I attended the joint Portland City Council/Metro Council work session on the Columbia River Crossing this morning. It was interesting to watch the two groups interact directly (something that has only happened once before, on the occasion that Portland sold the St. John’s landfill to Metro).
The main topic was intended to be the number of lanes for the bridge, but the conversation covered a lot of territory. The only one to really tip his hand on the lanes issue was Commissioner Leonard who suggested that since the difference in cost between 8 and 12 lanes was relatively small (only $250M!) we should build the 12-lane bridge but stripe it for 8 lanes and change the striping later if needed.
(That strikes me as being analogous to buying a belt 3 sizes too big on the theory that you can “just cinch it in unless you happen to gain 20 pounds.”)
There were at least two elephants in the room:
- The rationale is that any of the bridge scenarios will have less greenhouse gas emissions than the no-build because the increased capacity will eliminate congestion, while tolling prevents induced demand from congesting the new capacity. Missing from the discussion, because it was eliminated earlier in the analysis, was what might happen to congestion and emissions if the same tolling was applied to the existing bridges.
- There was zero mention of freight rail capacity in the corridor.
Some other interesting points that came out in the discussion:
- All configurations increase VMT compared to the no-build. VMT is only reduced if you toll both the I-5 and I-205.
- Transit usage will not be determined by the toll price, because transit ridership will largely be constrained by two factors: the amount of park-and-ride capacity Vancouver will accept without overwhelming its urban form and the amount of feeder bus service that CTRAN will provide.
For me, I think Councilor Carl Hosticka made the most salient points about risks:
- Modeling demand elasticity based on pricing is relatively new and there is risk that at the projected toll rates, induced demand will still occur.
- We may lack the political will to raise or maintain tolls at the necessary level to constrain demand in the future.
- We may lack the political will to maintain land use policy in the future.
Any of these could result in the sprawl scenario that many of us fear…