Let's shift the dialogue on the Columbia Crossing project

Posted by on February 20th, 2007 at 11:44 am

Columbia River Crossing Forum

The Columbia River Crossing project is moving into a crucial phase, and it’s headed in the wrong direction.

A few weeks ago, I expressed concern about this project. Since then I’ve learned more and heard from many experts who share my concerns.

It’s now clear to me that we need to do something to stop the current course of action.

At this point, ODOT and WashDOT want to spend (a recently estimated) $6 billion to increase motor vehicle and freight capacity between Vancouver and North Portland by building an immense, new I-5 bridge and by re-designing the interchanges that access it.

So what’s the big deal? Where’s the controversy?

First, my concerns have nothing to do with bicycle access or facilities. This is about the bigger picture of how this major transportation project impacts all of us.

I’m troubled because ODOT and WashDOT are moving forward with a flawed process that has not given a fair shake to alternatives, has raised eyebrows of transportation experts, elected officials, and concerned citizens, and favors old-school, highway-oriented solutions that reek of the the classic misconception that we can build our way out of congestion.

I’m also troubled because it seems like many folks are just accepting the CRC Staff’s ideas, without really looking into what’s happening.

I’m no transportation expert, but the more I learn and hear about this project, the more concerned I get. I think you will too.

Consider these points:

  • The CRC staff wants to move forward in the process with only one option (they claim two) — a new bridge with some form of public transit — instead of considering other alternatives.
  • They claim to have looked at other options, but the methods in place to evaluate them are too restrictive (for instance, they won’t consider using an existing railroad bridge to the West because they say it’s outside of the project area).
  • The exorbitant $6 billion price tag would, according to transportation experts, “wipe out all transportation projects for the next 10 years.”
  • The CRC staff has not done a cost-benefit analysis of their new bridge option.
  • The assumptions that led them to their recommended option — an increase of 50,000 autos a day in the next 20 years — are not in line with reality.
  • Oregon will pay 50% even though the congestion is caused primarily by Washington-based commuters who choose to drive single-occupancy motorized vehicles into Portland.
  • A recent vote by the SW Washington Regional Transportation Council was split 6-4-2 in a vote on whether to support the CRC’s staff recommendation: all three Clark County Commissioners voted in opposition (including Steve Stuart who wonders where the money will come from.

These are compelling warning signs that the CRC project staff, ODOT, and WashDOT need to slow down and recognize that a much broader conversation must happen before they move forward.

It’s time to shift the dialogue to more sensible solutions and alternatives.

On that note, there are two very important meetings coming up where we need your voice to help make this happen.

Metro Council hearing
2pm, this Thursday (2/22)
Metro Regional Center, 600 NE Grand, Portland

Columbia River Crossing Task Force meeting
4-8pm, Tuesday, 2/27
ODOT – 123 NW Flanders St., Portland

At the Metro hearing, two Metro Councilors will introduce resolutions calling for more consideration of alternatives. Learn more about both meetings at PortlandTransport.com.

Please consider attending one or both of these meetings.

If this project moves forward in its current form, it will have a huge, negative impact on the development of our transportation network, will harm community livability, and will be a step backwards for our region.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Attornatus_Oregonensis
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Attornatus_Oregonensis

“Oregon will pay 50% even though the congestion is caused primarily by Washington-based commuters who choose to drive single-occupancy motorized vehicles into Portland.”

Portland is my city, and it is a beautiful city. It should not be designed for people to drive into and out of more easily each day. It should be designed for the people who live here.

Joe Planner
Guest
Joe Planner

Agreed. Our region can’t afford a $6 billion bridge while local streets crumble, cities fail to implement bike and pedestrian plans, and schools remain underfunded.

The one clear alternative is to begin charging congestion tolls on both interstate bridges so that commuters pay to use the “limited” road space and begin prioritizing their trips.. Also, we should introduce a higher quality form of mass transit as an alternative to driving for those unwilling or unable to afford the toll. Perhaps we might consider a new bridge if traffic is still gridlocked on the bridges, assuming that tolls could cover it’s cost.

Think about it.. most users of those bridges are daily users from Clark County. I’ve driven over that bridge twice in my life and I’d venture to guess many Portlanders rarely use it. So explain why we need to spend $3 billion on our end? I heard the argument once that it allows economic development on the Oregon side of the border because we don’t charge sales tax, but consider the type of retail that most people would drive 10-15 miles to reach.. big box stores.. which Portland needs less of, not more.. Enough said..

Carl
Guest
Carl

I’m down for throwing energy into stopping this, but I don’t know how best to attack it. What is the best way to “shift the dialogue?”

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

great Carl.

I think if the community shows up in large numbers in opposition at one or both of the two meetings it will help start the “shift”.

Also, the standard methods like writing letters to newspapers, and writing to commissioners and other elected officials would be advisable.

Our leaders need to know we are not for this. If they don’t hear from us, they assume we like the plan!

JayS,
Guest
JayS,

Seems like making all those vancoucverites take trains or busses and then rent/borrow bikes in p-town would be a grand solution.
1.Invest in good public transportation between Vancouver and Portland
2. invest in Portland bike sharing
3. invest in bettter bike lanes and blvds for Portland and Vancouver
4.save some of that 3billion for our schools and other needs

Evan
Guest
Evan

Where is the discussion about making this crossing a toll bridge? That’s how transportation projects are funded on the east coast and elsewhere all over the world. After the project is paid for, which may well be a long time, the money goes into the general fund or funneled to mass transit. You don’t even need a toll booth anymore, you can get those sensors to put in your car and you are automatically charged. That way the people who USE it PAY for it. Duh.

DR
Guest
DR

Thanks for bringing this up, Jonathan. It’d be great to see a huge turnout from the cycling community on Thursday. The city will never be truly bike friendly if we continue to allow it to be inundated with automobiles. If we’re serious about working to that end, this topic should generate far more interest than any fixed gear or stop sign argument ever has.

This is our generation’s Mt. Hood Freeway. Let’s stop it cold.

West Cougar
Guest
West Cougar

People always want to beat-up Washington commuters, but they do pay Oregon income taxes. At 9% that is skin in the game.

Not saying Columbia Crossing is a good thing, or that I like Washingtonians (IMO as a group they are the worst drivers in Portland), but Washington commuters should be able to expect a little something for the 9%, no?

mike
Guest
mike

I do not have kids, but I’d rather my dollars went to public schools than this. I’m not homeless, but I’d gladly for more for shelters.
I should think there are dozens of better uses for 6 billion dollars.
Why would one of the most progressive cities in the entire US take a step so backwards? The 50’s are over; the days of cheap and abundant oil are over; global warming is a reality. Who are these people that do not understand these things?

OnTheRoad
Guest
OnTheRoad

My understanding (and I have not followed this that closely) is that at least some of the project is predicated on improving freight movement.

The Interstate Bridge-Delta Park area is supposed to be one of the worst bottlenecks for trucking between San Diego and Vancouver BC.

Focusing on the commuter traffic only without addressing some of the other will probably not get you very far.

Enginerd
Guest
Enginerd

What concerns me is that the EIS team is proposing to review only one true alternative vs. no action.

Light Rail vs. Bus Rapid Transit as an “alternative” is kind of like asking do you want walnuts or pecans on your ice cream sundae…it’s trivia.

The EIS process is supposed to examine reasonable alternatives and choose a preferred one based on environmental consequences. Often, the Preferred Alternative is a hybrid of several alternatives that are reviewed. How do you choose a preferred alternative when you only have one?

I’ve been told that the Sellwood Bridge EIS will likely look at 3 or 4 alternatives in addition to no action. That makes sense.

Let’s face it, the existing I-5 bridges are at the end of their structural lifespan and DO need to have mega rehab or be replaced. And the bike/ped facility on I-5 stinks. But…what CRC is proposing is crazy huge in it’s scale, cost, and likely impact.

NPBike
Guest
NPBike

I agree with two points above (and others)
1. This is not a bike project, and attempts at stalling this project based on its bike elements or lack thereof will be discounted…don’t take that the wrong way, I’m only saying it will be more effective to look at how this process is flawed for almost every mode. Bikes will be part of any discussion (as they have been so far on this project) because of the great advocacy work over the past 20+ years.

2. I’m with Carl, I want to help but don’t really know how and am not a big fan of public meetings, I feel like the comments are heard, but not really documented and don’t really lead to any changes…a formal letter with a petition from all bikeportland users is more up my alley, just a thought.

Attornatus_Oregonensis
Guest
Attornatus_Oregonensis

I’m sure that a major force behind this is indeed improving freight movement, and the location certainly is a bottleneck. Here are your two choices for improving freight movement:

1. Keep widening the roads indefinitely.

2. Reduce the number of single-passenger commuter vehicles on the road.

As for the EIS, it’s important for people (Jonathan?) to articulate an alternate proposal and document that can decrease congestion. Then it must be considered in the EIS.

Burr
Guest
Burr

“…Washington commuters should be able to expect a little something for the 9%, no?”

As someone else already said, they get to shop tax-free in Oregon, plus they get to pay for the congestion and damage they do to our roads while they are here out of their 9%; I think that 9% covers these things quite well, hence the new bridge would be extra…

Brian E.
Guest
Brian E.

Option 3, improve rail service for freight and trucks.

Burr
Guest
Burr

Make it a toll road

Lenny Anderson
Guest

Freight is only 10% of vehicles in the peaks, and the first project to be built on I-5 in North Portland…the widening of the southbound lanes between Delta Park and Lombard…actually removes a freight friendly add-lane off Columbia Blvd. If you want to move freight, you must reduce the number of SOVs in the peaks by giving travelers real options, i.e. MAX. It works on Swan Island, it will work on I-5. Anyone remember the bridge closure in ’97? Piece of cake.
I was the lone dissenter on the Governors’ I-5 Task Force final recommendation in 2002.

Evan Manvel, BTA
Guest

An interesting question when we think about making it a toll road is: how high would the toll have to be to fund the whole project? $6 a vehicle? $12? More? Portland Transport has discussed this issue.

aaron
Guest
aaron

unfortunately for everyone, ballot measures in Clark County to extend Max lines into Vancouver, WA have been overwhelmingly defeated for the past few years. It seems ironic that the Clark county commissioners voted against this project, given that these are the same folks who got rid of the short-lived South bound I-5 HOV lane that ran through Vancouver due to, guess what, overwhelming public disapproval.

Garlynn
Guest

Carl, Comment #3:

I think that the best solution with regards to the flavor of comments to provide at these meetings is this:

* Demand that a new bridge project be considered only if it pays for itself through tolls.

* Suggest that a new arterial bridge be considered instead of a new freeway bridge (since most bridge traffic is local, an arterial bridge — like the St. Johns or the Ross Island — would probably solve the congestion on the freeways).

* Agree with Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who said that no new bridge should be considered at all unless it includes an extension of the light rail line.

I think those three points would address most of the issues with this project, and would protect our Oregon tax dollars from being wasted on this project at all. If the project truly needs to be built, a Toll Authority will be formed, some improvements will be made to the I-205 bridge as well, and all Columbia River crossings in the metro region will be tolled, and those tolls bonded, to pay for the improvements.

NW
Guest
NW

If you can’t make it to the Metro Council Meeting this Thursday at 2:00 pm you can still email a letter to Metro President David Bragdon and Metro Councilors billingtonc@metro.dst.or.us.
Of course it’s better if you can be there in person.

disco_bravo
Guest
disco_bravo

The $6B price tag is tough to swallow. People are starting to ask some good questions about the cost and benefit of this project.

But I don’t see anyone supporting an alternative solution. I see people supporting more studies. Considering the amount of studies that have already been done, shouldn’t something stand out?

FWIW, I’m one of the few(?) Vancouver to Portland bike commuters that only started on my bike because the congestion was SO bad around the bridge. I’ll never go back to driving. Now I like the traffic – it gives people stuck in their cars a better chance to see a happy bike commuter in action.

Brad
Guest
Brad

What’s scary to me is that we’ll blow $6 billion or more on this bridge and when it is completed in 2015 (the date I heard), it could be a virtual ghost bridge in an age of $5-7/gallon gasoline (perhaps more?)and wider acceptance of telecommuting as a means to keep business costs down and improve worker retention. But the few truckers left will have smooth sailing.

Then again, local government loves to waste money on crap like this. Just call it “The Kulongoski Bridge” and divert some funds to “The Adams Couplet” and we’ll have a new bridge but potholed local arterials, overcrowded MAX trains, and no new bike infrastructure.

Doug Allen
Guest
Doug Allen

Regarding a couple of points raised above: The existing bridges have not reached the end of their structural life. They received a recent rehab, and are structurally fine — the engineers agree on this. They are just full. Plus they might benefit from some seismic strengthening if we plan on having an earthquake.

As for alternatives, there is a solid one that the CRC refuses to put in the EIS: Keep I-5 through traffic on the existing bridges; remove the interchanges at either end, so that there are three effective lanes each way, not two; build supplemental bridges to Hayden Island from Portland and Vancouver for local auto, truck, bicycle, and MAX traffic; change the railroad bridge by moving the opening one span south and using a lift, not a swing span.

This allows barge traffic to go under the “humps” in the I-5 bridges, so the I-5 lift spans only need to open a few times a year in the middle of the night. All this costs only a fraction of the CRC staff recommended option.

This is the option in Rex Burkholder’s resolution at Metro. It deserves equal study with the staff’s option. I think it is much better for Oregon.

Freight should be addressed by special measures to benefit trucks. Otherwise induced auto traffic will just crowd out the trucks once again.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

A thought on tolls.

Tolls tend to function as a regressive tax. Meaning that as a percentage of yearly income, they hit those who can least afford them the hardest. Those who can most afford them AND often gain the most from the infrastructure, pay the least.

Not that I am opposed to any toll, just that we recognize that tolls do tend to hit the poorer and working class a lot harder.

I’d be cautious about looking to the East Coast for progressive or innovative solutions to transportation issues, especially as they relate to privately owned/funded highways. So much for the commons.

By the way, I live and work in Portland and commute by bike everyday. Except while mending my currently broken ribs; then I take the MAX.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

If we are going to add tolls lets make them variable, ie higher priced during the busiest times. Congestion pricing could help smooth out the bridge usage, increasing the effective capacity of the bridge and reducing the call for expansion.

Bjorn

JE
Guest
JE

A lot of talk about the freight traffic. One thing not mentioned is the railroad bridge next to the Interstate Bridge. Because the openings of the two bridges are not lined up, ships and tugs must go slow meaning that both bridges must be opened longer. The railroad bridge is a major bottleneck in rail traffic along the west coast. I wonder if improving the rail bridge could lessen the amount of trucks on I5.

Molly
Guest
Molly

Not all Vancouverites drive SUVs across the I-5 bridge. I used to take C-Tran every day to get to work downtown and back until they started charging $3 a ride with no transfers.

For the past 9 months, I have been riding my bike and was surprised at how easy it is. I tell people about commuting across the bridge and many of them have no idea there is even a bike/pedestrian walkway.

There is no easy solution to the bridge problem, but I think having a toll is the way to go.

Lenny Anderson
Guest

For the record, there was one vote in Clark county in 1995 on the then proposed South/North MAX line. It did fail, but times and demographics have changed.
Also, tolls were used to pay for the first Interstate Bridge in 1917 and for the second span in 1958.
For me: no MAX, no Toll = no Bridge.

Ron Buel
Guest

Jonathan: Great job on the story. I love reading this website and seeing all the intelligent comment you attract.
It’s important to note that ODOT & Washdot project 50,000 more vehicle trips on the bridge in the next 20 years. We need to try to make those trips transit and bicycle. And if that discourages sprawl that is permitted in Washington, so be it. A 10-12 lane bridge that costs $6 billion simply subsidizes the Clark County sprawl, while taking money away from more rational projects in the Portland region, including those that serve cyclists. Freight is better served, too, by a plan that gets single-passenger vehicles off the roads. We don’t need to move the bottleneck a few miles down the freeway, as we have done with the Sunset widening. That’s all this huge project will do. The days of freeway-type expansion in the Portland region should have ended when we killed the Mt. Hood Freeway and the Westside Bypass, and the world didn’t come to an end.

Dancing Lemur
Guest
Dancing Lemur

It should be pointed out that the option being proposed does include better bike access and a transit option (lightrail, express buses, combo of both). Just FYI – people are thinking about the big picture. And they are holding public meetings so the public CAN have some input. Make your voice be heard if you have an opinion (which we all should have about such a big project). Heard there has been BTA input – what is BTAs take on the project?…

Macaroni
Guest
Macaroni

Yeah, I’m tired of subsidizing Vanlosers who pollute our air, clog our interstate and take our jobs while living in another state because they don’t give a rip about the Portland area community. All they care about is money. They’ll sit in a traffic jam for an hour because they’re too stupid to take a bus.
They don’t want to pay their way for anything. These selfish cheapskates voted down light rail years ago. There needs to be a high toll to drive over the bridge. User fees are required to use recreational areas, frickin’ lazy-a** drivers need to pay their way for a change.
Oregon’s economy is good but unemployment is still high. Why? Because 70,000 Vanlosers come over here every day and take our jobs.
It’s about time Oregon employers hired Oregonians first.
This is Portland and we shouldn’t be forced to provide the lifestyle Vanlosers want. If Oregon isn’t good enough for them to live in, they should stay the he** in Washington.
This has been a gripe of mine for a long time. We pay and pay and pay while they use and use and use.

Macaroni
Guest
Macaroni

And in answer to West Cougar, who said:
“Washington commuters should be able to expect a little something for the 9%, no?”

I say: They get a job that could’ve gone to an Oregonian who is vested in the state and loves it enough to actually live in it.