for a bridge lift if water is flowing so fast they can't execute the S-turn.

                Clearance already exceeds 58 feet. So most barge tows need not call for a bridge lift. Look at page 3-71 of the document at:

                http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/FileLibrary/FINAL_EIS_PDFs/CRC_FEIS_Chapter3_S2_Aviation_and_Navigation.pdf

                Your 95 percent figure is misleading if not incorrect.

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                • Spencer Boomhower December 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm

                  J_R,

                  "The numbers you cite are from total river traffic - regardless of which channel they use."

                  If what you say is true, that would mean only 24 recreational/sail boats passed under the Interstate Bridge on the Columbia River in that entire year. That count seems low to me. For the heck of it, I just now zoomed into Google map's satellite imagery just upriver from the bridge, and close enough in for the 45 degree imagery to kick in:
                  http://bit.ly/tXAUmJ
                  I count six sailboats in that location alone, at that one moment in time. (Here's a screen capture of that satellite map link, just in case it doesn't come through in Google Maps http://screencast.com/t/o2XENw2sf )

                  By comparison, 24 recreational/sailing vessels requesting bridge lifts per year sounds more realistic.

                  Anyway, I certainly want to make sure my facts are sound. In this particular case with the 95% claim, I deferred to sources with greater expertise in these matters, and I double-checked with them before I went repeating their claims. Maybe I'll triple-check with them and see if they have anything to add.

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                • Spencer Boomhower December 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm

                  Oh, also:

                  You are assuming that all barges and tows call for bridge lifts.

                  Nope, I'm assuming pretty much what you're saying, that barges:

                  most often use the barge channel or alternative barge channel. They call for a bridge lift if water is flowing so fast they can't execute the S-turn.

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                • Spencer Boomhower December 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

                  J_R,

                  Sorry for the small flurry of replies, but I was just poking through the document you cited:

                  http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/FileLibrary/FINAL_EIS_PDFs/CRC_FEIS_Chapter3_S2_Aviation_and_Navigation.pdf

                  And stumbled upon this image, exhibit 3.2-3 from page 3-72 of that document:

                  http://screencast.com/t/dqd66YzOGZ

                  Now, you said:

                  "Clearance already exceeds 58 feet. So most barge tows need not call for a bridge lift."

                  But take look at that image from the document you cited; you can see the lift portion of the bridge is only *40* feet high. That means that the line from chart I refered to earlier (which also happens to appear on this same page) that shows this information:

                  Vessel Type: Tugs and Tows
                  Vertical Clearance Requirement: 49 feet to 58 feet
                  Approximate Annual Frequency: > 500 trip

                  ...is referring to bridge lifts caused by vessels of that height.

                  And I think that's true for the rest of the vessel types in that same chart (exhibit 3.2-4 in this document).

                  So I'm comfortable standing by these figures (even having only double-checked with my sources).

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              • J_R December 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

                Spenser: Also go to:

                http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/ProjectInformation/FAQ.aspx

                Look under the questions in the "Bridge" category.

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            • Spencer Boomhower December 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm

              Hmm, let's see if some paragraph breaks can help that chart:

              Vessel Type
              Clearance Requirement | Approximate Annual Frequency

              Tugs and Tows
              49 feet to 58 feet | > 500 trips

              Sailboats/Recreation
              76 to 88 feet | 24 trips

              Marine Contractors
              100 to 110 feet | Infrequent

              Marine Industrial
              65 feet | 6 trips

              Cruise/Passenger
              50 to 60 feet | 25 trips

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              • J_R December 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

                Thanks for your responses. I've spent more time than I expected searching for stuff on the project website.

                Check out the statistics on bridge lifts on page 5-10 + in the Traffic Technical Report at:

                http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/FileLibrary/FINAL_EIS_PDFs/CRCTechnicalReports/Traffic/CRC_Traffic_Technical_Report.pdf

                I presume lifts for maintenance are to lubricate or adjust components just as you and I put our bikes on the stand to lube the chain. After all, that bridge is out in the weather all day and night. I have no clue about the gate closures without bridge lifts.

                In any case, all those maintenace lifts are not going away if changes are made to the downstream RR bridge, so I still suspect your 95 percent reduction calculation.

                Thanks for bringing this to light. It's interesting but I've already spent too much time....

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    • Evan Manvel December 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      The argument that those who want a smarter project instead of the CRC are in the minority depends on what question you ask.

      Yes, a majority of people polled on the CRC say they want it. But they're never asked whether they'd prefer the CRC mega-project or the Common Sense Alternative that costs half as much, or make any sort of trade-off among choices.

      In all the polling I've seen, a majority of people say their top transportation priority is fixing existing infrastructure, and highway expansion is way down on the list. When asked to make trade-offs, Metro regional voters want to put a lot more money into transit bike and ped projets, rather than mega-highways.

      Moreover, the last time Oregon voters were asked if they actually wanted to PAY for more roads, which is what the CRC involves (a gas tax increase), they voted it down 88-12%.

      So, the majority of people may want a new pony, but they don't want to pay for it, and they would rather have a new puppy and play with the pets they already have.

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  • Lenny Anderson December 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

    What is truly bizarre about the CRC proposal...and that is all it is as no one has the money...is that about 1/3 of its cost is for auxilary lanes and ramps to accommodate local trips which should not be on an interstate freeway to begin with. About 1/3 of the traffic on the existing bridges are local trips, which are there because there is no alternative, no local bridge and no transit connections to destinations in north and inner northeast Portland. An arterial bridge with good transit and bike/ped access would free up capacity on the existing freeway for freight and other essential trips at a fraction of the cost.

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    • Machu Picchu December 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      I'm not an advocate for facilitating people living in the cheap real estate and adding four billion car-miles to the local traffic scene, so they can come earn a living where the expensive real estate is. That said, I don't understand where we got the notion of the Interstate Highway system not being appropriate for local travel. You're not the first one I've heard suggest it. Like it's ok to get on at Mill Plain, but only if you're going to Eugene? And you can get off at the Rose Quarter, but only if you've come at least from Seattle? Like, you can't bike on the Springwater unless you're going at least to Gresham.
      Pardon the sarcasm. But it's a public road, so you can't really tell certain users not to use it.

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      • Greg December 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm

        The idea comes from the original philosophy of the Interstate Highway System. Part of the selling point was to speed up military response times across the country. If you search for "Federal Highway Act of 1956", you can read more.

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  • pdxpaul December 9, 2011 at 9:22 am

    This is one of the reasons I have recently joined the Concordia Neighborhood Association board and support Bike. Walk. Vote. Folks, it is time to get out there and do things that matter.

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  • Harvey December 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Wouldn't the "Super Highway" make it easier for commuters in cars to stay off Williams?

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  • EngineerScotty December 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    While I'm not fan of the CRC as proposed, I've never got the impression that Ray LaHood was an opponent of future automobile or road expansion. He supports alternate transportation (in that he likes to see it built); but he (and the Obama Administration in general) also supports more roads where he thinks it is warranted. This is preferable, I suppose, to administrations that give highways all the money they want and other forms of transport get the back of the hand, but at this point in time, you're not likely to get an anti-highway administration in the White House.

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    • 9watts December 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

      "at this point in time, you're not likely to get an anti-highway administration in the White House."

      you make a good point. Scotty.
      We should probably not look to our elected officials for leadership, prudence, wisdom, foresight. Nope. Safer to assume that Ashcroft Pacific and British Petroleum and the Koch brothers hold sway, call the shots. There's money to be made here, after all.

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  • Peter Buck December 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Walking, bicycles and transit are great ways to get around within cities and dense urban areas. One could argue that city-to-city transportation could also be handled efficiently by mass transit although even the most bicycle-friendly countries have massive city-to-city highway systems. If you've ever driven the A4 from Schiphol to Delft as I have done you will see amazing car traffic congestion. Suburb-to-suburb transportation may be the root of our problem in Portland. When people don't live where they work we end up with many one-to-one routes that are difficult to do efficiently any other way than by individuals each in their own car. It's too far to cycle for most, it takes too long on transit systems that don't have express routes and it is probably hard to find groups of people who live near each other, work near each other, and will constrain themselves to a common schedule to enable car-pooling. Our growth and land-use policies exacerbate the problem by making it attractive (i.e., cheap) to live far away from where we work. In short, the traffic volume over the bridge is not going away until we change land use and growth policies across the region, which means Clark County as well. Our highway design makes the problem worse for cities because we insist on putting highways through city centers. Look at a map of European cities like Copenhagen, Munich, Amsterdam. Their highways utilize rings to move through-traffic away from the city core. Highways that enter the city usually stop there. For Portland urban residents, I suspect that the suburb to suburb commuters are the real problem. They cause two 6-hour commute congestion periods daily, causing significant noise and air pollution. Initially a higher capacity I-5 bridge may reduce the length of the commute periods (noise) and if cars are not idling in traffic the air pollution should decrease as well. I suspect the actual traffic volume on I-5 will increase as some commuters move from the I-205/84E route to I-5. I think it is a valid concern that providing an easier commute may encourage others who work in Oregon to move to Washington unless we also put controls on growth to discourage long distance commuting.

    Perhaps an irony, but these people are going to cause congestion one way or another. Now they cause congestion on the freeways, but they go home at the end of the day. If they lived closer to work, they'd cause congestion locally, putting stress on our Portland metro urban growth boundary and our road and utility infrastructure.

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    • Greg December 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      I agree with most of what you say, until the end. If someone has a short commute, they spend less time on the road, and therefore don't create as much congestion, ie they don't affect as many other commuters. As an extreme example, if everyone lived a block form work, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

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      • Peter Buck December 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

        I understand what you're saying, but if they live here houses, neighborhoods, schools need to be built for them as well as the roads that go with this. The commuters do add congestion locally during the work day but their families aren't here. Anyway, I agree that this is probably a better problem to have. Ultimately I think the imbalance that needs to be fixed is that the true cost of the commute is not being born by those who choose to live far from where they work.

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  • wsbob December 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

    "...The project's main purpose is to make driving an automobile easier, safer and more convenient. ..." maus/bikeportland

    To what end? The U.S. government supports projects like the CRC with the idea that such projects will grow the nation's economy.

    Anticipation of improvements to safety and convenience associated with travel across the bridge by motor vehicle would probably induce more people to drive the bridge, but this is probably something many people in business and the U.S. government, want.

    Does the U.S. government particularly care whether or not people use, or object to people using the Columbia River bridges to daily hop from Washington to Oregon and back as home to work commuters?

    If this pattern of human routine appears as though it would bolster the economy...cause more housing subdivisions to be built, create more jobs...etc., etc., the government is probably not going to object to it happening, regardless of whether the routine is wasteful and detrimental to basic regional livability.

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    • 9watts December 10, 2011 at 11:12 am

      wsbob,
      you're right, of course, on the prevailing terms of debate: growth, economic activity, jobs, bla, bla, bla.

      But this is all no longer terribly applicable 20th Century reasoning. Economic growth very well may be over, done, passe. And good riddance, I say. I have book recommendation for you: Richard Heinberg's "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality."

      'Heinberg shows how peak oil, peak water, peak food, etc. lead not only to the end of growth, but to the beginning of a new era of progress without growth.' (Herman Daly, from the dust jacket)

      or you can sample this shortcut: '300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 seconds' on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ-J91SwP8w

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      • wsbob December 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm

        With the turn to the 21st century, people haven't just thrown out all reasoning related to business and government of the 20th Century. People still have to provide for each other, and they direct and rely on their elected officials and leaders to help them do so. Economic growth, particularly in a competitive sense, is still something very actively pursued within countries and between countries around the world. Diminishing oil resources, certainly not alone at least, won't end economic growth and the competitive aspect of human nature that seeking national economic growth brings out.

        It's never far from my mind that China has been working hard to become a major economic dynamo, probably seeking to be the world's biggest economic dynamo, and to that end, was able to persuade people to allow for the creation of....the world's largest man-made reservoir ever built in the history of human civilization, that inundated centuries of human habitation, and a huge portion of the world's natural wonder.

        Build, build, build...and to what end? A nice, new, seismically upgraded bridge would be fine, if planners were satisfied to limit the project just to that effort. Over time, I've heard vague suggestions that the bridge, despite extra turn-out lanes added, is not intended to substantially increase overall daily motor vehicle volume across it. Somehow, those suggestions have never come off as believable.

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    • Spencer Boomhower December 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      @wsbob,

      It is the case that freeway development can generate economic activity, but it's also the case that it can destroy neighborhood-level economic activity in places where it occurs, and precludes other kinds of economic activity from ever occurring. I keep coming back to this article on the Economist:

      http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/04/infrastructure

      What would the American economy have looked like without a massive government investment in highways? It's very hard to say, and it's certainly possible that the net effect of their construction is large and positive. But I also think that observers significantly overestimate the value of highways, because they fail to take into account the fact that in a world without them markets would have optimized to the non-highway status quo.

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      • wsbob December 13, 2011 at 12:53 am

        Spencer...read that article. It raises some important points. I feel the U.S. was right to develop a national highway system. There's good and bad things about an interstate highway system. It's nice to be able to drive swiftly from one part of the country to another, and to have the highway as an option to move freight and goods by.

        Deciding to create a national highway system that could enable trade was a good idea. Allowing such a highway system to be used to distance residence and employment locations so far apart from each other, has not been a good idea.

        Peter Bucks's long comment up above, touches on a few of the problems freeways have been allowed to create due to land and community development that seems today, to have been too much of a hands-off process:

        http://bikeportland.org/2011/12/08/in-my-opinion-on-livability-and-the-crc-usdot-sec-lahood-cant-have-it-both-ways-63383#comment-2284929

        p.s. Peter....especially with a long post (I've posted a few myself...hmm-mmm.)...paragraph breaks every so often could help your comments to be easier to read.

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  • 007 December 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    To: Kitzhaber and Gregoire, "Boo! Boo! Boo!"

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