Archive | January, 2009

From the CRC Front Lines

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…

There is a fundamental fallacy…

Rescued from obscurity on OregonLive.

Ronald A. Buel is a Portland business executive and published writer on transportation.

The Oregonian continues its campaign for the $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) with a January 18 editorial, and with a January 22 My Opinion piece by James L. Huffman. These two follow a column by Dave Lister. All three have the same “eliminate congestion with more capacity” theme.

Here are the parts of The Oregonian editorial that are most foolish: “the bridge…must be built with the capacity to handle traffic for as many years as possible. And that means making the bridge 12 lanes, not 10 or eight…If it’s too small, transportation models indicate hot spots of congestion would re-emerge by 2030. A 12-lane bridge, in contrast, would be built for generations.”

There is a fundamental fallacy in the CRC modeling that The Oregonian cites. The current modeling is based on land-use that is the same in 2030 both with and without the 12-lane bridge. This means that there would be no more people living in Clark County if we build the big new replacement bridge than if we don’t.

This false assumption means that the 12-lane bridge will induce no new travel and therefore will not be as congested at rush hour. It means that the 5,000 un-developed acres zoned for housing, in the urban growth areas off I-5 of Vancouver, Battleground, La Center, Ridgefield, and Three Rivers, will be built out for housing at the same rate, whether or not we build the big, new bridge.

New freeway capacity, like this bridge, is proven to induce new travel in every part of our nation. In the case where we have all this sprawled-out, undeveloped-but-zoned-for-housing land, the assumption that the CRC will not induce more travel from new development is so wrong as to be a fatal error under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

One need only look at the 20-and-30-year projections for the Glenn Jackson Bridge across the Columbia on I-205, which was opened in 1982. Those old projections, done in the same way with fixed land use, are now low by nearly 50%. That’s because thousands of people moved to sprawled-out East Clark County, knowing they could easily commute by single passenger vehicle across that big new bridge. This huge, multi-lane freeway bridge is now congested at rush hour. That’s called induced travel.

Instead of favoring relieving congestion with more capacity, The Oregonian should be asking why every major environmental and land-use organization in Oregon argued against the big new 12-lane bridge.

One answer is that the current fleet of fossil-fuel vehicles in Oregon emits 40% of our global warming pollution. Our only hope for cutting this major cause of climate change, in order to meet both Oregon and Washington’s aggressive climate change goals, is to reduce vehicle miles traveled. New electric vehicles and new fuels won’t help in time. CRC consultants, hoping to favor the big new replacement bridge and satisfy developers, truckers and construction interests, lied about the bridge impact on vehicle miles traveled and global warming pollution, even considering planned mass transit and tolls.

Metro and the City of Portland called for new climate change analysis, but we haven’t seen that yet. What we see, instead, is this push by the pavers for settling the number of lanes now — at 12 lanes all the way across the River. This is a foolhardy campaign for winning the argument, without the new global warming analysis and without a completed Environmental Impact Statement. The eventual resulting lawsuit will doom any new bridge for many years.

City Council Focus on CRC This Week

Two City Council meetings focus on the Columbia River Crossing this week, both at City Hall in the Council Chambers:

  • Monday, 10AM – Joint work session with the Metro Council:

    • Review of two Council’s resolutions, progress report on what has been completed
    • Review of Induced Demand and Greenhouse Gas Reports
    • Report on Tolling work to date
    • Number of lanes
    • Tolling

  • Thursday at 2PM: Public Hearing – see the Coalition for a Livable Future Action Alert

Learn to Live Car-Free

From the Southeast Uplift online newsletter:

Community Conversations
Sunnyside-Centenary United Methodist Church 3520 SE Yamhill Tuesday, February 17
7 PM

Transition Sunnyside is a project of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association’s Sustainability Committee to inspire a community-level conversation about how to begin shifting our patterns of living away from a heavy reliance on fossil fuels (oil, gas, grid-supplied electricity) and toward more local alternatives for food, transport, household energy and water.

The lecture series will feature films, guest speakers, round table discussions and workshops.

The February conversation will feature a round table on living and getting around car-free in Portland.

For updates and more details visit their website and click on Sustainability.

Bring your friends!

Questions? 503-231-5059 or e-mail