Liberty: We Must Consider More CRC Alternatives

This is excerpted from Councilor Liberty’s February newsletter.

The Columbia River Crossing Study: We Must Consider More Alternatives Than Just a New 10 or 12 Lane Freeway Bridge That May Cost Taxpayers $2 Billion

There are very few regional decisions with greater consequences for us than whether to spend $2 billion of taxpayer funds to demolish the current Interstate 5 bridges across the Columbia River and replace them with a 10 to 12-lane new freeway bridge.

After many months of study, this alternative (with light rail and bus rapid transit variants) and a no action alternative, are the only ones recommended for further analysis by the staff of the bi-state Columbia River Crossing Task Force. (More information:

Spending $2 billion on a huge new freeway bridge will shape the pattern of growth in northern Clark County, affect job growth throughout the region, have noise, air and water quality impacts in downtown Vancouver and North Portland, raise and lower land prices nearby and pose basic questions about how 10 or 12 lanes of traffic over the Columbia will merge into the 4 lanes of I-5 at the Rose Quarter. Last, but not least, it will use up much of the limited transportation funds that could be used on other projects in the region.

Does it mean this alternative should not be studied at all?

Of course not.

In fact, a big new freeway bridge is definitely is worth studying … as one alternative among many.

The mistake is to continue the study with just one alternative. The only possible conclusion for that kind of study will be the demolition of the old bridge and spending up to $2 billion on a new freeway bridge. I am very concerned that future generations may come to regard the bridge as a symbol of our generation’s lack of imagination, our disregard for fiscal responsibility and our indifference to global warming.

This region, of all regions in the nation, deserves to be offered many more choices to study. These options should include many other alternatives that were not studied by the Task Force because they fell outside the narrowly defined geography and statement of purpose and need for the project. (Documents laying out some of my concerns about the Task Force study and recommendations as well as some suggestions for other alternatives that should be considered will be posted to my website soon:

Because the Metro Council is part of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the region, it will ultimately be called upon to pass judgment on this project. In effect, we are being asked at this early stage to perform $2 billion worth of due diligence.

Metro Council President David Bragdon has created an opportunity for Councilors and the public to express their views on this regionally significant project.

On Tuesday, February 13 at 2 p.m. the Council will hold an informal work session on this subject and discuss possible resolutions expressing the views of the Council.

The results of that discussion, including possible resolutions, will be the subject of a public hearing and Council action at its meeting that begins at 2 p.m. Thursday, February 22.

On February 27 the Columbia River Task Force is scheduled to take action on the staff recommendation.
I invite you to attend Metro’s work session and to use your opportunity to testify at the Council meeting on February 22.

22 responses to “Liberty: We Must Consider More CRC Alternatives”

  1. Yawn,

    So we know what we need, but we’re going to STUDY the problem even longer.

    We know we need more freeway capacity.

    We know we need more transit options.

    We know the solution is to do both.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We tried the “transit-only” option on the westside (U.S. 26/Sunset Highway Corridor). A few years later, we were forced to widen the freeway to four lanes in each direction over Sylvan. Yup, MAX didn’t completely mitigate transit growth.

    Why don’t we concede that we need it (more highway capacity, along with transit), and focus the rest of our planning efforts on rebuilding I-5 north and south between I-205 (north junction) to I-84? Just like the Glenn Jackson Bridge was built, and the new Mercer Island Floating Bridge (in Seattle), build it to accomodate future LRT use but open it to all (or just as an HOV lane) at first. After all we already have the LRV link (Interstate MAX), and when Vancouver is ready, Vancouver will pay for LRV on its side of the river.

    But instead we will sit with our butts on our hands while we study some more. Guess what? Traffic ain’t getting any better, are we waiting for the apocalypse to happen before we do anything about it? Look what has happened to the Newberg-Dundee Bypass Project – the local News-Register online forum and a number of local civic leaders are calling that project dead or nearly dead, thanks to the intense “studies” that have gotten nowhere in the last five years. Same with the Sunrise Corridor – it’s not going anywhere either.

    So, are we going truly going to take Oregon’s new slogan, “We love dreamers” and take it literally – and dream, but do nothing? Before long, Vancouver is going to have more to do with Seattle than with Portland; despite being 10 miles from Portland and 165 from Seattle.

  2. It’s kind of funny. I’ve made several comments to the ridiculousness of this argument. I’d be much more involved BUT with a no build or 2 billion dollar bridge I just can’t even be a part of such a damnable joke.

    For those that are not fond of the Streetcar (JK, etc) this should be an insanely irresponsible use of funds. For those that are “urbanites” there should be no question. Even for “sububanites” they should have huge question marks pop on in their heads in regards to this monstrous proposal.

    …for now all I can do is fill out forms with “please offer REAL alternatives”. :(

  3. Thank good we have a Metro Councilor like Robert Liberty. This is not about agreeing with everything that he has stood for but his call for greater do-diligence in these CRC recommendations.

    The special interests that have been wrapped aound the CRC process have taken every step to prevent any true competing alternative from see the light of the day. The CRC Staff and their interests have controlled this process from beginning to end. It has not been about providing an equal context treatment of any competing alternative.

    If the CRC Task Force and led by the CRC Staff is so sure that their recommendation are the perfect and solution, then why are they so afraid of allowing other alternatives to be evaluated. That has to tell you something.

  4. Coming in a bit late to this debate, forgive me if this has been gone over a million times here. I have a couple of questions.

    The problem seems to be that tons of people live in Clark County and work (and shop) in Portland. So:

    What is being done to make living in Portland more affordable?

    What is being done to increase and improve jobs in Vancouver, and to give people places to shop that are closer to home?

    And the 2 billion dollar question: can enough of these things be done over the next, say, decade, so that this highway expansion becomes unnecessary?

  5. The headline of this article in itself is biased. In short it says “2 billion to double lane capacity.” What it doesn’t say is that a good chunk of that figure is the (underestimated) cost to send the train over the river. What it also fails to say is that there will be no added through traffic capacity.

    It seems that the only reason a freeway bridge is even being considered is so that motorists are forced to pay for it via tolls and federal transportation funds.

    I would bet that 2 billion figure + plus the money spent on I-MAX would have gone a long way in expanding I-5 to 4 lanes in each direction from I-84 to SR-500; including a new Columbia river bridge.

  6. I come down against a new bridge, the existing bridge is adequate for at least 20 more years and fulfills the need as I-5, why do we need more capacity to bring in more Washington residents to work in Oregon??? Think about it… why not establish interurban service up the existing tracks to say Castle Rock?? or dig a tube for streetcar service..???

  7. Perhaps the CRC folks have really come up with excellent reasons for rejecting all of the many alternatives that have been discussed in this forum recently. But if so, they are failing to communicate it to the people who need to know.

    Portlanders want to see an analysis of other alternatives before $2 billion is committed. That’s utterly reasonable. The CRC folks have apparently been studying *something* for years … have they produced any documentation, explaining how they got to this point? If this analysis has been done, let’s get more details. If not … well, what has the CRC been doing all this time?

    I’d particularly like to know how much they’ve considered this second-bridge idea: rebuilding the train bridge to be train/local traffic/light rail. Is it really true that CRC ignored this option as “out of their scope”? That’s been the accusation … if it’s true, I think that’s going to damn this whole project, at least on this side of the river.

    Basically, I hate seeing these debates go on in the absence of facts & details. So I’m going over to to read up on their document collection before I say anything else. =)

  8. Do you feel the rumblings of revolt? As the word leaks out you can see the PDX neighborhoods awakening. If I was part of the CRC with the build big road aggenda, I would put this project into overdrive before the sleeping masses wake up. This could turn into this generations MT hood Freeway.

  9. Note that those who say “just build the big new bridge” link that with more freeway lanes through North Portland. NoPo has suffered enough from I-5; it is only now after 40 years recovering from the damage done by its original construction.
    I fail to understand how the 20K-40k additional motor vehicles that a new bridge will bring helps make North Portland a better place to live and raise a family.
    Its time that attractive transportation options are offered across the River…MAX, a bike/ped promenade and a local access bridge. No one is forced to live in Clark county and work in Portland, the consequences of their choices should not be imposed on those who make what is perhaps the wiser choice.

  10. The calendar in the sidebar says the CRC open house is tonight from 9:30 to 11:30…is that right? Seems kinda late to me.

  11. The calendar in the sidebar says the CRC open house is tonight from 9:30 to 11:30…is that right? Seems kinda late to me.

  12. First off, thank you, Councilor Liberty, for raising this concern and calling for the study of more options. This is a massive project, and currently, it seems to be headed straight-on for disaster.

    Erik- Your recollection of history with regards to the Sunset Corridor is mistaken. The Westside Project was always planned to be a combination of light rail and freeway improvements that would eliminate the historical bottlenecks in 26 between Sullivan’s Gulch and 217, as well as provide commuters with alternative transportation, in the form of MAX. Both have worked remarkably well; the last time I saw statistics on the corridor, congestion is still below what it was pre-1998, while Westside MAX has beat all ridership projections.

    With regards to the Interstate dilemma, I do sincerely hope that all possible alternatives are given serious consideration. It would seem that the existing I-5 bridgeset structures should continue to be used, as their lifespan is not yet complete — either continuing their current function as a freeway, or entering new life as an arterial bridge connection.

    Further, I think that the Delta Park project should be seriously re-examined. Eliminating a bottleneck is one thing, but from what I know of this project, it goes too far.

    Finally, I agree with Dick Barnard that commuter rail service should be explored to help relieve demand in this corridor, and provide alternatives to single-occupant vehicle travel. Until, and even after, the light rail connection is built, this will provide a valuable alternative for commuters. However, as others have mentioned here, no discussion of the Columbia River Crossings is complete without a full discussion of the future of the interstate rail bridge.

  13. Just like the OHSU tram and the costs of expanding the Portland Streetcar are spiraling out of control, so is Columbia Crossing project with only one basic recommendation.

    I agree with people that study of a middle ground needs to move forward, although my reasoning is totally based on cost and efficiency.

    Personally I firmly believe that one option that should be considered is to build a new six full service lane (3 in each direction)freeway bridge to handle I-5 through traffic only. The new bridge would be one third the size of the current proposal. The existing bridges would be retained but for local traffic, transit, and other forms of transport only. Preserving the existing bridges even with some upgrades, would eliminate the costs of deconstructing them. Such a middle ground option would:

    Improve SAFETY for I-5 traffic and eliminate the SAFETY problems associated with stopped traffic due to a bridge lift.

    Increase the life span of the existing bridges with slower traffic and less vibrations from large trucks.

    Improve access to Hayden Island for all modes of transport with local connections.

    Eliminate the Hayden Island Interchange on I-5 thereby reducing the congestion and the SAFETY issues these interchanges create on the freeway.

    Eliminate all HOV lanes and improving SAFETY on I-5 by reducing the number of vehicle weaving in and out between the HOV lane and exits and entrances on the freeway.

    Keep the existing bridges as a transportation corridor should retain a window for rush hour times when there are no bridge lifts. (Requiring that transit not be affected by bridge any lifts is totally unrealistic and not cost effective anyway)

    Non-motorized forms of transport can be accommodated on the existing bridges without spending an excessive amount of money for non-cost effective infrastructure.

    Since the I believe the CRC has done at least one thing right by identifying the correct number of motor vehicle lanes needed for the Columbia Crossing, (6 freeway and 4 to 6 local), building new I-5 freeway bridge as the only new structure should be far more cost effective than the current proposal. Furthermore, since any local match money for a transit option needs to be paid for by transit riders, and any local match money for a bicycle crossing needs to be paid for directly by bicyclists, a middle ground option of this type could be the most cost effective foe all modes of transport.

  14. Is there any region in the Pacific Northwest, in either Oregon or Washington that can get something built without studying it over and and over again? I mean, Spokane with it’s North Spokane Corridor that will finally bring a North-South Freeway to the Lilac City, Seattle with it’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, which if the capacity is not maintained will reduce the number of N/S Freeways through Downtown from 2 to 1, Pierce County with the Cross-Base Freeway(because it will go through Ft. Lewis and McChord AFB), North Puget Sound with the arguments over new ferries to replace 1927-vintage boats plus the re-design of Keystone Dock, and probably a few others. Although I think of all the Washington highway projects, the CRC and AWV seem to be the one’s that have the most controversy. The city was told to pick an option for the Viaduct last year, the Council did, but the Governor wants an advisory vote on it, and then abruptly(possibly doing the right thing) changed her mind, and then did another U-Turn. THe business community, labor unions, and now former Governor Daniel J. Evans(1965-1977, Republican) had advised the Governor to go with the tunnel option. I would give Governor Evans the benefit of the doubt on that one, he had a controversial freeway project that consumed some of the highway planning during his 2nd and 3rd terms. It was converting U.S.10 through Seattle and Mercer Island into a tunnel. The last phases of the project were completed in early 1990s. It was hostility from the Seattle Mt. Baker Neighborhoods and Mercer Islanders as well as the new environmental laws that led to the original idea for a Mega-Freeway paralelling old U.S.10 to be dropped. OOps, sorry about the rant. Anyway, there was a compromise on that after the judge tossed the EIS on the proposal. The Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was to be converted to one-way opertion as Eastbound I-90, and a new bridge with Carpool Lanes that were reversible, and could be converted for transit-only.

    As for Light Rail on a bridge, a surcharge should be in the fare, especially if tolls are used to fund a CRC. I remember seeing something once about how when the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was opened, they did have tolls for passengers on Interurban trains that would use the bridge. It was 25 cents for cars and 2.5cents for passengers on the trains. Obviously if both were used on a bridge in Washington State or Oregon, the tolls would be much higher.

  15. Terry, the problem with adding another bridge (six lanes) almost as wide as I-205 is the barge corridors. You are basically adding problems, not removing the barge navigation issues.

    I am hoping Mr. Liberty is thinking more in terms of using a new bridge for more than just cars, light rail, and bike paths. Each time I went to the meetings and asked that High Speed Rail be a future component, the idea was rejected. But there was an understanding that improvements to our HSR corridor was required. My point to the committee members was to start that work now, with the CRC.

    Maybe the Metro input will be saying to the CRC engineers and committee members that Metro sees this corridor as much more than just a five mile local issue and local asset.

    Ray Whitford

  16. Erik- Your recollection of history with regards to the Sunset Corridor is mistaken. The Westside Project was always planned to be a combination of light rail and freeway improvements that would eliminate the historical bottlenecks in 26 between Sullivan’s Gulch and 217, as well as provide commuters with alternative transportation, in the form of MAX. Both have worked remarkably well; the last time I saw statistics on the corridor, congestion is still below what it was pre-1998, while Westside MAX has beat all ridership projections.

    The last time I checked, TriMet isn’t the OCTA.

    TriMet doesn’t do a damn about highway planning and construction, and Westside MAX was all about reducing congestion and building development. The Westside MAX project didn’t fund anything on the Sunset; that came later (and through ODOT, not TriMet, Metro, or Washington County.)

    BTW, explain the jump in ADT on the Sunset Highway the year that Westside MAX opened, and the increases year-after-year consistently thereafter. So what if MAX ridership went up, so did highway traffic. How much of the MAX ridership came off the backs of the 57, 58 (now discontinued), 60 (now shortlined), 88 (now shortlined), and 94X (discontinued; route number recycled) busses – along with the shortlived, unnumbered express busses that operated in the few years prior to MAX opening?

    Truthfully – how much traffic from Vancouver would park their cars in favor of MAX; not including people who already ride C-Tran or park at the Expo Center and ride MAX?

  17. Why build at all? The current setup has a few good years left in it, right? And why isn’t vancouver footing the bill for bringing MAX over to their side?

    Why should I have to pay for something as ridiculous as a bridge?

  18. Ray,

    Any new bridge option will cost in the neighborhood of $500.00 per square foot to build. The bridge structure itself required to cross the Columbia is approximately 4400 feet long. Any new bicycle infrastructure would be 15 feet wide. That calculates out to approximately a 33 million dollar proportionate share just for bicyclists and pedestrians on any new bridge, and does not include the infrastructure for bikes and peds to access the structure. For the estimated 200 or so bicyclists and 200 or so pedestrians that would use the infrastructure each day, the costs just do not pencil out as being cost effective.

    Pushing light rail into Vancouver will only reduce the volume of traffic on the I-5 corridor by approximately one percent. Given the I-5 corridor is the primary West Coast freight route and people mover between Canada and Mexico, and that Portland is a transportation hub and transfer point in the middle of this corridor with many of the regional jobs tied to transportation; a socially engineered impact of one percent is very little in the scheme of moving people and goods.

    Furthermore, as Clark County and the Portland-Metro region continue to grow and add population at a rate greater than one percent, increasing the size of a new bridge to accommodate light rail becomes less and less effective as it applies to having an impact on traffic. Without adding motor vehicle lanes that across the Columbia, we will be loosing ground.

    Therefore, to get the most impact for the money spent to improve the crossing, transportation dollars can be better used to build motor vehicle infrastructure that can improve traffic flow and safety, rather than on Max that will also require continual and additional operating subsidies. Using one lane in each direction on the existing bridges as a compromise to get Max into Vancouver, presupposing the existing bridges will only be carrying local and not freeway traffic, will cost significantly less and makes better economic sense than placing light rail on a new bridge at $500.00 per square foot, not to mention the additional costs for tracks and the overhead wires.

    This is not to say that my suggestion for a new I-5 freeway bridge is the only option that has a greater impact than spending money on a new bridge for Max. The third bridge option also can have a greater impact for less total dollars spent than new bridge for Max into Vancouver.

  19. Garlynn: Erik- Your recollection of history with regards to the Sunset Corridor is mistaken. The Westside Project was always planned to be a combination of light rail and freeway improvements that would eliminate the historical bottlenecks in 26 between Sullivan’s Gulch and 217, as well as provide commuters with alternative transportation, in the form of MAX. Both have worked remarkably well; the last time I saw statistics on the corridor, congestion is still below what it was pre-1998, while Westside MAX has beat all ridership projections.

    Oregonian, December 15, 1988:
    Ridership forecast :…..32,050 riders
    Cost forecast:………….$195 Million

    Ridership actualt :…..23,000 riders (Oregonian, July 13, 1999)
    Cost actual:…………..$963 million (per Trimet:

    “Westside MAX has beat all ridership projections” Hardley.

    As a side note: Trimet claims that MAX carries the same number of rush hour commuters as one lane of US 26, but overlooks the fact that about 2/3 of those people were formerly bus riders, not drivers. Considering that the average car carries about 1.27 people, in terms of congestion removal, MAX removes about 1/4 of ONE lane of US26 worth of cars from US 26. For almost 1 BILLION dollars!
    Details at


  20. JK, I clicked through to your figures and to the original Oregonian article you quoted, and your first figure is wrong. I can understand why you misunderstood the article, it wasn’t very clear, but what the article was referring to was the selection of what route to use west of Sunset TC, after the tunnel. The cost figures in that article do not represent the budget for the entire project.

    As for the claims of “on time, on budget”, that can be spun from either side. They did eat up all of their contingency on the tunnel, and they were late opening the what was to be the initial short segment through the tunnel, but in the end they did not go beyond the contingency and they did open the full line to Hillsboro on time.

    But your document makes it appear that they went from $195 million to $963 million, which is absolutely untrue.

    I am glad that you have revised your rate of vehicle occupancy to the ODOT value of 1.27.

    I have been on peak hour outbound trains and every time they are quite full — all seats taken and lots of standees. There are 10 outbound trains per hour at peak, and even if they were only half full (I can’t say they are at peak load, but they are certainly more than half full!), that’s a minimum of 2,500 outbound people per hour, likely much more.

    Given 1.27 average occupancy, a lane through the Vista Ridge tunnel would have to move 2,000 cars at rush hour. You have claimed this is possible, other formulas for freeway performance I have quoted before claim otherwise, but I cannot find actual hourly per-lane counts online from ODOT (perhaps you can provide a link), but 2,000 cars has got to be a high-end limit.

    Simply put, at peak hours, MAX carries at least as many people as one lane of the Sunset Highway, probably more.

    Note that to widen the sunset highway through there would require significant new tunneling, on a scale greater than the light rail tunnels (you need room for shoulders, greater ventilation for normal pollution, and more robust fire control systems.) Expanding 26 into Portland would have required a significant chunk of change, and would only move the bottleneck to the Marquam bridge and I-5.

    – Bob R.

  21. I don’t doubt that MAX attracted some auto drivers; however, I feel a BRT would have attracted even more, because it could more closely replicate the mobility of an auto by picking up riders close to their dwellings, then getting on a POW, and whisking them to within walking distance of their offices downtown (service tailored to demand).

    My point has been right along that the billions spent on inflexible MAX would have been better invested in the bus system. I realize that others think it would have been better spent on more road capacity, but I disagree, as new highways tend to fill up rather quickly.

  22. Erik said:

    |The last time I checked, TriMet isn’t the

    |TriMet doesn’t do a damn about highway planning
    |and construction, and Westside MAX was all about
    |reducing congestion and building development. The
    |Westside MAX project didn’t fund anything on the
    |Sunset; that came later (and through ODOT, not
    |TriMet, Metro, or Washington County.)

    Actually, in the case of the Westside Corridor Project, Tri-Met partnered with Metro, ODOT, Washington County, Multnomah County, Beaverton, Aloha and Hillsboro to provide a full range of transportation improvements, as well as land use changes. These included MAX, the elimination of bottlenecks on 26, and of course the up-zoning of parcels adjacent to MAX stations to allow for and encourage denser development at those locations.

    As for whether the project has worked: I maintain that there is currently less *congestion* on Hwy 26, while MAX has exceeded its ridership goals. This does not mean that MAX has taken anybody out of their cars; rather, it has provided an alternative for those who wish to use it, and enough people have made that choice that it can be considered a success.

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