CRC Skepticism from a Metro Councilor

Councilor Liberty was kind enough to share this memo (PDF, 39K) to his Metro colleagues [already in the public record] regarding the Columbia River Crossing project. He has some doubts:

The problem is defined entirely in terms of vehicle movement (cars, trucks, bikes, pedestrians, transit) and safety. The definition does not encompass the sources of the congestion (greater job growth south of the Columbia; more houses north of the Columbia) nor does it articulate any broader purpose for the bridge improvements (urban design, economic development, environmental or equity goals of some kind.) In other words, vehicle movement and related safety are stated as the ends, not the means.

Read the rest.

16 responses to “CRC Skepticism from a Metro Councilor”

  1. WSDOT, ODOT, and their sizable team of overpaid engineers and consultants, desperately want to replace the historic interstate bridges with a multi-billion dollar megastructure, yet have not proved a need.

    Without fully analyzing less severe and costly alternatives, they claim congestion, safety, earthquakes, navigational problems and bridge openings require this extreme approach.

    Eliminating or moving some nearby on-ramps can mitigate existing congestion. Posting slower speeds can improve safety without reducing capacity. Modifying the opening span on the nearby railroad bridge at modest cost can improve river navigation and vastly reduce the required number of highway bridge lifts. Finally, building a much smaller parallel bridge for auxiliary lanes, light rail and local street access would eliminate the need for future freeway expansion and would provide a viable river crossing in the event of a major earthquake.

  2. I think the starlings issue will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back…all that shit is just not acceptable. Build a new starling free bridge!
    Seriously, Bravo Robert. The big DOTs have been pushing this relentlessly and are looking for a big project that will get a big earmark, cost and consequences be damned.
    Again, this can be done in stages and at lower cost by pursuing the “6-2-2” option…arterial bridge (2 lanes with lightrail and bike/ped facilities) in combination with a rail bridge upgrade…center lift span at least.
    Tolls and system management will take care of all the rest.

  3. Robert’s memo is a classic case of someone stepping back to look at the forest while the foresters are focused on the individual trees. Great job of detailing problems. I was particularly taken by the “Aggressive TDM” program that apparently still doesn’t have any details attached. They can afford repeated detailed drawings of potential new bridges, but not even a rough outline of the other alternatives. It makes you wonder whether the designs are intended to inform decisions makers or pitch a particular alternative.

  4. Jim Howell, I like what you say and what you have been doing.

    Lenny Anderson, to me you are barely right enough of the time but you are a good contributor, just back off of placing tolls on both the I-5 and I-205 corridors, it is just too regressive with to many negative impacts.

    To Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, thank you for your October 2 letter on the CRC Process. Finely a critical review of what has been happening and statements about how off course it has become.

  5. JK: I noticed that the report mentioned in the Liberty letter states that currently there are 18,000 vehicle-hours of delay each day during the evening commute and 13,400 hours of delay on truck routes. Adding this up:
    18,000 evening + 12,000 morning (guess) + 13,400 = 43,400 vehicle hours of delay PER DAY.

    At a very low $10/hour that is $434,000 per day or $112,840,000 per year.

    Wasting $112 MILLION per year and they are still dragging their heels – typical Metro concern for commuters.


  6. Tolls built both Interstate bridges and every other bridge across the Columbia except I-205. Should be no problem. I would not toll I-205.

  7. Wasting $112 MILLION per year

    Jim –

    That means it will take about 10 years to pay for the new bridge at slightly over $1 billion if the bridge would eliminate all the delay. But I think even an extremely optimistic estimate is that the bridge would eliminate 20% of the delay. So you would need to sustain that 20% reduction for 50 years to pay for the cost of the bridge. And that isn’t taking into account the high finance discussion of present and future value.

    The simple truth is that if you asked the people currently using the bridge to pay the full cost of a new bridge, they wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t make financial sense for them.

  8. About half of delays are non-expected. That is, they’re from crashes or from road construction. So if we want to add in the cost of delays caused by road construction into the projected costs of the project, fine (in fact, many road projects cost so much in delay and save so little time that they’re net losers).

  9. Evan –

    A new I5 bridge is probably a pretty good candidate for creating more delay during construction than is ever saved by the project.

  10. 18,000 evening + 12,000 morning (guess) + 13,400 = 43,400 vehicle hours of delay PER DAY.

    Jim, accepting your math for the sake of argument, you’re assuming that the new bridge makes this go to zero.

    I doubt that in the long run it will have much impact. Clark County will simply keep creating houses faster than jobs and we’ll be back where we started in a few years.

  11. …either which way. The argument and point brought up above is very important. The discussion doesn’t seem to be focused at all on the larger picture.

    If one steps back and looks at the delays, the congestion, and all that mess it amounts to the interstate across the river being the only arterial and being utilized incorrectly for local traffic, freight, and whatever else.

    That observation alone should be enough to realize that a local traffic bridge is all that needs to be put into place. …as the market would have already taken into account if roads where dealt with my more responsible and responsive individuals this other bridge would and should have been built years if not decades ago.

    The only real debate is whether to add light rail or at least the future capability of light rail to it.

    …As for ODOT and WDOT… hmpf. Typcial beaucracies. I’m not surprised.

  12. Once again, if tolls for the Columbia Crossing are charged, all users MUST pay. That includes freight carriers, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders (the toll can be paid through a surcharge on the fares), not just the drivers of personal motor vehicles. It doesn’t take a genius to observe those who are continually advocating tolls don’t expect to pay them themselves. In other words, it appears as if the tolling agenda is a pickpocket raid on motorists so other modes can have free ride and not pay their fair share of the infrastructure costs needed to upgrade the river crossing for everyone.

  13. all users MUST pay

    Why? Only those using motor vehicles get any benefit from a toll that reduces traffic and congestion. There is no congestion for pedestrians or bicyclists. In fact, people who walk or ride their bike save motorists money by reducing the need for expensive new motor vehicle capacity.

    It doesn’t take a genius to observe those who are continually advocating tolls don’t expect to pay them themselves.

    I don’t think that is true. Most people use I5 to go to Washington at some point. Of course the more people use the bridge, the more they will pay. But the more they use the bridge the more benefit they get from the reduced congestion the toll will create.

    the tolling agenda is a pickpocket raid on motorists

    Only if you think asking people to pay for something that only benefits them is “a pickpocket raid.”

  14. Just to be clear, the only people who have a beef with a toll are the people who stop using the bridge rather than pay the toll. They get no benefit from the reduced congestion the toll creates. The toll should be used to provide some benefits for those people, not more benefits for the folks who are already getting the benefit of reduced congestion.

  15. “Only those using motor vehicles get any benefit from a toll that reduces traffic and congestion. There is no congestion for pedestrians or bicyclists. In fact, people who walk or ride their bike save motorists money by reducing the need for expensive new motor vehicle capacity.”

    If there is no congestion for bicyclists and pedestrians, they should pay for it. They use will any new bridge and/or improved crossing infrastructure. If bicyclists and pedestrians do not want to pay, let them swim or build a raft. Bicyclists and pedestrians should pay for what they use and the privilege of using the bridge, just like the motorists would be expected to do if tolls were to be charged.

  16. They use will any new bridge and/or improved crossing infrastructure

    If the toll is set properly, you should be able to eliminate congestion without adding new capacity. As I said above, the only people who don’t benefit from that are those who no longer use the bridge for some trips because they are unable/unwilling to pay the toll. We need to try to provide alternatives for as many of those trips as possible. To the extent those alternatives attract users and reduce demand on the bridge, they will also reduce the toll.

    One “alternative” is to add extra highway capacity. Presumably the toll can then be lower while the highway remains uncongested. Some people who would otherwise be priced out of the market will now use the highway. Other alternatives include car pooling, improved transit, bike and pedestrian facilities. The question is which is most cost-effective. Will the same investment in improved transit lower the toll more than an extra lane of capacity.

    But that is looking very narrowly at just the bridge. As Robert Liberty points out, that is a mistake. There are other issues with adding highway capacity including additional congestion downstream and at the limited access points.

    I don’t know anyone who thinks Portland would be a better place to live with more traffic on its local streets. I don’t know very many places in Portland that are uncongested at rush hour. So when you look at expanding the traffic over the I5 bridge by 50%, it is going to place a huge burden on the destinations for that traffic. That needs to be taken into consideration when you look at what “alternatives” to provide for trips across the bridge where people don’t think it is worth the cost of the toll.

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