Elected leaders clamor for more details on Columbia River Crossing 2.0

Members of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Executive Steering Group brought forth some concerns at the March 17 meeting.

As the clock ticks down toward the self-imposed deadline for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program to select a “locally preferred alternative”, a number of elected officials are concerned they aren’t being given access to the information they’ll need to sign off on a project design.

As soon as next month, the project team will be presenting one draft alternative, which will include a recommendation on the number of lanes the project will have, what interchanges at Marine Drive and Hayden Island will look like and what type of transit we should expect. So far, however, the advisory groups charged with providing feedback have been given very few details on different alternatives being considered and the trade-offs between them.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here… I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today.” -Mary Nolan, Metro Councilor

It has been months since three options were presented for the primary segment of highway over the Columbia River, all of which are slated to expand I-5 over the Columbia River to ten lanes. After those were put on the table, the IBR team did agree to analyze what might happen to the highway’s design if transit use and congestion pricing were fully utilized in the project design, but so far we haven’t seen any evidence that alternative options will be presented.

At the project’s Executive Steering Group meeting last week, Metro President Lynn Peterson signaled there could be problems ahead given the lack of details that have been presented to the group so far.

“I’m concerned that if we’re just going to get one recommendation based on a series of assumptions that it’s not actually going to allow us to see how the three components…play out in different ways,” Peterson said. She said she wants the group to be presented three different scenarios that they can examine more closely. “I think it’s going to be a shock to the system if there’s just one recommendation without a narrowing down.”

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Program staff have been guiding officials toward just one preferred alternative for several months. “One of the concerns with bringing multiple things forward is, it complicates the next step in the process,” Program Administrator Greg Johnson said, alluding to the supplemental environmental impact statement process the project will head into next. “What we’re doing is trying to get into the stadium, and there’s a lot of decisions within that stadium.”

The 2011 final environmental impact statement for the failed Columbia River Crossing project actually included two different alternatives for the Hayden Island/Marine Drive interchanges, pointing toward a false urgency to narrow things down completely at this stage. So far, most of the options being considered look very similar to the preferred alternative from that project, with proposals like an immersed tube tunnel (in use regionally in places like Vancouver, B.C) having been discarded last year by the project team.

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also pushed back on being presented one concept that’s moving forward.

“You’re telling me you’re doing all this work, but I don’t see it…and you’re telling me this is a major decision point, but it’s not that important because it’s going to change later.” she said. “I don’t delegate decision-making to my staff.”

She also raised the issue of having to get approval from other Portland City Council members when they are busy with work on the budget in May. “I think you’re putting unrealistic expectations on me,” she said of the current timeline. “If I’m this confused about the decision that you’re asking me to make in July…can you imagine how confused my colleagues are going to be.”

Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar described the locally preferred alternative as a starting point before the project is put through the “meat grinder” that is federal environmental policy review. “The decision we’re being asked to make this summer is not to pick an alternative to build. It is to pick an alternative to test,” he said. Right now in Seattle, Sound Transit, the regional transit agency on whose board Millar serves, is currently seeking comment on a draft environmental review of a planned light rail line; along a key segment of that line Sound Transit has selected no preferred alternative but is studying a whole slew of options.

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At a Metro Council work session on the project earlier this month, Councilor Mary Nolan, the only council member who voted against advancing funding for the project earlier this year, also expressed frustration with a lack of information.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here. I had come to this conversation hoping that we would have a lot more detail from the project team than we seem to have. I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today,” Nolan said near the end of the work session.

If those details are to be fully fleshed out, they will only have a few meetings to do so before the self-imposed deadline to select a locally preferred alternative. The question is whether the rush to meet that deadline will leave any important considerations left unexamined. If any elected leaders are feeling pressured to make a decision they aren’t ready to make, things could get complicated, fast.

‘Climate framework’ language for Interstate Bridge Replacement project is too weak, regional officials say

Slide from presentation shared at IBR Program July meeting.

Will the Columbia River Crossing project’s multibillion dollar successor fully integrate climate change into its design and construction? Or will climate change merely be a box that is checked on the way to a wider I-5 that encourages more driving and more emissions? That question took center stage at the July meeting of the Interstate Bridge Replacement project’s Executive Steering Group.

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GOP candidate promises to end gridlock forever by adding a lane to each freeway

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce says he’s hit on an idea for solving the problem of people sitting in traffic on freeways: more travel lanes.

“Our current governor and government has no solution to our current gridlock,” he says in a new ad. “When I am governor, I will make sure we have added freeway lanes on all our major freeways. I’ll ensure that we have a new Columbia River Crossing bridge with added lanes. … Vote for Bud Pierce for governor and end gridlock once and for all.”

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As Airbnb moves to Old Town, Portland’s skilled work boom outpaces CRC’s job promises

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Last (and cold) sunrise of 2010-6

Job engine?
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

Multnomah County alone has created more new “professional and technical service” jobs in the last three years than the Columbia River Crossing was projected to create throughout the region, in all sectors combined, by 2030.

It’s a fact that was underscored Friday by Mayor Charlie Hales’ announcement that San Francisco-based startup Airbnb will move 160 employees and its North American operational headquarters to Portland’s Old Town area.

That was the latest sign that Portland’s tech sector is in the middle of an historic boom — and a stark contrast with the freeway-rail project, once called essential to the region’s economy, that seems to have been killed by the state legislature one week ago.

According to the Columbia River Crossing project team’s own calculations, the long-term economic impact of increasing the capacity of Interstate 5 would be to create 3,441 more jobs around the region by 2030. That’d be about 0.15 percent of the region’s future workforce.

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The zombie is finally dead: ODOT will “shut down” CRC project

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ODOT Director Matt Garrett-1

Good move Matt!
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s real this time folks. It’s over. ODOT has just announced they will “shut down” the Columbia River Crossing Project once and for all. Here’s the full statement just released by ODOT Director Matt Garrett:

“On March 7, the Oregon Legislature adjourned without reinstating construction funds for the CRC I-5 Bridge Replacement project. As identified in Governor Kitzhaber’s January 27, 2014 letter to legislative leadership, the project will begin the process of orderly archival and closeout. We have the fiduciary responsibility to close out the project in a systematic, retrievable manner in order to adequately preserve a decade of research, environmental reviews, community involvement, and detailed engineering work for potential future use. We will archive work products according to Oregon record retention requirements.

Expenditures will be reduced immediately; further design and deliverable development will not occur. The project will shut down completely by May 31, 2014.

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As legislators hold hearing on CRC, some are already looking at cheaper plans

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A 2011 rendering of the proposed
Columbia River Crossing.

Two veteran state legislators, one of whom was a key swing vote in support of last year’s Columbia River Crossing funding plan, say consensus is building for scrapping the freeway-rail expansion plan and starting over.

Both said they doubt their colleagues will re-approve the existing proposal, though a public committee hearing Wednesday afternoon is likely to advance the debate.

State Rep. Mitch Greenlick and state Rep. Lew Frederick — neither of whom have conferred on the issue — both said Tuesday that a new, much smaller truck-and-train freight bridge would solve the key problems facing the river crossing with far lower costs.

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Visualizing the cost of local transportation projects

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More than just about anything else on BikePortland, we write about street projects — and, if our records are any indication, you like to read about them more than just about anything else, too.

But what do they cost, really? Sometimes it’s hard to visualize.

So we gave it a shot:

visualizing Portland-area transportation investments

Graphic by BikePortland. The area of each circle corresponds to the cost of each project.

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Latest Columbia River Crossing proposal scales back bike facilities (updated)

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Current bike infrastructure on much of Hayden
Island: signs and sidewalks.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Even for the many Portland-area residents who ride bikes but aren’t inclined to object to expensive urban freeway expansions, the Columbia River Crossing has always had one small thing going for it: it’d widen the Vancouver-Portland bike crossing and simplify the maze of trails required to reach it.

With pro-CRC lobbyists hastily re-gathering votes for a possible Oregon-funded version of the project, it looks like the bike facilities are being scaled back.

During its years of planning and outreach, one of the features of the Columbia River Crossing concept was a shared-use path through Hayden Island that would put bike traffic at a different height (or “grade”) from auto traffic. A Sept. 25 memo (PDF) from the CRC’s environmental manager, however, shows that the new “phased” project would save money by indefinitely postponing the grade separation and sending bike and foot traffic through “at-grade intersections on Hayden Island.”

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CRC roundup: ODOT spin (?), Wheeler’s reality check, and Kitzhaber memories

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“The big lesson here is, we don’t need massive and costly road capital projects.”
— Governor Kitzhaber in 1997 after a 6-day closure of the I-5 bridge didn’t result in the massive traffic jams everyone predicted.

The effort to resurrect the Columbia River Crossing project is making our heads spin. While citizen activists and non-profit groups who are against the project make last-ditch efforts to contact their legislators and try to not make the mistakes they made last time, the powerful forces that rammed the project through Salem last March are up to their same old tricks. Meanwhile, high-profile critics of the project are doing their best to snuff it out.

While we’ve never attempted blow-by-blow reporting of this issue (I recommend The Columbian and the Willamette Week for that), there are a few things that have come across my desk recently that I feel are worth sharing…

The first is a quote from Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber that shows just how far he’s come in his thinking about the merits of investing billions of dollars into massive highway expansion projects. The quote was found by reader Peter Welte and it came from a fascinating article (given the current CRC discussion) published in The Oregonian on September 23, 1997 titled, Closure of I-5 bridge demonstrates transit’s value.

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