DeFazio on CRC: “I keep saying, make it smaller…”

OK, that’s a paraphrase. Here’s the full quote from Willamette Week:

What’s your take on the Columbia River Crossing?

I have said from Day One, they should think small. And they have been thinking really big and really expensive. And I am not sure how that project moves forward and how they will fund it. I have raised concerns throughout the process–keep the price down. You can’t solve all your problems with one project. That’s what they seem to want to do.

23 responses to “DeFazio on CRC: “I keep saying, make it smaller…””

  1. I wonder why no one suggests dropping the light rail portion of the project and cutting the cost in half?

    How about spacing out the interchanges so that so many auxiliary lanes are no longer needed?

  2. Actually, Anthony, a number of pro-Transit, pro-rail folks have suggested divorcing light rail from the mega-bridge proposal… by building a local arterial crossing for ALL modes, cars/peds/bikes/transit, and making appropriate improvements to the freeway bridges, the freight RR crossing, and related interchanges.

    It is the CRC that has failed to even study these alternatives, not light-rail boosters.

  3. In addition, there are some of us who are okay with building a much smaller (and therefore less expensive) freeway bridge, as long as the existing bridges are renovated for light rail and arterial crossing.

    Bob’s right: the CRC is pushing the “everything on one bridge” as the only option. Transit boosters have other ideas that would cost a hell of a lot less.

  4. I’m curious–This page lists several other ideas which were considered and dropped, for various reasons, including the arterial bridge. The stated reasons for this are:

    “Even with an additional arterial crossing for travel between Vancouver, Hayden Island, and Marine Drive, I-5 would continue operating over-capacity, with the new arterial bridge carrying only 13-18 percent of river crossing trips. An arterial bridge would carry both local and regional trips. Traffic congestion in downtown Vancouver would increase by about 60 percent as drivers back up on local streets trying to bypass I-5 across the Columbia River.”

    I am not endorsing the position of the CRC, but am simply attempt to square this with your claim that they have “failed to study these alternatives”. Certainly, the arterial bridge concept didn’t make it to the DEIS stage, or even close–but it looks like it was considered.

    Of course, it is entirely possibly that it was “considered”, but that the criteria used for selection essentially exclude the arterial bridge from being chosen–in particular, the project appears to have a mandate to reduce congestion by a sufficient amount on I-5 itself. Many pro-rail advocates are on record as not considering freeway congestion a problem… but it appears that the CRC panel has a mandate (whether self-imposed or externally imposed, I’m not sure) that any solution that doesn’t expand freeway capacity is a no-go, which rules out the supplemental bridge as a possibility. This may well reflect political reality–I suspect a transit/arterial bridge next to the current Interstate bridge(s) is a political non-starter, even though many Portlanders think that’s the best approach.

  5. Next fiscal year the feds will start spending $8 billion of stimulus and another $1.5 billion per year or more for high speed rail. So Lessee. If some of that windfall lands on the Cascades, the timetable could be cut from 3 1/2 hours to, say, 2 1/2 hours on that core Portland-Seattle stretch. And instead of four trains a day (plus the Coast Starlight) you could run trains hourly.

    The Cascades service already carries more passengers than the airplanes on that route, but reportedly carries few business passengers now. With a trip time much faster than driving, wouldn’t that change? Will we really need to spend $4 billion or so on a new super-wide highway bridge when it it gets much faster and easier to take the train?

  6. Bob. R,
    Those proposals may provide some immediate relief but are not what we need for long term solutions. That’s why a multi-modal bridge in the BNSF corridor (or proximity) is needed. It does everything that opponents of the CRC project are asking for, plus some others. I know there is some disagreement about lightrail, but that is something that has to be worked out with Clark Co. residents—and the WA state legislature trying to gerrymander the applicable voting district isn’t a just answer.

    Lately, I have been thinking what that route really needs to reduce travel time to the Cornelius Pass Rd Interchange with US 26. That is a tunnel from Hwy 30 to Skyline Bv (and then to Cornelius Pass Rd.) This way it could eliminate several miles from the present route from Vancouver to the West Union interchange over down I-5 and west on US 26. That reduces local VMT.

    So, Engineer Scotty, I really don’t believe the CRC examined any of those possiblities before rejecting this rotue. They were probably thinking it would only connect back to I-5 in central Portland. The more routes you can connect to, via a shortcut, the more traffic you can expect to use it. This route, called the Western Arterial, would connect to: Swan Island, Yeon Ave, Front Ave, Hwy 30 N and S. bound, Skyline Bv And Cornelius Pass Rd. It would be a shortcut for traffic from SW Washington headed west on US 26, as wellas points and routes in So, Washington Co. and Yamhill Co. A Bus system from Vancouver to the Silicon Forest area would be a real possibility since the distance and travel time would be much shorter. It would reduce congestion on a number of routes, most notably I-5, eliminate pollution and wasted time.

    Conventional transportation planning in the US, as per interstate highway planning, typically utilizes the “ring road” concept. Portland area has about three quarters of that with I-205 doing half of it and Hwy 217 doing a quarter, This route would fill in the missing fourth. We can still have mass transit, too. Cars are here to stay –including many more electric and hybrid ones–and if the population increases as much as the experts maintain we will need all modes.

  7. Scotty,
    I think you correctly answered your own question. There has been a political requirement from the start of this project to expand I-5 as much as possible as part of it. The two state DOTs have driven this, mainly WSDOT. Essentially, any alternative that didn’t massively widen the freeway to modern standards was ruled out, excluding creative approaches to solving the problem. While I’m generally for modern standards, I’m more for pragmatism, something that was all but left out of this process.

    Take the bridge lifts, often cited as a central reason the existing bridges can’t be improved and re-used. For a relative pittance ($100-200M), modifications to the downstream rail bridge could be made that drastically reduce the number of bridge lifts needed on I-5. It wasn’t what the DOTs wanted, so it was excluded: can’t have a drawbridge on an Interstate, can’t allow substandard shoulders to persist, etc. All well and good, but now we have a project we can’t afford and that creates as many problems as it solves, even if it manages to somehow get built, which seems doubtful.

    This is but one example of many of the project ignoring alternative solutions.

  8. Also keep in mind Vancouver said absolutely not to building an arterial bridge first due to the projected congestion on the surface streets that would happen, especially Mill Plain which they just spent a lot of money on upgrading once already.

    I’m not sure they’re completely wrong that an arterial might not solve the problems without just creating more.

  9. Well, could you connect the arterial bridge directly to I-5 and, probably more easily, SR 14? Also, couldn’t downtown Vancouver use some more people going through it?

  10. Don’t you think that I-5 already, for all intents and purposes, goes through downtown Vancouver? It’s just as close as I-5 is in Portland to downtown if not closer. As far as more surface traffic in Vancouver—they are either going to go south to Oregon or they are not. But that is a good point: people from the eastern area of Clark Co. wanting to head westward, but not on I-5, would take some other major streets. I don’t think they are going to do this all at once, to the point that it causes traffic jams, but I would expect an increase on traffic on the main east-west arterials. I don’t see that as a problem since it would be spread through the day.

    Another source of traffic would be vehicles from north of Vancouver that want to go on this westerly route. I agree that the connection(s) from I-5 to it need to be carefully evaluated. I was looking at the Burnt Bridge Creek area as one possibility. There are a few other areas of low density. Some have said farther north past the city limits. Maybe all of those. Perhaps Fruit Valley Highway would be enlarged to four lanes. And that highway is really out of the DT Vancouver area.

    There are a number of proponents of this route who live in Clark Co. including some elected officials; they need to get on board with some answers to your questions. I do believe it is very feasible.

  11. Another idea: how much of the I-5 bridge traffic is going to/from SR 14 or downtown Vancouver? The SR 14 and/or downtown Vancouver <—> I-5 south ramps could be removed and instead have SR 14 connect to the third bridge. Like my suggestion for the Vancouver side, ramps could tie the second bridge directly back to I-5, so traffic wouldn’t have to go through Hayden Island and probably the Marine Drive area.

    Removing those ramps could really help, since they’re spaced close to other ramps and the bridge, which causes congestion and crashes.

  12. The only way Vancouver would tolerate SR 14 going any further west, IMO, is if it went underground. Since they are already plotting out their downtown expansion on the waterfront I doubt that this would work, Good idea, though.

  13. Wow, I really like these ideas I’m seeing here. I wish the region had looked at some of these more closely.

    An SR-14 -> Marine Dr bridge, with maybe local access right at the current CRC/I-5 corridor is an interesting idea. I love the ideas of making ‘express lanes’ from Marine Dr or Interstate to Mill Plain. 4 lanes (2 each way) should probably be checked out through that corridor, re-merging with existing I-5… Maybe other options as well.

    Don’t you think that I-5 already, for all intents and purposes, goes through downtown Vancouver?

    Great point, but it doesn’t in the way I think you meant. It passes through, but doesn’t require local traffic to be on local streets to get through. It would be like removing the Fremont Bridge and directing all that traffic through the Pearl District to I-5 in the Rose Quarter instead.

  14. If a smaller new bridge is built, then must be for I-5 through traffic because a draw bridge does not belong on an Interstate highway. Local traffic and transit could use the existing bridges along with bicycles and pedestrians on the sidewalk only. However, if tolls are charged, they must be charged to all users non-discriminative of mode of travel on both the new bridge and the historical twin bridges, including on the sidewalk.

  15. Terry Parker Says: If a smaller new bridge is built, then must be for I-5 through traffic because a draw bridge does not belong on an Interstate highway.

    Or they could take the money they save with a smaller bridge and spend it further north to get I-5 out of the flood plain. There has been an actual and significant effect on interstate shipping for several winters, with I-5 shut down for days. Puts a 15-minute delay for a bridge lift in perspective.

  16. OK, I got the question. The main access route to this other bridge, in the BNSF corridor, would be just west of the rail route. At this point that isn’t through downtown Vancouver. There is high density planned east of that route, close to the Columbia. There is also plenty of room for commercial expansion to the North of DT. Since the rail corridor also has numerous sidings and is busy with AMTRAK, too, I don’t think there will be high density expansion there for a very long time if at all. OTOH improving freight access, such as with a major new route, could stimulate some new industries and employment. There could also be mixed use high density in the area—getting the residential properties high above the noise.

  17. Puts a 15-minute delay for a bridge lift in perspective

    And while those do happen a lot more often than the shutdowns due to flooding and other things, they don’t need to happen as often as they do now. As has been noted, many vessels could potentially go under the hump in the middle of the bridges, but can’t in order to be in line with the movable span on the railroad bridge. And I think Robert Liberty or somebody suggested buying someone another crane so it doesn’t have to be moved under the bridge.

    Overall, while simpler ideas may not be perfect, we’re talking about spending $4,200,000,000 here!
    Is it really worth spending that much to achieve what some seem to believe is the perfect solution?

  18. Ah, yes… the Wilson bridge. There, they replaced a drawbridge with a wider drawbridge; albeit one that has a higher river clearance and thus needs to be raised far less. (Also, the Beltway was four lanes in each direction except for the old bridge, which was three in each direction).

    Steve Duin’s column today kinda rehashes the remarks above.

    Unfortunately for Duin, he seeks inspiration from the Millau Viaduct, a freeway bridge in France which spans a valley carved by the River Tarn. While the Viaduct is indeed gorgeous architecture, it doesn’t suffer the design constraints that exist at the CRC location. (Duin seems to support closing Pearson Airpark if necessary to accommodate a nicer design).

  19. I don’t quite understand why Pearson is a significant concern here. The National Park Service (owner of the western half of the runway) has been adamant about eliminating general aviation there for years. The current agreement calls for just 12 more years of GA operations, although the door is open for a possible extension. GA has been in pretty much of a tailspin for a couple of decades with fewer private pilots, modern aircraft, and airports every year.

  20. DeFazio has a excellent point. The Millau Viaduct is 8100 feet long (more than twice as long as the existing Interstate Bridge) and has a roadway 100 feet wide. That would support three freeway lanes each way, or four if the shoulders are narrow. t cost 394 million euros, which at today’s exchange rate is about $516 million.

    So it’s pretty safe to say a comparable bridge here, a bit wider to allow four lanes each way, but only half as long, could come in under half a billion. And no, it doesn’t need to look like the Miilau Viaduct to be scenic, although I bet there are ways to keep any bridge towers too far south to pose a navigation hazard.

  21. One question about the CRC pricetag:

    Is that just the bridge itself, or all of the roadworks involved in the project as proposed–rebuilding, essentially, several miles of I-5, adding all the C/D ramps, rebuilding interchanges from SR500 down to Denver/Interstate, not to mention removal of the existing Interstate Bridge?

    Given that the Millau Viaduct is essentially a new rural freeway, the comparison isn’t entirely apt.

  22. Its great to hear a few politicians coming out of the closet to oppose this beast.

    I basically agree with a lot of the points already made here, not to mention in the WWeek, Mercury, and by Steve Duin, but I thought I’d add this:

    The CRC to me is basically a massive freeway expansion for the benefit of Clark County solo commuters and developers that f-s over North Portland. To add insult to injury, my understanding is that Oregon taxpayers are being asked to foot about $1 billion of the bill for this terrible plan. How about: No.

    Kill it.

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