Arterial Bridge haunts CRC

The Arterial Bridge option has been haunting the bi-state deliberations on the Columbia River crossing for some time. I was a member of the Governors’ I-5 Task Force…the so called “Trade Partnership”… (I cast the lone dissenting vote on the final report), and recall the night about mid way through our several years long discussion when someone, maybe it was me, suggested that what we really need across the River is a “Broadway Bridge.” This came in the wake of staff’s report that somewhere around a third of Interstate Bridge traffic was “local.”

From my own perspective as resident of the eastside of Portland who crosses the Willamette River often, this was an “Ah Ha” moment, and it appeared that many colleagues on the Task Force shared this reaction. I cross the Willamette by car, bike, bus, MAX depending on time of day, trip destination, etc. Car trips may be over the Fremont Bridge or even the Marquam, but are often via the Broadway, Steel or Hawthorne Bridges. But the point is that I have lots of options and chose the one best suited to my purposes. Travelers across the Columbia have very limited options…they must use a freeway bridge, whether they drive, take transit or even bike.

As the Task Force neared the end of its work, staff reported that the “8-2” option…a new eight lane freeway bridge with a new two lane arterial bridge…performed very well. At that point I made a motion, seconded by then Portland Mayor Katz, to include in the final TF recommendations for further study a “6-2-2” option…keeping the existing bridges and adding two 2-lane arterial bridges, one adjacent to the current bridges and the other at some point within the heavy rail bridge alignment. This motion “failed” on a tie, 10-10 vote. Interestingly enough some “yes” votes came from Washington side representatives, while three “No” votes were cast by those on the Oregon side…Port of Portland, ODOT and sadly, Metro.

I was assured at the time that the “6-2-2” option would be included in any DEIS. Clearly the largely consensus based process of the Task Force had broken down and the Facilitator has simply ruled “tie means exclusion, rather than inclusion.” So in the end the “6-2-2” was sort of recommended, I voted “No” on the final recommendations and the powers that be did not invite me back to the expanded Columbia River Crossing effort…for which I am grateful.
These task forces, commissions, studies, etc. are really public relations campaigns, the staffs of which are sort of like the panels of experts hired by the cigarette industry to tout the benefits of cigarettes, etc. Staffed and funded by the big DOTs, how can we expect anything but “big project solutions”…until their work is subject to truly independent review by the federal courts, which I believe will and should come to pass in this case. Until that time, we won’t really know the score.

So how bad is the congestion on I-5? For five hours every day, AM & PM peaks, its not fun, but that is not much more than 10% of the operational time of the roadway (24 hours x two directions = 48 hours; 10 %= 4.8 hours). Most of the weekday and almost all thru the weekends, the roadway is fine. Add to this the impact of incidents, which account for 50% of congestion, and you have to wonder…is the sky really falling? I am repeatedly reminded of the predictions of our energy needs in the 70’s…how many nuclear power stations did WPPSS (otherwise known as “Woops”) start to build? I-5 needs to be better managed and incidents reduced; there are lots of low cost strategies to do this effectively.

But what about freight?…in the peak hours on I-5 freight represents about 10% of all vehicles; reduce the numbers of SOVs by 10% and theoretically you could double the amount of freight getting through in the peaks. For true interstate freight movement there is I-205, and indeed lots of loads from the Puget Sound area to California go via I-90 and US 97. UPS the parcel delivery company whose main hub in on Swan Island already has solved its I-5 problems…it has 100 or so employees at a Clark county sub-hub. A UPS employee commented to me that if WashDOT really wanted to help freight, they would legalized “triples.” When I see raw logs hauled through Portland in the middle of the peak, I have to ask, “what freight crisis?” Another section of a bill of goods.

And is freight movement really that critical to the regional economy? Joe Cortright, a highly regarded student of this issue, was pretty clear the other night that its not. Surely no one will argue (except the Port of Portland) that the containers of frozen French fries and straw cubes moving to T-6 are the cornerstone of the regional economy. Intel did not lose market share due to whatever delays they may have in getting product to PDX. But this is not about freight…the first project endorsed by the “I-5 Trade Partnership” Task Force, Delta/Lombard, removes an existing freight advantage…the add-lane off Columbia Blvd. Southbound…for the benefit, God love ‘em, of Clark county commuters driving alone into Portland.

So what happens if nothing is built? More Clark county commuters join vanpools & carpools, ridership goes up on C-Tran’s new 4 and 4 Limited buses to Delta/Vanport MAX, fewer people move to Clark county, more Clark county residents opt for lower paying jobs there (sans Oregon income tax), some N. Portland businesses with a high % of Clark county employees (or whose owners live in Clark county) move their businesses north, some Clark county residents who work in Portland move to the revitalizing neighborhoods in N Portland. The sky does not fall! People adjust. Indeed property values edge up in N/NE Portland and cool off a bit in rural Clark county.

The Arterial Bridge with MAX is really a compromise…more vehicle capacity, but not so much that its overwhelms Portland, real competitive transit options, especially to North and Northeast Portland, and all at much lower costs…one small bridge now and maybe another later. Curious, but the staff opposition to this option, to even analyzing this option, appears to be based on two arguments…1. it will not carry enough traffic and 2. it will carry too much traffic. Certainly it will be a busy structure, and it will allow the

worst offending on/off ramps on I-5 to be removed, and it will cost less. Most important, It will give Clark county residents a choice…take the freeway, take the arterial, take MAX, take a bus, ride a bike…sound familiar? To not demand a fair and impartial analysis of this option borders on the criminal.

15 responses to “Arterial Bridge haunts CRC”

  1. Lenny, let me play devil’s advocate for a minute.

    Couldn’t the argument be made that the auxiliary lanes on the 10-lane bridge proposed by staff are in fact the arterial bridge? That they would essentiall provide a local connection from SR-500 to Hayden Island and Columbia Blvd., leaving the 3 through lanes to carry longer trips?

    In that frame, the question is really about whether we need to replace the three through lanes in each direction on the existing bridges or not?

  2. Early on there was agreement by members of the I-5 TF on three through lanes and 2 arterial and/or auxiliary. The tie vote demonstrated that at the end we were evenly divided on the arterial vs auxiliary question.
    The virtue of the arterial bridge(s) option (6-2-2) is that you can do smaller projects over time. Build the first arterial bridge with CHT (I prefer MAX), and reconfigure the existing freeway lanes to be true through lanes. Later, if and when need and opportunity arises, add more arterial capacity in the heavy rail alignment as part of an upgrade to that bridge. You end up with 10 lanes, but they are built at different times, connected at different points into the network on both sides of the river, and if the day comes that the freeway bridges are failing (we are not there), they can then be replaced.

  3. Lenny –

    If I recall correctly, one of the votes against the arterial on the Washington side was a neighborhood person concerned about the impact of traffic getting off the freeway and winding through neighborhoods to use the arterial. I think the mayor of Vancouver expressed the same concern.

    I think the real problem, is that connecting Vancouver and Portland has never been the focus of the project. The focus has been on replacing the bridge or at least improving the freeway’s performance. The “purpose and need” for the EIS process reflects that very narrow view.

  4. Again, I ask, why haven’t they thought of a I-205 equivalent but on the west side of Portland? Then the “through” traffic problem would be resolved and give Washington Clark County commuters a better route to take. I know this would also be an astronomical cost as well but would allow the area to continue to grow. Has anyone ever considered this?

  5. Growing into some of the most fertile farmland in the world in Washington County is inconsistent with the model of compact urban growth adopted by the region in the 2040 plan.

  6. As I said, “The “purpose and need” for the EIS process reflects that very narrow view.” Its no surprise that the CRC’s most vocal defenders don’t agree.

  7. Relatively few trips on I-5 are between Clark county and Washington county. Metro’s Rideshare study looked at 2000 census data for origin and destination of employees in 16 major employment areas in the region. Hillsboro has lots of dots in Washington County, but just two in Clark. This confirms the I-5 TF data that shows the vast majority of I-5 trips start, end, or both between SR500 and Columbia Blvd. Most trips are to destinations in N/NE Portland, not even downtown Portland, let alone Washington county.

  8. The purpose and need does indeed leave something to be desired:
    Under the section called “What Are the Problems?”
    “5) …
    In addition, “low speed vehicles” are not allowed to use the I-5 bridge to cross the river.”

    Since I doubt they are going to allow little electric cars or mopeds in the bike/pedestrian lane, that problem is still there with this new bridge…

    But it isn’t in the purpose and need at all, it is just one of the “problems.”

  9. Lenny, I commuted out of Vancouver into NW Portland for about 14-years and some of what you are saying is just not factual.

    “The vast majority of the I-5 trips start, end, or both between SR-500 and Columbia Blvd.”

    I now have the latest incidents of travel information on the I-5 corridor gathered in October 2005 by David Evans Transportation Consultants and they now show from what I see that 80% plus of all of the AM and PM peak period rush hour commuters do not get on and off of the I-5 corridor in the bridge influence area (BIA).

    There is NO question that the vast majority of the commuters travel past columbia Blvd. The Delta Park widening project will eliminate the 2-lane constriction with a new 3rd south bound with or without a CRC Project and this will eliminate a lot of congestion that backs up I-5 on to the Interstate Bridge in the AM peak.

    We need to worry about creating alternatives to trying to put more vehicles into the I-5 corridor mix. A new CRC Bridge does not do that.

  10. I have to agree – moving “local” traffic off of I-5 will do nothing for congestion, just move it somewhere else (i.e. Marine Drive, which is part of the freight transportation route).

    South of the Columbia River, where is the arterial traffic going to go – Interstate Avenue? Oops, MAX already took out the excess capacity there. MLK? Has anyone tried to drive that road recently? It’s downright scary at any speed above 25 MPH.

    And will Hayden Island access be cut off from I-5 – you can’t cut off SR 14 (which is a National Highway System component road) or Marine Drive (also a National Highway System component road) so it seems like cutting off Hayden Island, and dumping its traffic onto a local bridge and to use Marine Drive is the only solution.

    According to the ODOT 2005 Ramp Volume Tables, roughly 10,000 vehicles a day use any of the four ramps (northbound off ramp, northbound on ramp, southbound off ramp, southbound on ramp), or 40,000 vehicles daily. There is a net increase of traffic of roughly 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles south of Exit 308 on I-5 than from north of Exit 308.

    At Exit 307 (“Swift-Union”, Marine Drive, MLK) – roughly 13,000-14,000 ADT a day either exit I-5 southbound, or enter I-5 northbound; and 5,500 vehicles exit I-5 northbound or enter I-5 southbound. If Exit 308 were eliminated, that traffic would have to use Exit 307 – what is the plan to reconfigure that interchange (which was already rebuilt in the mid 1980s)?

    Maybe a better solution is that employed in the northern part of Seattle – six freeway lanes (three in each direction), plus three reversable express lanes that simply bypass everything from I-405 to SR 500 (with a ramp to/from SR 14)? Such use could even be tolled, or tolled for SOV vehicles and free for HOV vehicles.

  11. They now show from what I see that 80% plus of all of the AM and PM peak period rush hour commuters do not get on and off of the I-5 corridor in the bridge influence area (BIA).

    I think you are interpreting that data incorrectly. Because, as Lenny points out, it contradicts other studies and the information provided to the I5 Partnership. But I think this is an important question to which there ought to be a clear answer. And that includes both current traffic and projections with a new bridge sans massive transit investments beyond light rail or bus rapid transit.

    One of the problems with comparing “no-action” with two bridges is that it does not allow any way for people to evaluate whether the bridge is having any impact at all. It may be the transit components and the other parts of the regional transportation plan that are actually creating the modeling results that are attributed to the bridge improvements. Those aren’t included in the no-action option. At minimum, there ought to be a “current RTP sans bridge” option to provide a real measure of what is being accomplished by the new bridge rather than planned investments that aren’t part of the study.

    That certainly happened with the Delta Park models that were provided as part of the I5 Trade Partnerhip. They showed widening I5 at Delta Park would reduce traffic counts on the Fremont bridge and on I5 through the rose quarter. Jay Lyman’s explanation of that was that the bridge was the real metering factor on the freeway and they had included the Regional Transportation plan’s transit improvements. In other words, they were modeling less traffic because many more trips were projected to be using light rail and buses than would have under the no-action option they were comparing it to.

  12. How ever you want to slice and dice, we know that there is a lot of local traffic on I-5 over the River…where else is it? Again, 2000 census data show that most Clark county residents working in Portland are headed to Rivergate, Swan Island, N. Portland, and so on.
    The point of the arterial bridge is that it gives everyone some options, depending on time of day, length of trip…freeway? arterial? lightrail? and all at much less cost than a massive bridge.
    Between Marine Drive, Denver/Interstate, and MLK (virtually unused to Columbia) there is plenty of arterial capacity to handle the traffic off a simple two lane arterial bridge. Same in Vancouver…I noticed there are 5 big wide streets in the north/south grid of downtown Vancouver. What is Mayor Pollard afraid of? To easy access to Hayden Island for tax free shopping?
    Yes, Hayden Islanders will have to either go south to Marine Dr to go north on I-5 or go north on the arterial bridge to get to I-5. Hey, you should see what I have to do to get on I-84 from my house. Freeway access from the front door is not a guaranteed right.
    But I should not have to get on the Interstate Freeway (carrying vital cargo from Canada to Mexico!)in order to have a drink at Shenanigans.

  13. But I should not have to get on the Interstate Freeway (carrying vital cargo from Canada to Mexico!)in order to have a drink at Shenanigans.

    Exactly. Freeways should be for longer-distance travel with wide-spaced exits. Now everyone has one option–to use one substandard roadway. And an arterial bridge could be used as a backup if the I-5 bridge is blocked.

  14. The preceived mandate of the CRC Task Force was to build a replacement Interstate bridge and they brought together the best people to make that happen. It never has been to ensure that this is what is best option and for our region.

    No-one should question the skill and talent of these saleman, planners, designers, engineers and people who have given of their expertise to agressively justify, promote and sell this project, for many of them this is an important stepping stone in their career path and failure to achieve the success may limit their future.

    Reasonable common sense comparisons of any Alternate Multi-Mode Bi-State Arterial or solutions that might move people and freight away from the I-5 corridor and reduce the environmental consequences of I-5 corridor congestion and subsequently reduce justification for replacing the Interstate Bridges is a direct threat to these people working to make the CRC Project happen.

    The blinders are on and the marching orders are that No-One is to look at anything outside of the very tight Bridge Influence Area (BIA).

    Correcting and eliminating the major problem in the I-5 corridor that the 2-lane Delta Park section has represented is a big thing in that it will match up the 3-lanes of traffic coming of the the I-5 Bridge. Delta Park has been a secondary I-5 corridor choke point south bound out of Vanecouver that has resulted in the second metering the traffic (the first is the Interstate Bridges) that allows the rest of the Portland Freeway to exist in harmony.

    Lenny is right on the need to elimnate the current on and off ramps to Hayden Island. The CRC Task Force and ODOT have known that if these on and off ramps were eliminated and arterial access routes were developed away from impacting the traffic in the I-5 corridor that probably 90% of the accidents in the BIA could be eliminated and the flow of traffic in the BIA could be improved by 50% to 75%. The trublence that exists that is a direct result of these on/off ramps to Hayden Island is amazing.

    We just all have to remember it is not the job of these good people on the CRC Task Force and CRC Staff and CRC contractors to look at anything else or to consider what is best for the region their job is to justify, sell, design, engineer and build a replacement Interstate Bridge.

  15. We just all have to remember it is not the job of these good people on the CRC Task Force and CRC Staff and CRC contractors to look at anything else or to consider what is best for the region their job is to justify, sell, design, engineer and build a replacement Interstate Bridge.

    I think it is a mistake to see this as a problem just with definition. The real problem is that there are powerful institutions with their own organizational or business interests and they need to buy off on whatever solution is put forward. The bridge may be the only project that can achieve that consensus.

    I remember Dave Williams (no relation) from ODOT saying that couldn’t let light rail get across the river without fixing the freeway or Portland would block any solution on the freeway. And he might well have been right.

    What would this project look like if light rail were already in downtown Vancouver? The answer is that there would be real pressure to solve the transit problems that prevent people from connecting to jobs on both sides of the river. Getting people across the river is not the real barrier to using transit, its getting them onto transit in Vancouver (muchless rural Clark County) and connecting them to the job centers in the Columbia Corridor, Rivergate etc.

    While complaining about congestion on the bridge, Clark County has been cutting back on the transit alternatives available to get people to jobs on the Oregon side of the river. And they were never that great to begin with. Adding light rail will help but it isn’t really the central problem. The central problem is land use in Clark County. You can’t provide high quality transit to sprawling rural development. The second problem is land use in Portland, where large stretches of the industrial corridors are turned over to parking lots. There are a lot of jobs in the Columbia Corridor, but they are not very accessible by transit even where there is some bus service. The pedestrian facilities won’t get you very far.

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