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A new ‘Common Sense’ vision for a Columbia crossing

Posted by on August 5th, 2013 at 10:39 am

Anti 12-lane CRC Ride-38
Could a new bridge plan save money
by putting the old one to use?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As the Portland region’s freeway planners lick their wounds over the death of the Columbia River Crossing, one of the region’s longstanding anti-freeway warriors is seizing the moment of quiet to push a new plan that he says would be far less expensive.

Jim Howell, a longtime citizen activist and former TriMet bus planner who helped lead opposition to both the Mount Hood Freeway and the Columbia River Crossing, has an out-of-the-box idea:

  • Scrap most of the highway enlargements that were part of the Columbia River Crossing.
  • Build a new eight-lane highway bridge immediately upstream of the current Interstate Bridge.
  • Repurpose the Interstate Bridge as a two-lane local street, a light rail crossing and a pair of dedicated cycle tracks.

Interesting? You bet. Howell, the volunteer strategic planning director for the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates, says the whole thing would cost $1 billion, compared to the Columbia River Crossing plan’s $3.1 to $3.5 billion.

Jim Howell
Transportation idea man Jim Howell.

Howell calls his idea the “Common Sense Alternative II,” since it builds on the Common Sense Alternative that CRC opponents have touted for years as a cheaper way to improve connections across the river. The main difference between the “CSA I” and “CSA II” is the idea of keeping the existing bridge (which actually consists of two separate spans, one northbound and one southbound) in service, but not as a freeway. Here’s how the space on the bridges might be allocated:

Another key difference: instead of running light rail through downtown Vancouver, this plan would end the Yellow Line south of downtown, where the city has been hoping to develop a new waterfront residential district. From there, rail passengers could connect to Clark County’s C-Tran buses:

Here’s what Hayden Island, much of which would have been bulldozed to build a massive highway interchange, might look like under Howell’s proposal:

“To me it’s ridiculous to have a community whose only access is the interstate freeway,” Howell said. “You cannot get to the Hayden Island, which is a Portland neighborhood, without getting on the interstate freeway. That’s a problem that has to be solved. And you solve it with a local bridge or, in this case, by repurposing a freeway bridge.”


“There’s clearly a problem, and it’s going to get worse, but we certainly don’t have to spend three and a half billion dollars to fix the problem.”
— Jim Howell

I asked Howell whether, after all the millions of dollars spent on failing to reach a compromise, it’s worth pursuing a somewhat similar plan that, though it doesn’t include major interchange expansions, still includes a brand-new highway bridge and light rail.

“I don’t buy that there is no problem and you should walk away from it,” Howell said. “There’s clearly a problem, and it’s going to get worse, but we certainly don’t have to spend three and a half billion dollars to fix the problem.”

Howell says congestion on Interstate 5 does in fact harm the region, because there’s currently no way to avoid it. But he argues that the solution isn’t to greatly expand highway capacity but to give people options — rail, bikes, local streets — to get from one city to the other without getting on a freeway, which should be mostly reserved for freight and long-distance travel, not local traffic.

Another political advantage of the CSA II, he thinks, is that at $1 billion, it’s cheap enough to be achieved without tolling cars.

What about the frequently cited concern that the current I-5 spans would crumble in an earthquake?

“The only earthquake that’s going to have an impact on that bridge is one with an epicenter right underneath it, and the odds of that are very small, or the big one, the 9-point subduction quake, in which case the last thing we’ll be worried about is those two bridges,” Howell said. “Half the buildings in Portland would come down.”

Here’s Howell’s rough list of the costs of his concept, as compared to the defunct CRC megaproject:

Howell is one of a handful of amateur unpaid transportation wonks in Portland who are accustomed to preparing detailed plans that may not be likely to be built.

But one of the things about Portland is that sometimes, crazy plans — MAX light rail, a modern streetcar, a citywide network for bicycle transportation — actually happen. And whatever the merits of this idea, Howell has a history of being on the right side of history. Maybe this is a concept that, unlike the CRC, will pass the test of time.

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Comments
  • John Lascurettes August 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

    It’s worrisome that there’s still a lift span on the proposed new bridge. I thought that was part of the issue of the bottleneck – that lifts are sometimes done at the most inopportune times because maritime law trumps rush-hour-traffic needs. Otherwise, I love it. Love it.

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    • Allan August 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

      If the lift only opens 5% as much as it does now, its not a problem

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    • Paul Cone August 5, 2013 at 11:58 am

      The flip side of no lift span is you have to mitigate for upstream companies that currently build things that wouldn’t go under a non-lift span bridge.

      Also if the railroad bridge is fixed, the need for most of the lifts will be negated.

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  • Dwainedibbly August 5, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I want tolling.

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    • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

      “at $1 billion, it’s cheap enough to be achieved without tolling cars.”

      yeah that was a flag for me too. Seems backwards. Tolling seems like a super complement to any infrastructure upgrade we might do (since apparently it is not permitted on existing interstates).

      But more importantly is this bridge really broken? Is it worth a $billion given all the other needs we have in this state and the prospect that within the lifetime of our transport infrastructure autodom will have wound down?

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  • Spiffy August 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

    The main difference between the “CSA I” and “CSA II” is the idea of keeping the existing bridge

    “CSA I” kept the existing bridge…

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  • Spiffy August 5, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Howell says congestion on Interstate 5 does in fact harm the region, because there’s currently no way to avoid it.

    bicycle? carpool? work locally?

    many ways to avoid it, but people are afraid of change…

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    • davemess August 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Yeah, I thought that too, on top of yours’: MAX, 205, and probably less desirable for many, surface streets.

      If he’s talking specifically about the bridge, then only the 205 is true.

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      • Spiffy August 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm

        and C-Tran runs buses…

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        • dan August 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

          I just took C-Tran from downtown Portland to Fisher’s Landing in Camas. I left Portland just after 5 p.m., the bus was only about at 80% capacity (everyone had a seat), and it took about 45-50 minutes to get to Camas, taking the HOV lane on I-5, then SR-14 East. It was a really pleasant ride. I spent the time reading, dozing, and wondering how all the people in single-occupant cars at a standstill in the other lanes could possibly choose to spend every afternoon like that.

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        • davemess August 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

          True, C-Tran does run buses, but they are definitely immune to traffic snarls getting over the bridge, which is why I didn’t include them. I don’t understand why C-Tran doesn’t run more buses on 205?

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          • davemess August 6, 2013 at 2:50 pm

            Sorry, forgot we were generally talking about 5 and not just the bridge. SHould have read my own comment.

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    • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      “But he argues that the solution isn’t to greatly expand highway capacity but to give people options — rail, bikes, local streets — to get from one city to the other without getting on a freeway, which should be mostly reserved for freight and long-distance travel, not local traffic.”

      That is certainly one way of looking at it. But the timidity which guides it is no longer appropriate to the present situation. More options without challenging the basic premise of this being a bottleneck is not so different from some other proposals. If we’re talking about building infrastructure that costs 10(!) figures we owe it to ourselves to ask whether we are building this for the next six months or the next sixty years. Infrastructure like this sticks around. In less time than most of us probably realize, the kind of traffic volumes we currently experience is not going to be clogging up our highways anymore. That is the good part. The bad part is that investing in big upgrades and expansions, going into debt to build them, without for a moment considering the possibility that the traffic we are trying to accommodate might not be here is crazy.

      a useful graph on this subject:
      http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Kk00kK6qPy4/UT3ZDU4hJfI/AAAAAAAAJ54/rNQgyKti_c8/s1600/US+VMT+projections.jpg

      accompanying article:
      http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-does-peak-vmt-mean-for-twin-cities.html

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  • Allan August 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

    For those who want tolling, consider that collecting the toll will cost a ton of money~ $1.7Billion over the next 30 years according to one source

    http://stopcrc.com/docs/CRC_Financial_Analysis_by_Impresa_Inc.pdf

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    • Dwainedibbly August 5, 2013 at 11:58 am

      I don’t care if tolling loses money. I want to discourage people from having to cross the bridge twice a day.

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      • q`Tzal August 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm

        Annual registration fee + (miles traveled * GVW)

        Charge people for ALL THE MILES they drive aimlessly wearing down our public roads not just the CRC.

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        • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm

          Gas tax. A real one. Much cheaper all around.

          Plus tolling :-)

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          • q`Tzal August 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm

            What about road wear by electric vehicles?
            What about road wear by diesel powered heavy trucks?
            What about road wear by natural gas private autos?
            What about road wear by natural gas powered heavy trucks?
            This last one is the one we should all be worried about: there has been a BIG truck freight industry push to convert long haul trucks and pretty much any medium and heavy duty commercial truck to Natural Gas use. The fuel is cheaper per mile (even accounting for the lower energy density) and its use eliminates emissions problems associated with traditional petroleum combustion.
            Is CNG & LNG being taxed as a DOT funding source?
            Is electricity?

            I can go on and on about all the potential energy sources that could be used by a private individual to operate their vehicle on and wear public roads.
            I’ll just reference a NPR Planet Money broadcast where they were speaking about this issue and mentioned ODOT’s pilot GPS tracking program of a decade ago.
            If you tax a fuel or energy source all you are doing is economically disincentivizing that fuel or energy; people will simply replace the expensive source with a cheaper one and keep on driving.
            If you wish to reduce driving – tax the driving directly. Anything else is unfair to some portion of the public and will likely be overturned in court eventually.

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            • 9watts August 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

              “people will simply replace the expensive source with a cheaper one and keep on driving.”

              Did you say ‘simply’?

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              • q`Tzal August 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm

                Simple as modified by ones personal experience and knowledge set.
                Back in the 2005 gasoline price spike we saw the birth of mainstream biodiesel, diesel modded run straight off cooking oil, all manner of electric homebrew conversions and, my all time favorite, ICE run off a wood gassifier. All these existed before but high gasoline prices encouraged people to try them out; as a side benefit for the end user – no taxes had to be payed.

                When economic times are tough people get very inventive do what ever it takes to get by. Combined with a general dislike of taxes and we can SIMPLY deduce that any economic disincentive of a single fuel just encourages the use of untaxed fuels.
                This has the dual detrimental effect of: not reducing miles driven and removing funding that covers the ongoing maintenance cost of vehicles that are still using the roads but are not longer paying.

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                • 9watts August 7, 2013 at 8:17 am

                  Right. My estimate would be that no more than about one tenth of one percent of drivers pursue what you are talking about. Great, inventive stuff, but not something I’m going to worry about if I want to understand why gas tax revenues are shrinking. That is SIMPLY not the reason.

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    • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Interesting. Then I think they should come up with a cheaper way to administer this.
      “$27 million in 2018 rising to $90 million in 2047″ is just crazy money. Who comes up with these numbers?
      Oh right. These bums:
      Columbia River Crossing. (2010c).
      Financial Capacity Analysis (Identified as “PEAC-54″). Vancouver, WA: Columbia River Crossing.

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  • Marid August 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Vancouver has train-phobia. I’m afraid they’re stuck with old and busted.

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    • davemess August 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Personal submarines?

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  • devadc August 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Nope. Nope. and Nope. Howell hasn’t thought this thing all the way through, and as a result isn’t addressing some of the core problems of the existing system.
    A: Clark County doesn’t want light rail – not even one station – not even a track on Washington soil.
    B: The ramps from I-5 on and off to Hayden Island as well as on and off to SR-14 are currently a **major** source of everyday slowdowns. This CSA-II plan doesn’t do a thing to change this.
    C: In the Hayden Island diagram attached to this article, how is one expected to get from Hayden Island to I-5 north?
    D: There is nothing in here to address the need for river pilots to make the dangerous shift from the I-5 center-span to the railroad bridge swing-span, which is a **major** source of frequent lifts.

    I suggest Howell go back to the drawing board.

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    • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      devadc —
      A) They don’t want light rail, but one station is a lot less than 5.
      B) It does address the Hayden Island ramps — it removes the ramps to/from the north.
      C) If you want to go north on I-5 from Hayden Island, you drive over the local bridge (currently the southbound I-5 bridge) & get on I-5 in Vancouver. Ir drive down to Marine Dr. and get on I-5 north there.
      D) It does address the S-curve in the river — it adds a lift span in the middle of the RR bridge. River traffic will have two different routes through:
      1) existing route — through the swing span of the RR bridge, under the lift spans of the existing I-5 bridges, and under the bascule span of the new I-5 bridge
      2) new route — under the new lift span of the RR bridge, then under the high point of the existing and new I-5 bridges.

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    • Bjorn August 5, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      A. It doesn’t matter what clark county thinks about light rail under Jim’s plan, since there is only one station there is no need for them to pay operating costs which eliminates most if not all clark county opposition to light rail while still connecting downtown vancouver to tri-met’s max system.

      B. The plan as described to me although not the same as in this article eliminates the hayden island interchanges from the freeway so actually it completely fixes the issue with interchanges being too close to one another.

      C. If the interchanges are eliminated hayden island to i-5 north would be local bridge (repurposed current i-5 bridge) to downtown vancouver to I-5 at mill plain, no problem.

      D. The CSA has always assumed the fix to the rail bridge that nearly every CRC opponent has been demanding for the last decade, move the location of the rail bridge opening to align with the I-5 bridge so that the needs for 95% of the lifts are eliminated.

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      • Adam August 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

        i am glad you guys cleared that up. Devadic asked the exact questions that were going through my mind. This idea suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. However, I do not think a two lane road going in and out of Hayden Island will be sufficient. There is a lot of traffic going into that shopping center certain times of the year.

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        • Nathanael August 7, 2013 at 12:09 pm

          There’s also the light rail to Hayden, remember. The two-lane road plus that should be enough.

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    • Nathanael August 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Well, here’s a further idea. Extend the light rail to Hayden Island and *terminate it there*. Reuse one of the old Interstate bridges as a bike/ped bridge and let all the Vancouverites walk across it to get to MAX. After a few years of doing so they’ll start asking for a MAX extension.

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    • Paikikala August 12, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Saying everyone in Clark County doesn’t want light rail is like saying everyone in Portland loves bikes.

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  • K'Tesh August 5, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    How about going below the riverbed? Tunnel I5 ;)

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    • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      I can just imagine how much that would cost, not to mention the interchanges on both ends. Where would they go? Yikes.

      I’m still for the Do Nothing Alternative.
      Tried and true.

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      • q`Tzal August 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm

        We should at least get the original “cheap” seismic upgrades done sometime before carbon taxes apply to the concrete that would be used.
        And the rail bridge should be fixed. Odd thought: maybe the feds could eminent domain the bridge long enough to do repairs, lease it back to the original company and charge a minimal upkeep fee.

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  • kittens August 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    kind of small-minded compared to the CSA I. I like that the CSA addressed the downstream rail bridge, if we are really serious about moving freight, this is a way to encourage it to move off road and onto rail. Also, he needs to address aesthetics in his design.

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    • Bjorn August 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      addressing the downstream rail bridge is job 1 of Jim’s idea as he described it to me even if it didn’t come across in this article. The fix to the rail bridge is still the biggest no brainer in the world and I can’t understand how in the hell we spent 2x as much as it would have cost to eliminate 95% of the I-5 bridge lifts planning a freeway expansion that will never be built.

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  • Alain August 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Tolling should remain part of any future project. Aside from a major catastrophe (oil supplies, earthquake, etc), congestion pricing and transit alternatives are the only ways to get folks out of their cars. That, and living closer to where you work. If folks in Clark County want to live and Clark County and work in Multnomah County, clogging the interstate with SOVs as a result, then they should pay for the congestion they cause. If the interstate is truly there to serve long-distance travel and freight, then local SOV traffic should pay for use of the interstate. No more free lunch. These SOVs impact the health of North Portland residents.

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    • Bjorn August 5, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Oregon can’t easily toll projects for constitutional reasons and toll opposition in washington is strong. I think that we should be realistic about what we can and can’t do and it is unlikely that any changes will be made that involve tolling, even though congestion tolling is clearly a very good idea that would improve traffic in the region. If you want tolling work on enabling Oregon to toll roads more widely.

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      • Alain August 6, 2013 at 10:42 am

        Bjorn – thanks for these details, but can you point me in the direction of additional info (links)? I keep hearing conflicting information on the matter of tolling.

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    • Paul in the 'couve August 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

      I’m generally in favor of tolling, for revenue and equitable cost distribution if for no other reason. However, this graphic got me thinking recently http://thisbigcity.net/infographic-does-congestion-pricing-work/ Apparently in the 4 cities evaluated, there are signs than over the long term congestion tolling reverts to status quo.

      To my mind this is not much different than adding lanes. In dense places with enough people trying to get to the same areas any decrease in travel time / unreliablility and traffic jams (from adding lanes or reducing single occupancy traffic) is fairly quickly sucked up by users who then increase trips. With the congestion tolling schemes studied eventually most of the “excess capacity” created by congestion tolling was taken up by special class vehicles that were partially or fully exempted from the tolls originally. It may take a couple of years longer to suck up the capacity with congestion tolling, but apparently it still happens.

      I predict that even without exempted vehicles or shrinking the exempted class, over time wealthier people will choose to pay the tolls and congestion will return to near normal levels.

      I am thinking that in addition to tolling and congestion tolling, really managing traffic levels in the city core absolutely requires lane limits and capacity management.

      So I oppose new bridges and lanes even with tolling. Sure, with tolling is better, but adding capacity to bring more cars into a city core is a lose, lose, lose and keep on losing for 30 years or more proposition.

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      • 9watts August 6, 2013 at 11:30 am

        thanks for that graphic, Paul. What I’m wondering is why the cities wouldn’t increase the congestion charge at a rate that keeps congestion from creeping back up. That would seem the simplest corrective to the observed trend. I realize that there are many factors, but the whole premise of congestion charges as I understand it is that you need to set/reset the price carefully.

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      • Nathanael August 7, 2013 at 12:12 pm

        There’s something fishy about the claim that congestion is “back to what it was before”. This is really hard to measure.

        In London, the goal was to get the buses flowing smoothly through the charge zone. As far as anyone can tell, this was achieved. If congestion has really increased within the cordon, then the buses would be back to their old levels of delays. They don’t seem to be.

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  • Alain August 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    kittens
    kind of small-minded compared to the CSA I.

    That, and (still) expensive at 1 billion.

    If the old CRC at 3.5 billion was actually 10 billion when including the financing and interest payments, what would 1 billion be in the end?

    I like the idea of a local bridge and fixing the rail bridge while adding capacity to the rail corridor, all of which seem more forward thinking.

    I like the “do nothing alternative” when it comes to I-5, but still feel like the train bridge and corridor should be fixed. I am actually surprised that someone from AORTA is suggestion this CSA II and not looking more seriously at fixing the rail corridor.

    The NW needs to figure out how to run more and faster trains between Eugene and Vancouver BC, and add commuter rail to the mix between Vancouver and Portland. The current rail corridor is a faster way to get to downtown then Interstate Ave. Imagine how fast it would be if there was another track.

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    • Marid August 5, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      $1 billion is not that expensive. $3 billion was not that expensive. A dollar doesn’t go as far as it once did.

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      • 9watts August 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

        Right.
        But when you don’t have either 1B or 3B (Oregon doesn’t) and you have to borrow it and you add the interest payments, before you know it it’s 10B and that *is* expensive.

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    • Chris I August 6, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      The BNSF bridge is older than the two I-5 bridges, yet the CRC project did not address it at all. Instead of simply moving the swing span, we should consider partnering with BNSF to construct a new rail bridge to current seismic standards. It would be smart to build it with 4 tracks, two for Amtrak and potential commuter rail, and 2 tracks for freight. I hesitate to even mention commuter rail, because Vancouver is not a very big market. We don’t want another WES on our hands ($10+ operating subsidy per ride). Even the large Sounder trains in Seattle have a cost per ride in excess of $10. Commuter rail is expensive.

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      • Nathanael August 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        The state plans to have a lot more Amtrak (Cascades) so this is justified without commuter rail.

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      • Paikikala August 12, 2013 at 9:20 am

        New bridges can be broken down to a cost per ride/passenger as well. How do the two compare?

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        • Chris I August 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

          Clearly the freeway bridge would win if you ignore freight…

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  • maxadders August 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    We should get a bunch of aspiring graphic designers to take a shot at the problem, then hang their efforts on the walls of a coffee shop for six months before forgetting them entirely. Hooray!

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      don’t forget to put $95 price tags next to them all…

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  • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    That’s a pretty slick plan.

    The bascule lift span on the new bridge really gets around a lot of the huge costs to the CRC.

    I like the bike route. Biking across one of the existing bridges in a full lane cycletrack would be a much better ride than biking the up-and-down and looping route that the CRC would have given us. This bike route would result in a dramatic increase in bike commuting between Portland and Vancouver. The CRC would not have gotten much of an increase.

    Having 3 bridges offers a lot of flexibility.

    & it’s really really smart not to demolish and rebuild 2 miles of I-5 in Vancouver — those are all new interchanges, modern design. Decades of life left in them. 4th Plain, Mill Plan, 39th, all have been rebuilt in the last 30 years. Not to mention economical to leave them in place instead of demolish…

    Though the deal would still have a massive bottleneck on I-5 from Lombard to Alberta for traffic from Vancouver…

    Thanks Jim, curious as to what any official responses are.

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    • Alan 1.0 August 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      “The bascule lift span on the new bridge really gets around a lot of the huge costs to the CRC.”

      Don’t I recall from CRC that any kind of opening span on new interstate highway construction is a no-go from the feds?

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      • Peter W August 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm

        See the Woodrow Wilson Bridge as an example of a bascule lift span carrying an interstate (I-95 and I-495). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson_Bridge

        If the CRC project had paid better attention to the US Coast Guard, they might have noticed that a lift span (apparently the Woodrow Wilson) is featured on the front page of the USCG Bridge Permit Application Guide: http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg551/CP_16591_3C.pdf

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        • Alan 1.0 August 5, 2013 at 3:32 pm

          That’s a good example because it was done in 2006, quite recently. Wikipedia has a list of eight opening bridges on interstates including the I-5 and Woodrow Wilson Bridges:

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

          It doesn’t cite the specific AASHTO standard against such “gaps” but this article does talk about those policies in general:

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

          (So, if someone has the exact AASHTO citation, please post!)

          @ Ted, another way to go around it would be the renaming of I-205 to I-5, as discussed numerous other times. This crossing could then be negotiated between two states as a state route. Fed monies would be harder to get, though.

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      • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm

        “Don’t I recall from CRC that any kind of opening span on new interstate highway construction is a no-go from the feds?”

        Perhaps times have changed.

        The physical space requirements of river barges and airplanes from Pearson Field mean that you can’t actually build a fixed bridge there.

        The CRC was so high it intruded into Pearson’s airspace. And it was so low it limited river traffic.

        CRC designers tried to follow the “no lift spans on freeways” mandate by permanently limiting river traffic height and permanently limiting the obstacle-free airspace of Pearson Field.

        So its a reasonable proposition to offer a counterproposal — keep the FAA and the Coast Guard happy, and have the bridge lift for river traffic a few times a day during the high-water season.

        The “no lift spans on freeways” mandate came in the 1950s or 60s, when the dream was that “freeways” would always flow smoothly, and drivers could reasonably expect that they would never need to slow down for much of anything. Obviously that’s not the case anymore. I-5 gets jammed up daily, and that wouldn’t have changed with the 3.6 billion fix. So I wouldn’t see a lift bridge being a dealbreaker.

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  • gutterbunnybikes August 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I get the MAX/Pedestrian/bike Bridge. I get a non highway bridge.

    I don’t get a new highway or improved highway bridge.

    There is no problem there, unless is structural. Our rush hour back up times are pretty tame when you compare them to other cities. And rush hour backs ups are always going to happen regardless of what you throw at them.

    As the hyper-milers say the real secret of success “is to adjust the nut behind the wheel”.

    Bad and inconsiderate driving is the biggest cause of back ups on the streets and highways. Frequent lane changes, following too close, and failure of the drivers to remain at a steady pace slow traffic more than anything else.

    You get 2 or 3 cars quickly changing lanes within a mile and the whole highway slows down. With small gaps between vehicles these lane changes slow traffic in the lanes they are cutting off as those drivers slam on the breaks to prevent an accident (if they aren’t on the phone and notice). Done over multiple lanes and it’s even more slow down. Once a semi is involved it compounds the problem in that they brake harder and have slower recovery times getting back up to speed.

    Once the pattern starts drivers start to further close gaps, which them further worsens the problem, because at the same time they will also start more frequent lane changes.

    Once this pattern starts there is a quick domino effect. In that people start merging into what appears to be faster traveling lanes, cutting more people off and slowing more people down. Now suddenly you got dozens of people merging into all lanes over a mile (for say a 15-20 mile stretch) of highway effectively doing nothing more than slowing everyone down behind them and increasing the chances of accidents. Incidentally the more the slow down, the more people worsen the situation, with multiple lane changes becoming more frequent.

    Then lets not forgot those that significantly (significantly meaning enough that you have to use your brakes) slow down to allow the merging traffic from on ramps on. Sure it’s nice, but they are slowing down thousands of cars behind them, to increase the flow for a dozen merging vehicles. I’ve noticed that few seem to be aware that it’s the traffic that is merging who bears the responsibility to merge, not the existing traffic. Though again this all comes from vehicles following too close.

    You really don’t have to believe me. Spend an afternoon on a highway overpass with a good view in either direction starting about an hour before rush hour starts and you watch it all first hand.

    Once you know what you’re looking for it stands out like a sore thumb, but you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look for it.

    You want to ease congestion…Drive with as few lane changes as possible while maintain speed and a health gap. The more people that do this the better it will get.

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    • dan August 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      Preaching to the choir, but I don’t think the majority of drivers will ever drive like this.

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      • gutterbunnybikes August 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm

        I realize this is mostly the case. But even it convinces a couple of people to try to curb their driving habits can help. Because it take relatively few drivers acting accordingly to ease the back ups.

        I don’t have the specific information on hand or I’d link to it. But some municipalities have actually hired drivers to purposely slow traffic as they approach congestion hot spots to help ease the congestion with pretty good results. And for billion dollars plus, you could hire quite a few people to do this for a long time.

        A couple drivers that drive at such a speed that they can maintain a 4 or 5 car gap while using their brake as infrequently as possible would do wonders for congestion.

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    • Peter W August 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      > You get 2 or 3 cars quickly changing lanes within a mile and the whole highway slows down. With small gaps between vehicles these lane changes slow traffic in the lanes they are cutting off as those drivers slam on the breaks…

      Variable speed limits over the bridges could help. ODOT already plans to use that on I-5/I-405 and elsewhere.

      http://www.katu.com/news/local/Variable-speed-limit-signs-are-coming-to-Portland-136326623.html

      http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2013/04/odot_plans_to_raise_the_iq_of.html

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      • gutterbunnybikes August 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

        Thanks hadn’t seen that one before, not sure how it slipped past me. Time to update the old Google news feeds I guess.

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  • Jim Labbe August 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    I appreciate that Jim Howell’s vision really expands transportation options. It recognizes that we need multi-prong solutions to our transportation woes. The more human-scale CSA proposals have greater potential for actual place making in North Portland, Hayden Island, and Vancouver… rather than simply building a place destroying and space wasting freeway. Enough “silver bullet” mega-projects!

    I also like (and assume) that like the CSA I, improvements under CSA II could be phased and assessed as you go. That would be enormously valuable in building community trust, buy-in, and learning while allowing for modifications if necessary as an interstate multi-modal transportation system evolves into place.

    Jim

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    • Alan 1.0 August 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      “CSA II could be phased and assessed as you go”

      What would the phases consist of? I only see two stand-alone moves: 1) build new I-5 bridge and 2) add new opening span to rail bridge. Am I missing some way to break that down?

      If that’s the case, then adding the rail opening seems like the first priority, otherwise the new I-5 would still be constrained by barge openings. So, that’s $100M for renovation of private infrastructure. Wonder what share the RR (and barge company) would cover?

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      • Alan 1.0 August 6, 2013 at 9:29 am

        Oh yeah, ^^^ 3) Harbor Island local bridge could be phased in after new I-5.

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  • J_R August 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I think you were correct in the original to have called Howell and others “amateur transportation wonks.”

    It’s really apparent that the alternative cannot be built as drawn. Many of the curves on the ramps are clearly too tight for a modern highway much less an interstate facility. It doesn’t appear that the grades are within reasonable standards. The railroad underpass along SR14 beneath which the new I-5 would pass would have to be extended by a lot, but there’s no cost shown.

    And, frankly, there’s no way the costs are anything approaching realistic.

    And now you have two pair of bridges that would have to be raised for marine traffic. What’s the operating cost on that going to be?

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    • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      J_R —
      Huh?
      Ramps too tight? There’s only 1 of them, the exit from I-5 N to eastbound Highway 14. & that ramp isn’t as tight as the existing ramp to the north of it that goes to downtown Vancouver.

      & you’re calling a new railroad underpass a huge cost? RR bridges are pretty simple.

      Operating costs? Yawn. By adding the lift span to the RR bridge they’ll eliminate 90% of the lifts anyhow.

      The deal is that the Bascule bridge solves a lot of problems. The new bridge can end at the same elevation as the old bridge, north end and south end. Don’t need to replace any interchanges.

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      • J_R August 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

        Ted: You realize that half of the current bridge lifts are for maintenance reasons? So “fixing” the downstream RR bridge won’t affect any of those. So, there’s no way that fixing the RR bridge will eliminate 90 percent of the current bridge lifts.

        From the sketches in the article, the ramp from I-5 NB to SR14 EB is lots tighter than the existing.

        Also, eliminating the on-ramp to I-5 NB I-5 violates the Federal Highway Standard for access to interstate highways. Even if it were ok with FHWA, how’s that traffic going to get to I-5 NB or to SR14?

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        • Bjorn August 5, 2013 at 10:46 pm

          I think your information is incorrect, everything that I have seen shows 95% of the bridge lifts are due to the difficulty making the S curve due to the poor alignment of the rail bridge with the I-5 bridge.

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          • J_R August 5, 2013 at 11:46 pm

            No. Bjorn. The ones who are wrong are those who keep repeating the erroneous 95 percent figure. As near as I can tell, they simply made up that “statistic.”

            Here’s what it says on page 5-10 in the Traffic Technical Report for the Final EIS:

            5.2.10.1 Gate Closure Statistics for All Days

            “Overall, there were a total of 1,401 gate closures recorded over the three-year period. On average, this works out to be 467 closures per year and 1.28 closures per day. Over half of the closures that occurred were for maintenance involving a bridge lift (51 percent). About one-third (32 percent) of the closures were for bridge lifts related to cargo or noncommercial boats. The remaining 17 percent of the gate closures were due to stoppages that did not involve a bridge lift.”

            So, even if you ELIMINATED the downstream RR bridge, you could not do away with 95 percent of the current bridge lifts. Over half are for maintenance!

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            • Bjorn August 6, 2013 at 7:31 am

              Interesting, the maintenance lifts are done at night so they really don’t cause the kind of large backups that lifts for ships do, my only thought is that the 95% figure is for lifts that occur during rush hour but I will try to investigate further.

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              • Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

                Great conversation, guys. This is something I didn’t know either. I’ll look into it more for the sake of our future coverage.

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                • Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 6, 2013 at 11:06 am

                  From Howell in an email this morning: “We did not include lifts due to maintenance. … 604 lifts occurred in 2004, 550 were for vessels 60 feet or less in height, which could clear the 72 foot high hump.

                  “We did not have the maintenance lift information at the time Spencer made the Common Sense alternative video. Nevertheless, one does not know if all those lifts are typical, or related to specific maintenance projects that would occur infrequently. Also, maintenance lifts on a new bascule bridge could be far less and would be scheduled at times of low traffic.”

                  That comes out to 91% of shipping-related bridge lifts preventable. Like Bjorn, I’m curious whether the maintenance lifts are a significant cause of traffic blockages or congestion.

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                • Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm

                  More from the Coalition for a Livable Future’s Mara Gross:

                  “In looking back at this years later, I realize I missed some data that makes 95% too high. Assuming I’m reading it right now, I’m sorry for the earlier error. Of the 555+ trips annually I used in the calculation, not all of them lead to bridge lifts — according to the DEIS, some medium sized vessels do the tricky S-curve to go under the barge channels rather than the main lift span to avoid the wait for the lift. No numbers are included to say how many, but regardless, those vessels would certainly be helped by moving the rail opening (the DEIS refers to it as a potential safety hazard), so it’s fair to say 95% of river traffic would be helped by moving the swing span, but they shouldn’t all be counted in the numbers of avoided bridge lifts.”

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              • Spencer Boomhower August 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

                I think I see what happened. In researching the making the CSA video I learned that 95 percent of river traffic can bypass the I-5 lift by going under the “hump” near the middle of the river. Not being a hardcore statistician myself, I made sure to get this confirmed by others more versed in facts and figures than myself. It was based on DEIS numbers, and seemed pretty solid. Then, in doing the script, I wrote the, “95 percent of river traffic can bypass the I-5 lift” as: “95% fewer lifts.” This was mainly for brevity; I wanted a bit of text I could place over the 3D bridge, with an arrow pointing at the bridge. Many words wouldn’t fit. But I wasn’t aware of the frequency of maintenance lifts at the time, and thus didn’t realize how important it was to state it more like: “95% fewer lifts due to river traffic.”

                So that was a valuable catch by J_R! I’ll make sure to make that distinction in the future, and clarify what information is out there.

                Sorry for the confusion, Bjorn!

                Beyond that — as already stated here — it does seem like maintenance lifts on the existing bridge, however frequent, are likely done at night and thus have very little impact on traffic congestion. More importantly, the CSA2 talks about a whole new bridge, and as Jim is quoted as saying here by Michael, “maintenance lifts on a new bascule bridge could be far less.” That new bridge is where the I-5 traffic would go.

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            • Dave Thomson August 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

              If over 50% of the lifts were for maintenance that works out to a maintenance lift at least every other day. Can that be right? However, I think that this does raise a good point; the maintenance costs for the old lift mechanisms is probably quite high. Do the states currently pay for that maintenance, or do the feds? Would CSA II move the cost of that maintenance to state or local funding? If the old bridge carrying bike and foot traffic needs a major lift repair in the future would there be a risk it would just be shut down due to lack of budget to fix it?

              Would it make more sense to put light rail and bike/ped on the newest of the old bridges and demolish the other? I admit I have not looked up the numbers to see if there is enough width.

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              • Carter Kennedy August 6, 2013 at 11:25 am

                It’s probably right. The Hawthorne bridge is lifted a couple of times a day just to keep the mechanism in working order.

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    • Spencer Boomhower August 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      “I think you were correct in the original to have called Howell and others “amateur transportation wonks.”

      You can read about Jim’s experience here:

      http://portlandafoot.org/w/Jim_Howell

      Jim Howell is a longtime active transportation and mass transit advocate in Portland. As of April 2011, he serves as director and strategic planner of AORTA.

      Howell was a founder, with Ron Buel, of Sensible Transportation Options for People, one of the organizations that helped kill the planned Mount Hood Freeway in the early 1970s.

      Howell later worked as a service planner for TriMet, where he was involved in the Central Eastside Transit Improvement Plan that created north-south bus lines such as the 70, 72 and 75. He also worked at the time with a young intern named Jarrett Walker.

      Sounds like a pro to me. A retired pro, but pretty active and very effective, even in retirement.

      “And, frankly, there’s no way the costs are anything approaching realistic.”

      Talk to Jim about elements of his plan and he’ll cite sources, including the existing projects on which their based, and the extra padding that has been added to the costs in order to make sure the CSA estimates are conservative.

      And this version of the CSA is based on the original CSA, which was designed in partnership with George Crandall, a principal at the urban design firm Crandall Arambula. (And George might have worked on this version too, but I don’t know either way.) So you’ve got that added expertise as far as realistic costs to go on.

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  • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    The Burnside and Morrison Bridges are bascule bridges.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Burnside_Bridge_(south_side)_open.jpg

    Bascule bridge — the advantage is that when its closed it doesn’t provide obstacles to airplanes, and when its open there’s no limit to how high the load can be on the barge.

    This plan would allow for eventual removal of the I-5 bridge towers — when the bridges get old or wear out in 40 years, they could replace them with additional bascule bridges, and then there would be no encroachment on the Pearson Field approach path.

    I don’t know why I’m defending this so much — it’s a great idea, but I doubt the gov’t would be willing to build it as-is — they’d want to pile on the pork — demolish a few more perfectly good things in the area, make the new I-5 bridge 5 lanes wide just in case Oregon widens I-5 to 7 lanes in North Portland someday…

    This kind of idea goes to show, though, what a lousy design the original CRC was.

    Nice work, Jim!

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler August 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    To add to the description in the original post —

    A “Bascule lift span” is like the Burnside Bridge or the Morrison Bridge. It allows ships/barges of infinite height to pass through. And it doesn’t have tall towers.

    The current I-5 bridges have lift spans, which go 170′ up, but also have towers that are 170′ high, which are a navigational hazard to air traffic at Evergreen Field.

    A “Bascule” span on I-5 would be nonstandard for new interstate highway construction, but if it was coupled with an additional moving span to the RR bridge so barges low enough to fit under the middle of the old I-5 bridges could use that route even at high water, then bridge lifts would be so rare that the bridge proponents could likely get an exemption from the federal regulations that mandate “no lift spans on interstate highway bridges.”

    This would also allow eventual replacement of the existing I-5 bridges, in 40 years, with Bascule bridges. And then the lift towers, which are a navigational hazard to Pearson Field, would be permanently removed.

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  • Chris I August 5, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Perfect. This is exactly what I have been calling for from the beginning. Don’t destroy functioning infrastructure. Add to it what you need, and do it in a cost-effective manner.

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  • MaxD August 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I keep fantasizing about making I-205 into I-5, then slowly devolving I-5 into a local expressway. Maybe it could get the 99 designation, and 99 could be made safer. The existing I-5 could still be a fast way to get across town, but separated bike ways could be added, speed could be reduced to 45 mph, and maybe in a few years it could be completely demolished south of the I-84 interchange, thereby opening up the eastside waterfront. I-205 could be improved by adding a lane, but also designating freight and HOV lanes, with a single local/SOV lane. This might allow tolling and re-purposing of the current I-5 bridges tio include light rail and improved bike/ped facilities. Improving rail across the Columbia and getting local access to Hayden Island seems imperative. Overall, I would love to see I-5 reduced in size and importance. I lived in Vancouver BC for 5 years, and drove across Canada once. I love how their highway system slows down and normalizes when it enters a town. I think it is completely inappropriate to expect an uninterrupted, 65 mph route through the very center of a city. Freight can move through a city just fine at 35 mph, or go a couple of miles out of their way to go around.

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    • Nate Young August 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      I hadn’t thought of this HUGE benefit of swapping designations. I doubt existing I-5 would ever be completely removed, but it could make other options, like burying the eastside section between 405 and the Fremont Bridge more realistic. Think of how much prime real estate that would free up. We could have an attractive waterfront on both sides of the river.

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      • Spencer Boomhower August 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm

        Yeah totally. If nothing else, it could remain a high-capacity road, but one more suited to travel through the middle of a city. Because the more I think about it, the more the cramming of the Interstate Highway System through the middle of a destination-rich urban area seems like a crazy — and failed — idea. Trying to meet the interstate highway design mandates — high speeds, never stopping — within a dense area anyone actually wants to go to or leave seems like an exercise in futility. The ripple effects of that many people exiting and entering it with any frequency overwhelms the system on a regular basis; twice a day at least. It’s a fragile system, unlike a surface road networks. So let’s stop pouring so much wealth into the effort.

        There would be the loss of federal funding, but with something like the CRC the feds were only ever going to pay for a third of the project, where they paid for something like 90% of putting the Interstate through cities in the first place (to the dismay of Eisenhower, BTW, he for whom the system was named). But that, it seems like, would be a small price to pay to free up the city to make the throughway something that wouldn’t jam up at the slightest exposure to urban congestion The lanes could be made a little narrower, the speed could be brought down — which of course allows more cars to fit in the same space — there could be intersections instead of wildly expensive interchanges (look in this article at the costs of the interchanges in the CRC; the Hayden Island interchange, essentially a big tangled intersection, would have cost half a billion dollars), there could be the occasional stop light, access to commercial sites, and, there could even be tree cover. Maybe something like 99E south of Portland:

        http://goo.gl/maps/9r8Wv

        Burying it would be cool too of course! But if that’s not an option, this more modest and scaled-down approach might work.

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        • Spencer Boomhower August 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm

          Actually, I should rephrase this to be: “But that, it seems like, would be a small price to pay to free up the city *and state, for far less money than it would cost to build a comparable stretch of interstate highway* to make the throughway something that wouldn’t jam up at the slightest exposure to urban congestion…”

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  • Carter Kennedy August 6, 2013 at 11:12 am

    You know Hayden Island landowners are going to hate it, as well as the Port of Portland as a future owner (in their eyes) of a port on the island. They want direct freeway access to and from the north. We will have to fight them at every step.

    A lift span is good for fuel efficiency and air pollution and CO2 emissions. With a high bridge, thousands of cars and trucks a day push themselves and their loads a hundred feet in the air to get over the bridge. That burns a lot of fuel compared to a low bridge. It’s better to have a low bridge with infrequent, fast lifts.

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  • Nate Young August 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    TOLL I-5 and 205 now. It would greatly reduce trips by people that don’t really need to cross, incentivize those that do to carpool, take the bus, etc., and reduce congestion for long-haul transport, for whom a $3 will meaningfully add to total costs.

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  • Alain August 6, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Carter Kennedy
    You know Hayden Island landowners are going to hate it, as well as the Port of Portland as a future owner (in their eyes) of a port on the island. They want direct freeway access to and from the north. We will have to fight them at every step.

    You could include Cascade Station with Hayden Island.

    It would be interesting to see a count of WA cars that sitting in the parking lots of Ikea, Target, etc., on any given day. It’s unfortunate that these types of *border* developments (shopping centers) get built. Not good urban planning IMO.

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  • Nathanael August 7, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Two proposals to improve “Common Sense II”
    (1) The 1917 bridge (NB) is probably in worse shape than the 1958 bridge (SB). Put MAX, the bike lanes, and the pedestrian lanes on the 1958 bridge. The 1917 bridge can be used for cars & trucks as long as it remains in good condition, and demolished if it does not remain in good condition. It is OK if the road bridge terminus from Vancouver to Hayden Island does not link directly to the road bridge from Portland to Hayden Island, since we don’t really want either of them to be used for through traffic.

    (2) Remove the Hayden Island exits from I-5.

    Of course the fixes to the BNSF bridge are the most crucial parts of the entire project.

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    • Ted Buehler August 7, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      As I recall, the 1917 bridge is in better shape than the 1958 bridge. Possibly because the truss girders are box beams of bolted I-beams with cross members, while the 1958 bridge has enclosed box girders with oval-shaped apertures every 10 feet or so.

      You get a lot more pigeon poop in the enclosed box girders. It’s one of the things that weakened the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.

      FWIW,
      Ted Buehler

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  • Robert Burchett August 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Someone mentioned the zero alternative–change nothing. Here’s another idea–the minus three plan: close any three on-ramps to I-5 North (I say make Hayden Island one of them) so yes I’m cheating, my preferred option involves a street bridge to Hayden Island. Buy out the box stores on H.I. and build a new rail bridge with a dedicated passenger right-of-way. There, we’re up to a billion. Four billion saved, less 170 million tossed at planning CRC, plus interest as mentioned above.

    Before anyone objects to increased traffic on surface streets–have you driven a NE Portland N-S arterial on a weekday afternoon, lately? I think there people ducking I-5 N on 7th Avenue for dog sake. And traffic–in all the talk of costs, has anyone tried to assess the cost of several years of bad traffic during CRC construction?

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  • Ted Buehler August 7, 2013 at 9:38 pm
    • MaxD August 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      I recall the Oregon funding measure (was it HB 2800?) being tied to matching funds from WA. How can they even consider moving forward without WA? Does anyone know what it would take to accomplish the governor’s goal of just building the Oregon piece of this boondoggle?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

        Everything I’ve heard suggests it’d require legislative action before Sept. 30 in a special session of the Oregon legislature.

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  • Paikikala August 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Maybe I missed it, but why an alignment east of the current bridge? For that matter, since it is actually two parallel bridges, why not one on either side of the current bridges?

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    • Chris I August 15, 2013 at 10:59 am

      An upstream alignment makes more sense because of the S-curve maneuver the current bridges do when they hit the Washington side. An upstream bridge will align directly with the I-5 north of the river.

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