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Guest Article: A view on the CRC from Northeast Portland

Posted by on July 8th, 2008 at 11:36 am

[This article was written by Tony Fuentes. Fuentes is vice-chair of the Concordia Neighborhood Association, an avid outdoorsman, a father of two, and a small business owner. He is frequently called upon by city leaders and was a member of Commissioner Sam Adams’ Safe, Sound and Green Stakeholder Committee. Fuentes has a Masters degree in environmental and natural policy from Harvard where he also was a Teaching Fellow in economics.

In this article, he shares his view on how the Columbia River Crossing project would impact public health, natural areas, and our region’s economy.]


Tony Fuentes
(Photo © J. Maus)

I count myself among the many residents of Portland who wants the Council to reject, not embrace, the “locally preferred option” for the Columbia River Crossing. Something must be done, and the proposed mega-bridge is something, but it isn’t the something that we need.

Spending billions of dollars to support expanded use of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) is a throwback to a simpler time when climate change was science fiction, air pollution was symbolic of a city’s industrial might, and growth was boundless. The reality is that we cannot build our way out of our present transportation challenges with more pavement for SOVs. We have learned this already and we don’t need to relearn this now.

Some of the concern about the mega-bridge has been posited on effects on global climate change. However but there are much more localized concerns as well. This project will adversely effect the health and well-being of local residents and the local environment. And despite its high price tag, the bridge project will not help us create a durable local economy.

“This project will adversely effect the health and well-being of local residents and the local environment. And despite its high price tag, the bridge project will not help us create a durable local economy.”

The communities in North and Northeast Portland already bear the burden of our out-dated models for economic development.

The natural areas in this part of the city have been affected by existing and historic industrial uses since the city was founded. The thriving Columbia Slough habitat is now represented by “saved” pockets and hoped for habitat remediation projects, but pressure to move two steps backwards is always present (most recently the push from the Port of Portland to rezone Colwood from open space to industrial).

Tour of Tomorrow

(Photo © J. Maus)

In addition to the loss of open space and the effect on local wildlife, residents in North and Northeast Portland along the I-5 corridor already endure some of the worst air quality in the region. The result of this is asthma rates that are twice the state and national averages (14 percent compared to 7 percent according to a survey conducted by researchers from Lewis and Clark College).

From the day the mega-bridge opens until the day it is once again filled with “unacceptable congestion,” we will still be burning gasoline. Accommodating more SOVs in the area means more pollution compromising local health from day one.

“…the City of Portland will be left on the sidelines until the CRC project staff hands us the keys to an Eisenhower-era solution.”

The Portland region needs to create a durable local economy. A economy that is contingent on more pavement for SOV use is simply not durable. For instance, we need effective freight mobility to support our local economy, but more lanes for trucks to share with SOVs doesn’t seem like a compelling response. Solutions that more firmly target freight mobility run the gambit from conversion of existing highway lanes to freight-only lanes, adding highway capacity only for freight, enhancement of rail corridors, and more.

If efficient movement of people to commercial and employment centers is the need, more space for people to travel alone doesn’t do much for creating a durable economy. Instead we will create a domino effect of inefficient land use: more local road expansion and parking development to accommodate more cars.

Rather than working to address the myriad of unresolved issues and ultimately shaping a solution that is fitting of our times and our future, I am worried that the City of Portland will be left on the sidelines until the CRC project staff hands us the keys to an Eisenhower-era solution.

Tell the Council to reject this project and create a real solution. Give them a call, drop them an email, come and testify on Wednesday [2pm at Council chambers, 1221 SW 4th].

We can do better.


— For more on the CRC, read the Portland Mercury’s coverage of today’s press conference or delve into the BikePortland archives.
— Also worth a read is Evan Manvel’s piece on BlueOregon, Will the city council make an informed decision on the MegaBridge?.

Please support BikePortland.

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26 Comments
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    Boo Boo July 8, 2008 at 11:45 am

    It\’s easy to send your comments to Portland City Hall. Enviroment Oregon has set-up a email action campaign. You can even customize the message. No excuse not to comment. http://www.environmentoregon.org/action/global-warming/big-bridge

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    Chris Sullivan July 8, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Good to hear the local angle. Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Tony.

    I have to say that the biggest reason I\’ve heard for people in my neighborhood supporting the bridge is that they think it will help alleviate smog since (they reason) the cars and trucks will start moving faster across the bridge and not just idle in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours along I-5. The CRC have repeatedly pushed this idea when they\’ve visited our neighborhood association meetings.

    It\’s nice to hear you lay out how the opposite is actually going to happen–that more lanes = more cars = more pollution.

    I wish I could be there tomorrow. But I\’m glad the alternative view will be expressed.

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    jonno July 8, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    \”Eisenhower-era solution\”

    Kudos on that phrase, it sums up the whole project.

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    encephalopath July 8, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    \”Eisenhower-era solution\”

    Agreed… this is the perfect sound bite. Well done…

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    a.O July 8, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Right-on.

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    Lenny Anderson July 8, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Think what $4Billion invested in our public schools, PCC, PSU…making it a world class university, and OHSU making it a premier research center could do for our regional economy.
    The CRC is more concerned with moving empty containers (Portland\’s biggest export out of T-6), log trucks and other commodity products that will continue their long decline in the global economy.

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    Matthew Denton July 8, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    #2: The CRC\’s own documents state that the freeway south of the bridge will move at 10 mph during rush hour, after they build the new bridge…

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    Dennis July 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I sent my comments in.

    I fear though, that the developers in Vancouver are busy trying to push this through, so they can unload all the substandard housing that they\’ve built up here in the last few years.

    This thing is like steering a freight train. if only it can be guided correctly.

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    SG July 8, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Is this the same Lenny Anderson that works in a Heavy Duty Truck Manufacturer’s Office and runs the Swan Island Transportation Management Association? I thought the sole purpose of the TMA was to help promote the movement of commercial traffic on and off Swan Island. In fact…a year ago, I thought I heard you comment in a meeting how important you felt that the CRC includes a lane dedicated for commercial traffic. The current design includes such a dedicated lane. Your comments seem to conflict with the Association you lead and your previous comments. Maybe you have changed you mind? Please explain.

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    Bill Stites July 8, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for the local perspective, Tony.

    No CRC !!!

    Save me a seat in the balcony at City Hall tomorrow … we need to jam it.

    No CRC !!!

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    Lenny Anderson July 8, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Hey SC, come out from behind the curtin.
    On Swan Island we move freight by helping folks get to work without a car. The math is simple: 2 SOVs = 1 Semi. We\’ve been doing it successfully for 10 years.
    On CRC matters I speak for myself.
    I have opposed a massive bridge across the Columbia since the Governors\’ TF on which I served. The final vote was 27-1.
    The model for solving I-5 is the \’97 bridge closure when we went full bore to give commuters options.
    read more at http://www.smarterbridge.org

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    a.O July 8, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I just dashed off a quick note to the City Council and left messages on their phone lines expressing my opposition to the CRC. Please do the same.

    Thanks to everyone who so helpfully provided contact info here.

    Let\’s make this Portland\’s second Mt Hood Highway.

    NO CRC!!!!

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    Matthew Denton July 8, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    #9 SG: \”a year ago, I thought I heard [Lenny] comment in a meeting how important you felt that the CRC includes a lane dedicated for commercial traffic. The current design includes such a dedicated lane.\”

    There are no dedicated lanes for any such purpose, all the lanes are exactly the same. If one of the lanes was tolled higher with the expectation that it would flow at 55 mph 24/7 or something, then that would be one thing, but the CRC proposal does not even have a carpool lane right now.

    What there are are a lot of long ramps where you can line up to merge. Hayden Island has one of those: You won\’t have to technically get on the freeway to get onto Hayden Island from the south, you\’ll just wait in line with everyone else trying to get on the bridge from the Marine Drive interchange…

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    Graham July 8, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    I just left messages at the commissioners\’ and Mayor Potter\’s offices, at these numbers (which someone posted on an earlier thread):

    Mayor Tom Potter: 503-823-4120
    Commissioner Sam Adams: 503-823-3008
    Commissioner Nick Fish: 503-823-3589
    Commissioner Randy Leonard: 503-823-4682
    Commissioner Dan Saltzman: 503-823-4151

    I honestly get a little rattled when I have to make calls like these – I hate giving a spiel – but everyone who answered was very nice and receptive. Which is saying something when it\’s 4:45 on a day in which they seem to be getting a lot of calls. Anyway, they made it easy.

    Sam Adams\’ voice mail comment line was full (a good sign, I think), so I talked to the operator at his office. So, so nice – I am now totally in love with that woman.

    I called Tom Potter\’s office, and after delivering half my spiel to the person who answered there, I realized she was just running the switchboard, and waiting to switch me to the recorded comment line. Based on that experience, I took this approach for the rest of the calls: I said, \”Hi, I\’d like to leave a comment on the CRC before the vote tomorrow.\” And stopped. Only when they (or the voice mail) indicated they were ready, did I start in with the rest of the spiel:

    \”My name is Graham and I\’m a resident of SE Portland. I\’d like to ask Commissioner _ to do what he can to stop the CRC, particularly the $4.2 billion dollar monster bridge option that\’s been proposed. My impression is that this thing will open up that one bottleneck, which will do a lot to encourage sprawl, and then we\’ll see all that extra capacity just get clogged up again. My understanding is that it adds something like 40% more capacity, which is just going to get dumped into all of Portland\’s *other* bottlenecks, like the Rose Quarter and Highway 26, and into downtown Portland.

    \”I appreciate this region\’s dedication to managed growth, and livability, which is why I bought a house here, started a business here, and why I enjoy biking around town so much.\”

    If they seemed receptive to hearing more, I added:

    \”I should also mention, I only heard about this project a few months ago, and while I may be ill-informed, I have to wonder how many other Portlanders there are who\’ll be affected by this thing, but who are unaware of it, and the scope of it.\”

    Whew, that seems long-winded now that I type it out. It didn\’t when I was prattling on :).

    Anyway, my point in writing this is to say to others: don\’t be shy, it\’s not hard, and it\’s actually kind of fun. Call and make your voice heard! (Preferably before they vote on this thing.)

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    Jasun Wurster July 8, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Heads Up,

    I got a call from Jeremy Van Keuren from Mayor Potterś office saying that his office does NOT accept testimony via the telephone. Jeremy suggested that emailing the mayor is the the best.

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    stumptown July 8, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Does anyone know if testimony can be submitted for the record via email?

    Hmmmmmmm…

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    Donna July 8, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    I typed out my letter and hand delivered them on my lunch hour.

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    revphil July 9, 2008 at 1:16 am

    thank you to everyone who has raised their voice in opposition. This single development may so drastically alter this area as to make all other progress seem futile.

    please stop the CRC

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    Chris Sullivan July 9, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Probably the easiest way to email them is to use the link Boo Boo posted in comment #1: http://www.environmentoregon.org/action/global-warming/big-bridge

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    Torfinn July 9, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I sent an email.

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    Quentin July 9, 2008 at 10:34 am

    It seems like the CRC planners are failing to grasp what effect the rapidly rising cost of fuel will have on the future of transportation. By the time the CRC is completed, fuel will be so expensive that people will be forced to reconsider their long-held assumptions about automobiles, multi-billion dollar road projects, and internal combustion engines in general. We are slowly starting to see this awakening all over America, but what will the economic landscape look like 10-15 years from now? If we continue to indulge in our current wasteful habits then it will be a landscape littered with massive concrete monuments to economic and environmental negligence.

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    Keith Walker July 9, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Good luck trying to fight this one. Everyone calls this the CRC, when in fact it is the I-5 bridge. That means you are fighting the feds, the states and all the transportation interests on the West Coast. And unlike the Mt. Hood highway which threatened to destroy neighborhoods, I-5 is existing infrastructure, which means they already have their \’foot in the door\’.

    Leaving comments to Portland City Council is good and well, but your state\’s governor and senators need to hear about this as well.

    fwiw, in my experience in living on the east coast, HOV lanes aren\’t working in many high traffic congested areas because the density in those lanes is so much lower – resulting in a net increase in pollution. The same would happen with Freight only lanes, so I disagree with the author on that point.

    What has been successful on the east coast, particularly in bridge design, is to have a center lane which can change direction dependent on rush hour traffic. This will cut down on pollution dramatically.

    Also successful in the Washington DC area are dedicated bus lanes closed to all traffic except mass transit. Nothing says \’incentive\’ like sitting in traffic and watching an air conditioned bus whiz by.

    I don\’t think the CRC will be stopped, but hopefully we can make it more friendly to non-SOV transport. btw I like that term SOV!

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    Graham July 9, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Keith,

    You make some really good points. The changeable rush-hour lanes make a lot of sense, but I\’ve never heard them mentioned in CRC discussions.

    I think one thing that\’s happening is that people are responding to the image of this $4.2B mega-bridge with, \”no CRC!\” Not to speak for anyone else, but that\’s my automatic reaction. It\’s a reaction to the excessiveness of the mega-bridge design, a design that\’s less about travel up and down the west coast, and more about sprawling development. The 12 lane mega-bridge design is born of, and in service to sprawl.

    Personally, I would have no problem with a new bridge, just not this 12-lane, money-sucking monstrosity.

    I mean, I-5 is 4 lanes for the vast majority of its length. Why does it need 8 more lanes right at this crossing? So people can commute from their homes in the \’burbs, and go shopping at big box stores conveniently located…. on an island. Those practices, that kind of development, are the problems. Not the bridge, nor the interstate highway system that were never designed to accommodate those practices.

    Anyway, a more nuanced response to the CRC proposals might be \”no increased capacity!\” but that\’s not as catchy as \”no CRC!\” :).

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    Mark July 9, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    The idea that this is a bridge built for commuting to Clark county is myopic. This bridge effectively connects Canada to California. Whether you like it or not. Whether you build it or not. No matter how much of a toll you put on it. Traffic will come up from everywhere south of the river and down from everywhere north of the river. Locally you have to decide how much time you want to sit idling on the approaches to it.

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    Keith Walker July 9, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Point taken Graham, I believe that Tony Fuentes stance also alludes to the fundemental problem of Interstate function – while they do connect states to each other (interstate commerce, good for Oregon as most Oregon GDP goes to California), regions have piggybacked onto the interstate system as a transportation solution which has only promoted sprawl.

    I agree, 12 lanes is excessive, but if 4 of those lanes are bicycle/pedestrian that is better.

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    007 July 9, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Transportation for single-occupant vehicles should not be subsidized and no additional infrastructure should be built for automobiles – period.

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