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.

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