Concerns about the Crossing

Columbia River Crossing Forum
[Transportation activist and
blogger Chris Smith questions
the Crossing at a
panel discussion on 1/4/07.]

Last night at my neighborhood meeting I heard two strange presentations. They both had to do with billion dollar mega-projects that are intended to increase capacity on Interstate 5 and thereby decrease congestion.

As I listened I couldn’t help but feel like I was in some sort of surreal nightmare.

I thought everyone knew that increasing highway capacity only encourages more use of motor vehicles while doing nothing to get to the root cause of the problems.

I thought we’d evolved beyond thinking we can build our way out of our addiction to oil and automobiles. I thought widening freeways and bridges was something planners looked back on in textbooks as what not to do.

Apparently I’m not up with the times, because ODOT’s I-5 Widening and the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) projects are both moving full steam ahead. I’m no expert on either of these, but something just doesn’t feel right.

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion on the CRC and heard a surprising amount of concern and questioning about the project from an esteemed panel of experts. Two of those panel members recently penned a provocative editorial in the Oregonian that I encourage you to read.

At this point CRC project staff want to move forward with only one option; to build an immense new bridge that will have 10-12 lanes of auto traffic. The cost estimates (which they haven’t finalized) are a staggering $2 billion.

Surely we can think of more innovative, inexpensive and sustainable solutions to decrease congestion?

At that panel discussion earlier this month, I met 72 year-old veteran transportation activist Jim Howell.

In a recent Oregonian article, Ron Buel, a consummate insider, businessman, and founder of the Willamette Week said,

“I don’t think you can name more than half a dozen people who have had more impact on the face of the Portland metro area than Jim Howell.”

So when Jim talks, I listen. He told me he has reservations about the way the CRC staff are moving forward and that it’s reminiscent of another mega-project that never saw the light of day.

Then Jim showed me this old report from the infamous Mt. Hood Freeway Project.

[The note says, “This mega freeway project was never built because of ODOT’s hubris. Will the $2 billion freeway bridge over the Columbia River meet the same fate for the same reason?”]

Jim says the folks behind the Mt. Hood Freeway had other options for their mega-project besides barreling straight into residential Division Street, but they chose to ignore them. He thinks their insistence on this one (unpopular) option is what led to the demise of the whole project.

Consequently (and thankfully) the defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway led to millions of dollars being spent on many small, more sensible transportation projects (which included bicycle, pedestrian, and light rail projects).

Maybe I’m missing something, but part of me would love to see the Columbia River Crossing project see the same fate.

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