The Classic - Cycle Oregon

The CRC and sprawl: A tale of two regions

Posted by on March 24th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

One thing that makes the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project such a headache for policy makers, and for anyone trying to make sense of the debate, is that it involves two places with very different ideas about planning for transportation and population growth.

Those places are Clark County, Washington and the Portland metro area.

Check out the graphic below. It shows the the population density outside the urban growth areas of Vancouver and Portland…

According to Sightline, “One purple dot represents 10 new people outside of growth boundaries, 1990 to 2000.” (U.S. Census data)

On one side of the river, you have political leadership that is pushing for density and land-use policies that make the use of light-rail and bicycles possible. And on the other side, you’ve got a situation where it’s difficult (and not surprisingly unpopular) to use anything but a single-occupancy motor vehicle.

[UPDATE 3/24, 10:29pm; The Oregonian just published a story about the CRC and sprawl, A new I-5 Columbia River bridge raises sprawl questions.]

For more on this, and all the other fascinating topics surrounding the CRC, don’t miss tomorrow’s debate/forum hosted by the Bus Project and the Portland Mercury.

    March Debate Club – Columbia River Crossing
    3/25, 7-9pm
    The Edge of Belmont (SE 34th between Belmont and Morrison)
    Event website

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • dennis March 24, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Portland\’s approach is unique. The results are also unique. The results are something that all urban areas should be striving for.

    Vancouver hasn\’t figured out what the future will bring, as of yet. Perhaps when fuel reaches $8 per gallon, they\’ll begin to wake up from the petrolium slumber.

    The immenent future is that of localization, and shared resources. People living in Battle Ground, Yacolt, Amboy, Orchards, La Center and Venersburg are going to have serious trouble once this happens. We\’re already beginning to see a real estate glut in these rural areas.

    I believe that once light rail has been installed up to 39th street, people will begin to see the benefits of commuting by rail, and bicycle.

    At the moment, those of us that are living here in Vancouver, and realize how unsustainable are frustrated, by the people that believe that using a large SUV is their right. We\’re frustrated by the extremely poor land use planning, the lack of neighborhood asthetic, and the way Clark County has been sliced up by freeways.

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  • DJ Hurricane March 24, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    I think the problem here is that we have one region, not two – but two governments – one which acts responsibly, and one that does not.

    Oregon and Washington, in keeping with both States\’ stated policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, should enter into an interstate compact that extends the Metro governmental structure over the Washington counties in the PDS metro area. That way, we could have a concerted transportation planning policy and avoid duplication of governmental services.

    By the way, motor vehicles are the leading cause of global warming emissions in both states.

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  • Racer X March 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    The situation is more nuanced: there is a range of governmental and development viewpoints…Portland on one end and Clark County on the other.

    Vancouver is in the middle in many ways…not as green as Portland and not as wedded to low low density sprawl as Clark County. (Vancouver and the County had been in a locked battle over the cancelation of the urban growth plan, the recent blow out (20+ sq miles – my memory) of the Vancouver Growth Boundary by the County and the City\’s attempt to annex a lot of the subpar exurban development…this legal and policy fight was recently set aside by a short term compromise.

    And Vancouver has a lot of commuters who work in Portland and live in the County and want nothing other than to zip quickly to work by car…rapid transit to Portland works for many but it is often tough (slow) to take local transit to the transfer points to the Portland routes…this is why the proposed CRC park and rides are 200% to 400% bigger than any current facility.

    Remember that Clark County has been the relief valve for many of the ills of the evolving Portland development model families who have left Portland for schools, social services, and post war land use patterns (aka American Dream). This is also tied to wages…I wonder if the Portland business leaders could keep much of their business plans here without \’lower wage\’ pressure from Washington residents working in Oregon (land, housing, schools, no state income taxes for spouses who work in WA, etc.).

    The other unique issue is that the Clark County Commissioners (3 elected officials) radically shifted more into a pro-prodeveloper focus after the last election with the election of Steve Stuart…the former executive director of FOCC (local 1000 Friends chapter). He is the odd vote out now: 2 pro growth vs. 1 very weak moderate growth vote – vs. it being flip flopped before.

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  • BURR March 24, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    subtract the cars with washington plates from portland traffic and congestion would be less and the streets would be much safer. we should be making it harder for them to drive into Portland, not easier.

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  • dano March 25, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Thanks for those analyses. I generally have a tough time making sense of the complexity of it all and it\’s nice to have new perspectives.

    I\’ve lived in Portland for 12 years. The only time I get frustrated by the seeming lack of infastructure planning is when I get in my car.
    I tend to think that people know what they\’re doing when they moved to Beaverton or Vancouver or Clackamas, I knew a guy who built a house in LaCenter and commuted to Sellwood each day because the lot was $40k cheaper. To me that seemed rediculous.

    At the same time a 5 acre pastural spread in Battleground looks pretty nice to me sometimes, so long as I could work from home – but I can\’t, so I stay in Portland and I live as close to the center as I can afford. There\’s no farmland, but there are empty lots and drug dealing on the street. I occasionally get spare-changed when I step out my front door. There are also families living on my street and they feel safe enough, as I do. It\’s not terrible pretty but we live in a community here. I\’m also near bike lanes and downtown, and If I do get in my car it\’s in the opposite direction of traffic.

    Portland infrastructure can\’t handle more cars. The Chokepoints of I-5 and 26 might not have been planned, but they suit me just fine. The only new ways into the city should be rail and ped/bike and if they\’re attached to a new roadway I think we can live without them. Vancouver can do what it wants, but if it\’s their intention to build low density bedroom communities and send everyone to work in Portland, one person per car, I\’d say that\’s a plan that Portland should fight. Portland\’s not an office park or an industrial zone. It\’s a city full of people and families and more cars and trucks make it worse. Our lives shouldn\’t be degraded so that someone choosing to live in a cute little subdivision 20 miles away doesn\’t have a hard commute.

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  • turbodragon March 25, 2008 at 6:47 am

    I read the Oregonian article and it forgot to state that the CRC project would add light rail and tolling, two major ways to control traffic and sprawl in Clark County. The Oregonian article, unfortunately, didn\’t mention what would happen if the so-called auxiliary lanes, light rail and tolling didn\’t happen … there would actually be more traffic and more sprawl in Clark County. It is an interesting debate, but there is a lot of misinformation out there and the press is doing a lousy job covering the topic.

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  • G.A.R. March 25, 2008 at 7:11 am

    I\’m with Burr. Toll the existing bridge, and use the proceeds for a new anything-but-a-car facility.

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  • Qwendolyn March 25, 2008 at 7:14 am

    This sentence from the Oregonian article doesn\’t even make sense:

    But Cortright suggests another alternative: \”It\’s just as easy to say that more jobs will grow in Clark County, and more of the people who live in Clark County will choose to work in Clark County.

    If people are going to live and work in Clark County, what does that have to do with a bridge?

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  • DJ Hurricane March 25, 2008 at 7:21 am

    Ask not for whom the bridge tolls, it tolls for thee.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) March 25, 2008 at 7:28 am

    \”If people are going to live and work in Clark County, what does that have to do with a bridge?\”


    I think Cortright is saying that the idea of job growth and people staying in Clark County (instead of driving to work in Portland), is just as plausible as saying that a new $4.2 billion bridge project will reduce congestion, make travel safer, save the world, etc…

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  • Qwendolyn March 25, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Oops, I get it.
    He\’s arguing against the bridge.

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  • joe adamski March 25, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Lets not forget freight. Jobs in Clark Co as well as Portland Metro, and both States rely on efficient transfer of goods. Time spent idling behind a zillion single occupancy cars affects bottom lines.

    Getting those cars out of the mix has economic impacts too. Wherever you live.

    My personal view is a no build option with tolling for cars. That would probably improve the situation more than adding capacity.

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  • SteveG March 25, 2008 at 10:22 am

    How about this? Build nothing. Convert two lanes of the EXISTING bridge (one lane in each direction) into freight/transit/HOT(high occupancy/toll) lanes.

    The cost to the public would be minimal, especially with electronic tolling, and the effects would be dramatic: freight would breeze through, people in a hurry would either ride transit, vanpools or carpools, and if they can afford it, they\’d pay a hefty toll and zoom through quickly in the HOT lane. Everyone else would have to live with the status quo: congestion.

    And as they watch the dedicated lane move quickly, maybe the Clark County SOV drivers would find a carpool — or better yet, support C-TRAN, and get on the bus.

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  • JE March 25, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I was reading over the history of our region. I was hoping to find one name for our whole metropolis. Before there was a Portland, there was Ft. Vancouver; the center of trade in the region. Surrounding the Fort, housing those who worked there was Kanaka Village. Kanaka is a Hawaiian word for themselves, and was the British term for the Polynesian migrates they employed.

    Though the economic center has shifted away from the Fort, there is still one Kanaka City surrounding it. Viewed has single city, that map looks very different. Perhaps we would do better if we considered the future of Kanaka has a whole, rather than separate parts.

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  • dennis March 25, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I understand the hostility toward clark county residents. But keep in mind, if there was an equivelent sales tax in Oregon, businesses would do much better in Vancouver, they\’d hire more people.

    You have to think of Vancouver like any other \”outside of Portland Community\” such as Hillsboro, Clackamas, or Gresham. Yes, we\’d all love to live inside the Portland metro area, but it\’s simply not possible, with the outragous property prices inside the growth boundry.

    The other thing to keep in mind, Vancouver residents make most of their major purchases inside of Portland, the money goes both ways. I\’m for replacing the bridge, with the same number of lanes, but with adding one HOV lane each way, Light rail to Salmon Creek, and extensive bicycle facilities in the rest of Vancouver

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  • dano March 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    It\’s nice to think regionally and I\’m sure the mayor of Vancouver (and many residents) feel a lot more connected to Portland than to, say, Seattle. But for the past 10 or twenty years it seems like Clark county has been happy to develop as a bedroom community, collecting property taxes and building roads with little regard for any form of transportation other than automobiles. All those car friendly roads and highways seem to be designed to deliver cars to the bridges, is there any surprise that there\’s traffic when they hit Portland, which has specifically avoided that sort of development? It\’s laughable to think more lanes would change it, but I like the toll idea and the HOV lanes which worked really well when they were doing work on I5 a few years ago.

    Traffic is what you\’re buying when you get a house with a two car garage on a quarter acre for the same price as my 900sqft 2 bedroom on 2500 ft; they should put it right on the RMLS listing. But my house here isn\’t really overpriced, I don\’t feel like I paid too much, I just made different choices.
    Affordability is not as simple as the same house being $50k or $100k less. What are those 2 hours a day spent in the car worth? The lack of planning, bike lanes, public greenspaces, etc, what\’s the dollar value you put on that? Are there any pedestrian friendly neighborhoods in CC other than in downtown Vancouver? Can you walk to a restaurant? How much cheaper was that house again?
    On the other hand, I\’m sure many residents of north Portland would love to send their kids up to Vancouver schools, would that be a good trade? You educate our kids in and we\’ll accommodate your commuters?
    I think regionalism is a good goal but until we\’re all working from the same plan, funded by the same tax base I don\’t know how it could work.
    A bigger bridge wouldn\’t solve any problems and it\’ll bring the whole traffic clusterf**k right into Portland proper. Folks will take the bridge across and then crowd up the surface streets of North and Northeast to avoid the rest of the I5 system – which isn\’t really being addressed in the plan. This is already happening, Washington plates crowding MLK and Vancouver every afternoon.
    Sorry if this is disjointed, I don\’t know how else to think about it. I really don\’t have anything against anyone living north of the Columbia, I just don\’t want my community planned for them instead of for me and my neighbors. FWIW, I really appreciate people from Washington in the posts above who seem to be talking sense, I wish I could believe they were in the majority.

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  • brettoo March 25, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I like Steve G\’s idea (#13), coupled with any safety improvements needed on the bridge itself and maybe the short access lanes. If replacement is necessary for safety reasons, I like Dennis\’s idea. Both solve the freight problem that\’s supposedly the main motivation, provide an incentive for the Clark and Vancouver leaders to put in enough buses and other connections to light rail to drastically reduce those single-driver car trips that make up the great majority of the traffic.

    A no-new-commuter-lanes approach also doesn\’t subsidize expensive, global warming-causing sprawl, and it doesn\’t soak up all the region\’s federal transport money for the next 20 years, as I\’ve read a new 12 lane bridge would.
    Is there any chance of such a plan flying (i.e. is it on the table at all?), or is there already too much big money behind the idea of a big new bridge that contributes to sprawl and climate change?

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  • dennis March 25, 2008 at 3:11 pm


    When I went looking for a home, I searched Portland, with a good Oregon licensed agent. It seems as though I couldn\’t even qualify for a refridgerator box on the side of burnside. Yes, I think Vancouver\’s planning is horrible, and I\’m doing whatever I can to change it.

    As far as I can tell, blaming the people of Vancouver, only creates an \”us vs. them\” mentality, and solves nothing. Personally, I believe that if they just closed the bridges altogether, Vancouver would finally stop acting like a bedroom community. The thing you all have to keep in mind, is that Vancouver is not much unlike the other bedroom communities around here, except we\’re set apart by a river. I pay my Oregon taxes, as my contribution to a city that I love, but am unable to live in. I would like to love Vancouver also, but many things are going to have to change, for it to become a sustainable community.

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  • Rawn March 26, 2008 at 7:57 am


    With all due respect (and I really mean that), you made intelligent choices about your housing and came to the conclusion that Vancouver/Clark County was where you would live while you (I assume) work in Portland. As Dano suggested, you and others made that choice and it comes with a package including pretty good schools and a monster commute. You made that choice. I made the choice to have my family live in close-in SE Portland in a much smaller home with a tiny lot but to be closer to work (I can cycle quite easily) and near a very good elementary school and plenty of parks (they offset the small yard nicely). Again, we made our choice. Why should we pay for a bridge project that benefits you and your choices and does very little for me and ultimately may make my life more difficult with more Clark County traffic on our streets?

    In my mind you can substitute Washington County, etc for Clark County. The issue of Portland Metro sprawl isn\’t only about Clark County sprawl. However, the CRC has the potential to affect us all.


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  • Rawn March 26, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I really don\’t mean to come off as harsh. But urban sprawl is the result of what most Americans want.

    Look across the Atlantic to Western Europe. They\’ve dealt with large populations in a different way. You don\’t get to have a 3000 sq foot house on a large lot and a two or three car garage. A typical family of four in Germany, for example, gets a 1400 sq foot, two story row house with a narrow backyard and perhaps a single vehicle. Everything is done on foot, bike or public transport. And guess what? They\’re no less happy or contented with their lives than we are with our \”large\” lifestyles.

    They\’ve made their choices. We\’ve made ours. If people here want a large house, lot, and the two car garage, they choose ipso facto to have to drive wherever they go and reap the consequences of that.

    There\’s not much any of us can do about those choices. If Voters really want change, then change is possible. You want to be closer to work, then some things have to change.


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  • Bjorn March 26, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I went to the CRC panel discussion put on by the bus project last night and wanted to share some of what I saw.

    The panel included Joe Cortright, Washington’s Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, Jill Fuglister from CLF, a resident from a floating house by the bridge and someone who I think was staff working on the project sorry I missed his name. The panel was moderated, cough cough, by metro\’s Rex Burkholder whose support of the project was on the table to the point that chants of moderator moderator were heard from the crowd.

    I wish that more time had been available because for 5 participants there just wasn\’t time for much expanding on points. However I did learn some things, so in no particular order:

    Oregon can not charge a toll on the bridge and use that money for transit or bike facilities. AAA got a line added to our constitution awhile back that any toll can go only towards the building of roads, not transit. Washington doesn\’t have this restriction.

    Washington will likely fund some part of this project by increasing their sales tax. Sales tax are by their nature regressive.

    One reason proponents of the CRC have for adding \”auxillary lanes\” which are not counted as official lanes and are designed for local access is to reduce accidents. Right now the number of accidents is higher than expected especially when the bridge goes up. However the number of fatal accidents is lower than expected, it is entirely possible that the new bridge would result in fewer accidents but more deaths, multnomah county is currently looking at this.

    In order to pay for the bridge completely the toll would have to be 7.50 each way for 30 years, that number came from joe, but no one disputed it. He also stated that it added up to 2000 dollars per person in the metro area. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around 4 billion dollars.

    Numbers thrown out for % of vehicles that were vancouver coming to portland vs the other way around were 60-75% I think this may have been excluding thru traffic but it wasn\’t clear.

    The tolling is being proposed to pay for closer to 1/3 of the bridge rather than all of it, and I didn\’t hear anything about using the tolls to pay for more frequent transit. I didn\’t hear a dollar value proposed by the CRC for the toll but I guess it would be closer to 2.50 each way if they are trying to pay for 1/3. That doesn\’t seem like enough to push people out of their cars.

    My biggest concern with the bridge is that we are building the bike/transit equivalent of the bridge to nowhere in alaska. Voters in washington have voted down light rail 3 times now, and the bike facilities in vancouver are very disconnected, and often poor. For example 40 mph 4 lane roads with no bike lanes are considered the main bike route in large parts of vancouver. I don\’t think that even a 30 foot wide bikes only bridge would really create more ridership if vancouver doesn\’t commit to better fund all their bike facilities. If people want to take the light rail but it only goes as far as downtown vancouver they will have to drive to get to it. This seems to be the CRC plan, to build a park and ride around 40 blocks north of the river which is as close to the bridge as they have space. Better than nothing but not exactly a commitment to building a transportation network in clark county. I also wonder if they will fund the max to run after dark, currently portland connections from ctran stop when the commuters stop.

    The only commitment discussed by the panel was when the clark county commissioner Steve Stuart discussed that many washington voters wanted to see more committment from Oregon to provide additional capacity to the freeway at the I-5/I-405 interchange.

    I still havn\’t formed a final opinion about the project. There certainly are issues with the current bridge, and trying to get washington voters behind adding a toll without increasing SOV capacity will probably be difficult. The opportunity cost of spending this much money on this one project just seems too high to me though.


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  • David Feldman March 26, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Clark County Comissioners are pretty much bought-and-paid-for prostitutes of the homebuilders. The combination of these ho\’s and a lot of NIMBY squawking about industrial neighbors is the cause of the too few jobs/too many houses imbalance in our land use. On another note, could the new bridge be built as a \”convertible;\” physically structured so that auto lanes could be removed and more rails added in the future?

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  • Qwendolyn March 26, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for the report Bjorn.

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  • dennis March 26, 2008 at 12:06 pm


    The home that I purchased, is far from a \”large house\” In fact, it\’s a high density Duplex. As you can see in the first comment on this thread, I completely agree that spawl, is the single largest problem facing American cities, as it creates a life-long bond between us and petroleum. I deliberatly acquired my property within 15 minutes by bicycle from the I-5 bridge, because I knew that the automible lifestyle would eventually become unavailable. There are actually a lot of us here that believe that. Unfortunately, we\’re not the ones that create the zoning, and plan development. In my travels around Clark County, I\’ve seen 200 house developments in Battle Ground, Hockensen, and as far out as Venersburg. These are not proper places to build non-productive housing. As for bicycle resources, Vancouver has some, not nearly as much as Portland, but some. I can get from my home to Portland on existing bicycle infrasture. We need to do much more here, and higher fuel costs will definately help. As things sit now, I\’m seeing lot\’s of SUV\’s for sale, well below book value. Not many people are buying.

    Once fuel exceeds the threshold of perceived value, the People of Clark County will begin to wake up, and change their behaviour. A bridge toll would help a lot for pushing Vancouver to build a more diverse economy. Keep in mind here, Just because I can\’t live with Portland, I\’m a bicyclist, and I support bicycle infrastucture, wherever it may be built

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  • John Reinhold March 26, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Bumper sticker politics. 🙂

    No CRC sticker

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  • SteveG March 27, 2008 at 6:40 am

    I recently heard that when toll-backed bonds are issued to pay for bridge contstruction and/or improvements, the bond underwriters include covenants (legally enforceable \”rules\”) that preclude nearby jurisdictions from doing anything (e.g. funding transit and/or bike infrastructure) that would result in fewer bridge crossings and tolls. These covenants supposedly remain in force until the bonds are repaid in full.

    I don\’t know if the bonds issued to pay for this project would include these sorts of covenants, nor do I know if these sorts of covenants are truly enforceable; however, if put into place they would essentially prohibit Clark County from building out their transit network until the bonds were repaid — in 30 years!

    If anyone reading this knows anything about infrastructure bonds, I\’d appreciate a heads-up as to whether this is a valid concern. Do these sorts of covenants really exist, and would they really compromise Clark County\’s ability to fund future transit infrastructure?

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  • R M Hampel March 27, 2008 at 7:43 am


    I didn\’t mean to suggest that you\’re living in a McMansion. I realize Portland home prices are high. I wish (as I suspect you would agree) that developers would consider and that neighbors would agree with more European style row housing here in the city. The days of the single detached house are numbered. Family friends of ours live in Southern Germany in a very nice 3 storey row house with a decent-sized yard and a very nice lifestyle.

    Again, I feel you made reasonable choices for yourself and your family. If only others would…


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  • k. March 27, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I\’ve long questioned the logic of the planners for this project. I think the early planning for this bridge has followed the decades old model of one person, one car, assuming that we will keep up the same driving and commuting habits as we have for decades, albeit adjusted for growth. I think some are starting to realize the fallacy of that model though. The recent surge of gas and energy prices, with no real end in sight, and the changes we are making in our driving habits because of them, have made those old models obsolete, as it should.

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  • Jeffrey March 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    The Columbian offers a glimpse of a place where rural sprawl is seen as a competitive advantage:

    \”Clark County alone will need four big new parkways to avoid choking on congestion before it reaches a population of 1 million, according to a draft report presented to county commissioners…\”

    * urban densities would increase 10 percent by mid-century.

    * 36 percent of the county’s population and 43 percent of its jobs will be in areas outside current urban boundaries.

    Growth will \”pour into the county’s remaining developable lands east and west of Battle Ground.\”

    Meanwhile Clark County Commissioner
    Mark Boldt will revisit rural plans –replacing current ag and forest zoning with 5-acre lots:

    Matt Lewis, a spokesman for Pacific Lifestyle Homes, said Oregon’s tight rules against rural development give Clark County a competitive advantage.
    “The ability to buy a home on five acres is for the most part limited to Clark County in this metropolitan area,” he said.

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