I-5 crossing project selects slightly narrower width as politicians look for silver linings

Posted by on May 6th, 2022 at 1:16 pm

The design selected as the preferred alternative will have two “auxiliary lanes” across the Columbia River.

This week the Interstate Bridge Replacement announced they’ve selected a highway design that includes two “auxiliary lanes” that extend across the Columbia River alongside the three through lanes on I-5, leaving behind a design that included four auxiliary lanes that matched the design of the failed Columbia River Crossing project from 2013.

“The action you took today is closer to our objectives than the option you rejected, but we are not all the way there yet.”
— Chris Smith, Just Crossing Alliance

This slightly smaller footprint for I-5 definitely appears to be a concession to the voices pushing for the new highway to be “right sized”, but also stems from the project’s traffic models that show a minimal improvement in vehicle travel times for peak southbound traffic from an additional auxiliary lane. Rather than vehicle throughput, the IBR team has been framing the auxiliary lane as being primary for safety, to prevent rear-end collisions caused by merging drivers.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty framed the choice as a win. “We wouldn’t have come this far if it wasn’t for the young climate activists and other community volunteers who have helped us hold this project accountable,” she said. But she was clear that she wasn’t endorsing all aspects of the project, but trying to maximize positive outcomes for Portland.

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“Our job as a city has been to help the state make a project that does not undermine the City of Portland’s environmental and racial equity goals. Today we see a recommended alternative that is not perfect, and it’s not what we would have designed, and it likely could result in a marginal increase in automobile capacity,” Hardesty said. “We finally have before us a project recommendation that appears to be acceptable, with certain conditions that will help us make sure that the project delivers on its goals”.

Hardesty pointed to the increases in public transit service, reduced impact on Hayden Island, and investments in walking and biking infrastructure in northeast Portland as the biggest reasons Portland is signing off. She said that the pricing element of the project will help “restrain” emissions.

Metro Council President Lynn Peterson seemed even more eager to frame this as a big win, referencing the number of lanes that were planned on Hayden Island as part of the Columbia River Crossing. “17 lanes on Hayden Island down to three through lanes and a ramp-to-ramp configuration is significant progress and I want to take note of that,” she said.

But it’s important to note that the project is still incredibly early in design, and we haven’t seen renderings showing the true scale of the project, including what the partial interchange planned on Hayden Island will look like. We’ve seen with the Rose Quarter project how a project’s true footprint can be disguised until much further along in the process.

The IBR team is now touting a climate impact of 36,000 metric tons of GHG, or 89.4 million miles traveled by car per year. This number comes from an assumption that 4% of traffic on I-5 will use light rail instead. But the project team has already acknowledged that they don’t think the extension of the MAX Yellow line to the Vancouver library will be enough to meet demand for transit across the river. In addition, if travel times on I-5 improve thanks to those trips going to light rail, it’s likely that other drivers would simply fill that gap. The IBR’s “climate framework” doesn’t account for induced demand like this. We’ve asked some questions about these touted emissions gains but the IBR has told us it will take a week to get answers. For context, 36,000 tons is 0.08% of just the annual transportation emissions in Multnomah County.

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Less happy with this announcement were state legislators, particularly on the Washington side. “This new project is actually worse than the old project,” Senator Ann Rivers said in a legislative committee meeting Friday. Senator Lynda Wilson concurred with Rivers. “We’re reducing this thing to practically what we have right now. It’s getting smaller and smaller, the footprint is getting smaller because we want less cars on the road…this isn’t going to get us there,” she said. Wilson wanted to know why the bridge was not being designed around autonomous vehicles. Wilson has been the most outspoken critic of light rail among the group of legislators who will buy off on the project.

Also not ready to jump on board is the newly-formed Just Crossing Alliance. Chris Smith, representing the group in public comment in front of the Executive Steering Group, said that “the action you took today is closer to our objectives than the option you rejected, but we are not all the way there yet.” Referencing the idea that transit demand couldn’t be fully met. “We want to leave no transit rider behind…we’d very much like to understand where those constraints are so we can help advocate to remove them and help maximize the transit potential of this project,” he said.

Other members of the coalition were more blunt. “The Columbia Bridge replacement is an opportunity to undo the past harm our transportation decisions have brought to underserved communities. Unfortunately, neither bridge alternative takes this opportunity seriously,” Paulo Nunes-Ueno of Front and Centered, a Washington coalition based around environmental justice, said Friday.

It’s likely that leaders like Lynn Peterson who are attempting to thread the needle on this megaproject will see criticism from both sides as evident that they’re heading in the right direction. A project design like this one was likely locked in many months ago when the decision to move forward with the 2013 Columbia River Crossing record of decision. But with so many more details left to be worked out, there are plenty of curve balls that could still get thrown toward this project.

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pigs
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pigs

> Wilson wanted to know why the bridge was not being designed around autonomous vehicles
What does this even mean? What a joke…

Watts
Guest
Watts

It means considering the implications of a fairly probably and imminent change in the fundamental structure of our transportation system.

I have no idea how automation would impact the bridge design, but I am pretty certain I want folks to think about it before spending a megabudget on a megaproject like this.

Chris I
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Chris I

Since AVs are completely unregulated, and we have no Federal, state, or local standards controlling them, there is no way to “design for AVs”. It’s an absurd question.

Watts
Guest
Watts

You may be right about the lack of controlling standards, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the very real possibility that between climate change and automation, our transportation system will undergo a radical transformation in the early years of this project.

Engineers and planners need to have some understanding what the landscape they’re building for will look like. Is that really any more absurd that assuming a few decades out things will look more-or-less like they do today, and not even considering the alternative?

squareman
Subscriber

Automated vehicles are just really substandard trains. And the AI technology is still many years away before full automation can be approved to mix with human-controlled traffic.

soren
Guest
soren

before full automation

99.9% of human drivers are incapable of full automation.

existing “waymo” level 4 is already sufficient to disrupt PVs (primate-driven vehicles) and the question is not whether it is possible but whether post-fordist capitalism will make this new technology even more brutal and dehumanizing for the non-elite*. sadly, the answer to the latter question is almost certainly a hellscape-yes.

* e.g. not most bike portland readers

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

In ideal weather and lighting conditions, when there are no unusual or unexpected objects, and few pedestrians or cyclists on or near the street, automated vehicles perform comparably to humans. But add any unexpected conditions, and they are much, much, much more dangerous than human drivers are.

Yes, humans have difficulty maintaining focus on the road or following rules, which makes them very dangerous when operating vehicles, as well. But I’d rather risk my life sharing the road with human drivers in suboptimal conditions.

soren
Guest
soren

human beings constantly maim or kill people just because the weather is non-ideal, because they are confused by signs/signals/objects, and because they are cognitively incapable of seeing vulnerable traffic even when they are clearly visible.

please stop apologizing for the inherent inability of primates to drive SUVs/trucks/(cars) without maiming or killing people.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

Apologize? Far from it. People driving in cars are a menace. But they are still less of a menace than the current state of automated cars on open roads. A computerized system on a guide way or closed course? Much safer. No question about it. But they are demonstrably worse in mixed traffic at their current level of development.

soren
Guest
soren

But they are demonstrably worse in mixed traffic at their current level of development.

No citation, just an opinion.

Waymo’s data suggests that its AV technology is far safer than the average human driver in mixed traffic. If this data can be audited/confirmed by the NHTSA, I would happily see every cage-driver in Portland permanently replaced by algorithms.

(I’d also prefer that all SUVs/light-trucks* be replaced by public transit and micromobility but in the United States of Gilead the chances of this occurring are astronomically low.)

https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/30/21538999/waymo-self-driving-car-data-miles-crashes-phoenix-google

*the car is on its way to extinction and people who use this term to refer to designed-to-be-deadly SUV/light-trucks are functioning as apologists for these monstrosities.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

The crash rate per vmt is more than 2x the crash rate of human drivers: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.natlawreview.com/article/dangers-driverless-cars%3Famp

It does say the crash severity is less. But I would suspect that automated vehicles are not currently even operating in extremely challenging conditions at all, such as dense fog, roads covered in snow and ice, or other extremely low visibility situations. They also are only operating in places that are extremely well characterized by high resolution list lidar, which are the most urbanized areas that are already well served by transit. At best, they are currently only good for highway driving in safe conditions or displacing transit trips.

soren
Guest
soren

The crash rate per vmt is more than 2x the crash rate of human drivers: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.natlawreview.com/article/dangers-driverless-cars%3Famp

A random internet blog post that refers another random internet blog post (with no credible citations). Moreover, the blog used as a citation describes Tesla vehicles as “autonomous” which is a patently absurd and dangerous claim.

As I mentioned above we should not take waymo’s data at face value but if it is verified by the NHTSA it would show a far better safety record than human drivers. It should also be emphasized that many of waymos “disengagements” or “dings” are low-speed <2 mph interactions that would never be recorded for human drivers:

https://storage.googleapis.com/sdc-prod/v1/safety-report/Waymo-Public-Road-Safety-Performance-Data.pdf

Nationally, 6.1 million miles of driving by a good driver should result in about 40-60 events, most of which are small dings, 22-27 or which would involve an insurance claim, 12 which would get reported to police and 6 injury crashes. With no at-fault events in 8 lifetimes of human driving, Waymo’s performance is significantly superior to a human, even in an easy place like Chandler.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradtempleton/2020/10/30/waymo-data-shows-incredible-safety-record–they-should-deploy-today/?sh=18537e453829

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

National law review is not a random blog

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

And yes, here it is: https://storage.googleapis.com/sdc-prod/v1/safety-report/Waymo-Public-Road-Safety-Performance-Data.pdf

Waymo’s own paper states that the driverless vehicles only operate in a defined ‘Operational Design Domain’ which are specific streets with specific characteristics, and only when there aren’t any thunderstorms or dust storms. They probably selected Phoenix as their test city because the weather is usually pretty clear year round and the streets are generally very wide for an urban environment. Not at all like Portland.

soren
Guest
soren

Waymo is now operating in the San Francisco area — a far more challenging environment than Portland.

I’m hardly a fan of “waymo” but I will vehmently challenge the luddite tendency of cycling enthusiasts to deny the likelihood that AVs could disrupt* public transportation. Then again I’m not convinced that most cycling enthusiasts care much about transportation equity. (Asking myself why I even bother to post here…)

*@#$% venture capitalists

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

I think automated vehicles may one day totally disrupt the transit market. But I’m not convinced that would necessarily be a good thing.

My comments have been 100% focused on the current state of av technology, which I understand to not be as safe as human drivers in many situations. I have no doubt that av technology will improve in time. But even if we get to a point where av drivers are much safer than human drivers, there needs to be strict regulation and a whole new legal framework if we are going to avoid potentially serious externalities.

soren
Guest
soren

But I’m not convinced that would necessarily be a good thing.

The claim that I do is gaslighting.

From my first comment in this thread: “…the question is not whether it is possible but whether post-fordist capitalism will make this new technology even more brutal and dehumanizing for the non-elite.”

https://bikeportland.org/2022/05/06/i-5-crossing-project-moves-forward-with-a-slightly-less-wide-highway-353371#comment-7467159

My worry is not that robot cars will make the streets less safe but that their relative safety improvements (and venture capitalist dollars) will be used as a cudgel to fully privatize transit. Given how many cycling advocates functioned as boosters for TNCs, I fully expect the same kind of boosterism from “car free/light” cycling advocates when “waymo” rolls into PDX.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Automated vehicles are just really substandard trains.

Or, if you ever wished a train went directly from your house to your destination, would go on your schedule, and would give you a private compartment, perhaps a superior train.

Even if your timeline is right, that would still be early years for this bridge.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

I fully support her position. We should wait until the majority of the vehicle fleet is fully automated. At that point, we should design a new bridge around automated vehicles. Until then, the I-5 bridge will do the job.

Jonathan K
Guest
Jonathan K

I don’t understand the logic for putting the local access bridge on the east side. Put it on the west side, using the same bridge as the light rail. Easy access to/from I-5 NB exit and I-5 SB entrance lanes as well. And leave the Marine Dr. bridge and ramps alone–they’re odd, but they work fine.

Chris
Guest
Chris

I was looking at that myself. I think the local access bridge may be reusing one of the existing bridges. The new bridge is to be built slightly west of the existing one.

Also keep in mind that the new bridge will have a clearance of 116 feet above the river I don’t know what the maximum grade is that MAX can handle, but I imagine the station on Hayden island will be quite a ways above the street level.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

How does one drive from Portland to access the businesses on Hayden Island with this limited interchange configuration? I see no ramp from I-5 northbound to Hayden, and no southbound ramp to return. The only obvious route is off at Expo center, and a circuitous route adjacent to the LRT, then under, over the east side local access bridge, and then back to all of the businesses on the west side of I-5.

This configuration should just be called the “Tax Free Shopping for Washington Residents” option, as it appears that they are the only users being considered.

Jonathan K
Guest
Jonathan K

Correct, access is via the Marine Dr. ramps. The revised ramps they’re showing look needlessly complex, but big picture, it’s definitely the right decision. Cars from Portland can drive the final 2,000 ft. on local streets, the extra 1 minute won’t kill anyone.

Freeway planners used to put ramps at random, often just 1/4 or 1/2 mile apart (see I-405 south of downtown). This is bad since it leads to a lot of local trips on the freeways and creates merging conflicts. The other option they were looking at that included a full interchange on Hayden Island included braided ramps –> extra cost and bigger footprint, it’s good they aren’t doing that.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

No need to have ramps at all on Hayden Island, then. We don’t need to spending tens of millions to speed up a few tax-free shopping trips from Washington.

Jonathan K
Guest
Jonathan K

That’d be fine with me. But at-grade exit ramps are cheap, and Jantzen business interests will lobby hard for them…given small cost and significant interests at stake, they’re probably staying.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Hardesty claims the 3+ lane configuration is “a win”, and Peterson claims we need to embrace these megaprojects.

They are both wrong.

Clearly, neither of these officials has the vision or leadership we need to make the emissions reductions the future demands.

ivan
Guest
ivan

Unfortunately I don’t see much of anything in the way of climate-focused leadership from any of their opponents, either.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Agreed, but I’m willing to risk it with the hopes of doing better.

Regarding Hardesty, will either of her opponents fight for a bigger structure? I figure at worst they’ll take the same position Hardesty has. And they’ll arrive less embattled and with some political capital, and with less invested in past decisions, may be willing to take some steps in the right direction. With Hardesty gone and charter reform likely to pass, who knows what will happen with PBOT, or how this project will play out. The city may end up in a transition period for a few years with the project just chugging along without any strong city leadership.

And with Peterson, again, worst case is her opponent also supports the megaprojects.

But either way, the election is unlikely to turn on climate issues.

one
Guest

I’m with Ivan. I don’t see any opponents with better ideas. Hardesty for sure. I’m voting Hardesty and I ride my bike year round.

Joe Cortright
Guest

WSDOT and ODOT are really planning a 10- to 12-lane bridge: Their plans call for a 164-foot wide structure which can easily accommodate 10 or 12 lanes, not just a single auxiliary lane. This is the same con they pulled on the old CRC. Let me explain:

It’s been widely reported that the IBR project is moving ahead with plans for adding “just one auxiliary lane” in each direction to I-5. The implication is that they’re only building enough capacity to expand the existing I-5 bridge from its current six lanes (three in each direction) to eight lanes (three plus a so-called “auxiliary” lane in each direction).

This claim is false. It is a repetition of a false claim made for the preceding project–the failed Columbia River Crossing. In 2010, in response to objections from the City of Portland and Metro, ODOT and WSDOT announced that they were reducing the size of the CRC bridge from 12-lanes to 10 lanes. But in reality, all they did was change the references in the project documents to that number of lanes, while literally erasing every single reference to the actual widths of the bridges and other structures they intended to build. A public records request showed the actual plans for the bridges–which were not published–were exactly the same size (180 feet in width) as they were for the 12-lane version of the bridge.

The limited materials released by the IBR project to date make it clear that they are engaged in exactly the same deception today. As before, they say that the two options involve adding one or two auxiliary lanes in each direction, for a total of eight lanes or ten lanes. They never specify the actual width of the structure that they intend to build. But in a cryptic note in their presentation, they do refer to the width: The so-called ten lane bridge (two auxiliary lanes each direction) is said to have the same “footprint” as the 2013 LPA. For the record, that footprint is 180 feet. For the so-called eight lane bridge (one auxiliary lane in each direction), the footprint is described as “2013 LPA Minus 16 Feet”) which works out to 164 feet wide.

With standard-width 12 foot wide freeway lanes, this 164 foot wide bridge would accommodate ten traffic lanes (120 feet), with 11 foot shoulders on either side of the travel lanes, or as many as twelve travel lanes (144 feet) with five foot shoulders on either side of the twelve travel lanes). (Alternatively, the 164 foot width would allow construction of 12 travel lanes with 2 foot wide left shoulders and 8 foot wide right shoulders, which would be common, if not generous for an urban bridge). So while they’re calling it an eight-lane bridge, it’s really a 10 or 12 lane bridge.

Jonathan K
Guest
Jonathan K

Thanks, this is good to know and it doesn’t surprise me given the Rose Quarter con. It also helps explain why they’re so intent on replacing the perfectly serviceable 8-lane Portland Harbor Bridge.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

We need to get the politicians and decision makers to make their recommendations on the basis of width, not just lane counts. Have you spoken with commissioner hardesty or Lynn Peterson to make sure they are asking hard questions about dimensions?

Facts
Guest
Facts

Thanks! Let’s all demand corrections from the Oregonian and other media for publishing ODOTs falsehoods. Facts matter!

one
Guest

The Oregonian is the Fox News of local news papers. They are here to SPREAD lies, not to correct them.

ODOT propaganda
Guest
ODOT propaganda

ODOT pulled the same poop in Eugene with the new I5 bridge over the Willamette. The bridge is stripped for four lanes but could easily accommodate eight lanes of pollution.

ActualPractical
Guest
ActualPractical

It’s almost like these DOT folks get paid bonuses for the number of lanes. They never met a project that didnt need a few more slipped in.

Imagine a world where the incentives were based on moving humans, not mostly empty metal shells.

Bogus
Guest
Bogus

The claim that “auxiliary” lanes aren’t the same as adding freeway lanes is bogus spin. If it quacks like a freeway….
The total absence of any sort of price estimate is astounding.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

*I understand why the “powers that be” punted and picked a LRT alignment tight to I-5. BUT while this might be the ‘easy medicine’ for their project period, it will sorely miss out on Federal funds investment to rebuild Vancouver’s downtown core away from its 1920s to 1970s auto focus and closer to some of the pedestrian planning that the City paid for with Rai Okamoto’s 1976 vision plan (reaction to the Vancouver Mall construction). Now the City will have to fund the Main Street reconstruction and other work using more local funds…and a more limited vision.

[*The briefing document was not an easy thing to find…I had to dig through 3 web sites. (BP please add a link.)]

Reporting from Vancouver: my partner attended a downtown community meeting last night where she was told that current polling within in Clark County is running in favour of LRT 4 IBR, as a super majority (~70%). This is a combination of folks are just tired of bridge congestion and another new generation** has moved to Greater Vancouver (many with experience living with the MAX or similar systems).

And for our Portland friends and readers of BikePortland…please bike over (or take CTRANs 105 Express bus) and visit the new Vancouver south of 22nd Street and see all the new housing** and mixed use buildings in the Uptown/ Downtown/ Waterfront …and spend some money too. [PS. Niche2 will be opening in mid June ;-)]

https://www.cityofvancouver.us/cdd/page/waterfront-development-project
https://www.c-tran.com/routes/105-i-5-express

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Correction: The IBR team presentation reported that 61% (not 70%, but still a supermajority) of their Clark County survey respondents supported light rail into Vancouver with this project.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The LRT option here is literally the bare minimum needed to get Federal funding. It’s a joke, frankly. The planned stops don’t even coincide with existing C-tran BRT stops.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

They could design the bridge for Portland ped-friendly Vision Zero 20 mph traffic speeds by having 9-foot wide lanes (instead of the usual 13+ feet), since with congestion and induced demand that’s how fast cars will actually be moving…

And double-white no passing striping, pandhandler islands, and tree-lined medians, you know, for birds and other critters, to reduce roadkill.

X
Guest
X

Could you provide a gloss to let us know if any those things were what you really would like to see? Some or all might have local support but they don’t necessarily go together. For instance, your double striping would limit your panhandler access to only one lane of traffic.

dirk
Guest
dirk

Will there be a two-way cycle track on the west side of the bridge?