An Alternate CRC Vision

bridge5 copy

Regular commenter Ron Swaren sends along this alternate concept for the Columbia River Crossing:

The concept of a new Interstate Bridge in the Burlington Northern/AMTRAK corridor has been widely discussed both in Vancouver, WA political circles and in Portland, as an alternative to the Columbia River Crossing project. The idea was discussed, briefly, as the RC 14 alternative in the CRC’s list of potential river crossings.

It would be about .8 miles downstream from the existing Interstate bridges, would eventually replace the existing rail bridge which has a large number of concrete piers and low clearance with a design with one large pier midstream with a recreational level accessible from bicycle and pedestrian pathways. The eventual removal of the railroad bridge would improve navigability in the dredged Columbia channel, which is located on the Washington side of the Columbia. It would allow commercial river traffic to easily line up with either the elevated portion of the remaining Interstate Bridges, or with the lift span when the need arises.

It would eliminate the s-turn presently required for much upstream barge traffic.

Rail traffic, including freight, commuter and interstate passenger, would be located on the lower level. Either four or six lanes for interstate traffic could be located on the upper level plus wide sidewalks for bicycles and pedestrians. The center pier would be accessed by stairways from the upper deck and would have sizable platforms both near the water and on the upper level. The double through arch design is reputed for seismic safety and can also have pendulum isolation bearings and/or lead-rubber bushings between the piers and the metal structure to further reduce any damage from earthquake.

It would be part of a route that in Washington State could connect to I-5 via Mill Plain Blvd, 78th street or a new connnection further north. It could also connect to Fruit Valley Highway. It would have an elevated crossing over Hayden Island in Oregon with on and off ramps to Tomahawk Island Drive and a span supported by an arch over the Portland Harbor. On the mainland it would follow North Portland Rd. to Columbia Boulevard. The rail portion would then continue southward to the existing rail crossing of the Willamette River. A highway route to NW Portland would follow west on Columbia Boulevard, cross the Willamette just south of Sauvies Island via a large, arch supported roadway and connect to Hwy 30 with on and off ramps. The route would continue south via Newberry Rd, to Skyline Rd, to NW Kaiser Rd and finally to Cornelius Pass Rd. Cornelius Pass Rd crosses US 26 several miles further south and enters the industrial area between Beaverton, OR and Hillsboro, OR called the Silicon Forest.

A commuter from downtown Vancouver to the interchange of US 26 and Cornelius Pass Rd would reduce his travel by five miles over a present route using I-5 and US 26 from downtown Portland. In Oregon the needed roadways are 95 percent in place already, but would require some straightening and widening. This does not need to be part of the US Interstate Highway system per se, but would connect several routes that now typically feed in to Interstate 5 in North Portland.

25 responses to “An Alternate CRC Vision”

  1. Well, this idea is certainly better than the failed CRC plan that is currently falling off the table..

    Good luck getting Portlanders to agree to “straightening and widing” our roads for the convenience of the ‘Couv though.

    I really do like the double arch design though – lightyears better than a concrete ass-strip.

  2. My head is spinning trying to visualize the layout , any chance someone , or [Ron] has this drawn on a map?

  3. Looks interesting.

    One question–I was under the impression that a freight rail crossing pretty much has to be a drawbridge, as freight trains have difficulty climbing the steeper grades required to achieve sufficient vertical clearance to allow shipping to pass underneath.

    Drawbridges on rail-only bridges are far less of a problem than are drawbridges on road bridges–trains generally don’t mind waiting for the bridge to be lowered.

    In this design, what sort of grade will freights need to climb? Given the enormous amount of rail infrastructure close to the existing bridges on both sides, I’m not sure a longer rail approach is possible; especially on the WA side.

  4. Engineer Scotty, that is what we are examining now. You are right that freight trains do require a long slow grade; this concept splits off from the freight route not too far from either shore. However, since it also needs a bridge across N. Porland Harbor, which would not require the same clearance of the main channel, I am thinking both levels would be elevated across Hayden Island. The Washington side is mainly industrial and rail yard, so I don’t know why the rail line could not split from the highway and descend gradually. If you know of a reason it could not I would be glad to hear it. This is a work in progress, that so far has been all volunteer. In the worst case, if the present RR bridge had to stay at least could it not be improved with a lift span, as it was on the Willamette R. crossing? At least the main shipping channel got cleared up.

    I am looking up the law on how the RR right of way would be affected. Apparently the Columbia is a federal highway, so the RR bridge is now crossing a federal route. Wouldn’t the people own that portion, then? There may also be some Admiralty law that comes into play here. It has to have been done before somewhere.

    A MAX train or streetcar could easily make the grade to the lower level, and I don’t think this location is so far out of the way as to be impractical. It goes to the Vancouver AMTRAK station; and planning is now underway for an urban renewal district in Vancouver spreading westward to this corridor any way. So why not take a slight detour and pick those folks up, too?

  5. They’ve been talking occasionally about using a streetcar to connect the Boise Cascade site to the rest of downtown, so they easily could take the MAX east closer to Mill Plain and have a streetcar connect the rest of downtown to the MAX.

  6. Passenger service via a new, higher rail bridge would be workable, but it would mean abandoning the current Amtrak station, as it sits almost immediately at the foot of the current span.

    More critically, a new high design would be highly impractical if not impossible for freight use. Direct access of the Vancouver yard from the tracks out of Portland is critical. if the northern approaches have to land in or north of the yard, it would make that yard largely useless.

  7. As long as Light Rail is not included and Lenny’s idea of expanding MAX to Hayden Island not advanced this might be worth looking at.
    But it still has major problems.

    However the beauty of taking MAX out of the CRC is it opens up better alternatives while saving a billion or two.

  8. The concept sounds quite similar to the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans – a combined railroad/highway bridge spanning the Mississippi River, owned by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (itself owned by the City of New Orleans). The Huey Long Bridge, however, puts the railroad in the center of the deck with vehicle lanes on the outside (not unlike the upper deck of the Steel Bridge with MAX in the center).

    The biggest issue is getting BNSF/UP to go along with it, rebuilding the junction at the current north end of the current Columbia River Draw (between the former NP mainline north and the SP&S mainline east), and getting the region to buy into the massive highway infrastructure (read: new roads) to go along with it.

    Putting MAX on it is a waste since the kind of development that our leaders want for surrounding light rail stations is not compatible with existing or future land uses in this corridor. (Then again, they are the same leaders who felt the best place to put the Green Line was right next to a freeway instead of where the people want/need to go – along 82nd Avenue…) It would literally make more sense (not that I support it) to put MAX in a tunnel to Vancouver to serve downtown, and keep the industrial area and freeway traffic away from downtown…

  9. The biggest issue is getting BNSF/UP to go along with it

    The real question is how much more they’ll pay for the improvements funded mostly by us. Improvements make them more money.

  10. Even if the RR bridge was never removed and all freight trains still had to use it, it seems that there would be improvements that could reduce the number of piers in the river channel. Like a lift span on the WA side; and a drawbridge on the Oregon side. It seems like it could be just a little higher, too.

  11. Someone is suffering from the same “cost is no object” disease on this as the CRC folks. Also note that relatively few employees in WA county live in the State of WA (see Metro UrbanTrans O&D study based on 2000 census)…why build them a highway?
    Upgrading the RR brige with a new lift would take care of navigation; the congestion of the RR bridge is, like the I-5 bridges, at either end, not on the bridge itself.

  12. Lenny,
    Do you think adding a new bridge is in the same category as destroying a perfectly good one and replacing it with nearly the same thing?

    I mentioned several highway connections, not just in Washington County.

    Most of the land portion of the “highway” (90-95 percent) is already there.

    These are components that are standardized and can be mass produced in a shop–unlike concrete construction which is built by well-paid labor onsite. Look at how many inwater piers and pilings the CRC design calls for, that accounts for a lot of the cost. The Fremont Bridge and the new Sauvies Island bridge were constructed on land, thus saving the additional burden of hazardous environment wages.

    Please look up the cost of comparable structures built recently. Cooper River Bridge, Carquinez Strait, Tacoma Narrows. See if these are anywhere close to the CRC price tag. Moreover, steel has been coming down in cost with the global recession. Through arch bridges can also be built of concrete—and who knows what else?

  13. This plan has some merits that have not yet been mentioned:

    1. Removal of most freight traffic from St. Johns. The number of trucks going thru the residential and retail areas of St. Johns is overwhelming. Anyone who’s walked up Ivanhoe knows how incompatible the land uses are with the intense truck traffic, and its constant noise and diesel exhaust. This plan includes a North Willamette bridge, which is the solution for getting most trucks out of St. Johns.

    2. Upgrades to Cornelius Pass. One of the most dangerous sections of road in Multnomah County, the County would love an opportunity ($) to upgrade this road.

    I do think Lenny has a point on the cost; you could make this more cost effective by assuming use of arterial streets (with some upgrades i.e. Corn Pass), rather than upgrading anything to freeways. And the RR bridge is much cheaper to renovate (as you subsequently suggested) than replace. An arterial alternative is likely all that’s needed.

    John E’s comment is priceless: The project’s primary merit is that it doesn’t include light rail. Too bad for John, local sentiments would likely still require the Yellow Line extension to Vancouver.

  14. Also note that relatively few employees in WA county live in the State of WA (see Metro UrbanTrans O&D study based on 2000 census)…why build them a highway?

    How about those that live in North Portland and commute to Washington County? Or live in Washington County and work in North Portland? Or work in North Portland but live in Vancouver?

    The point of this plan isn’t that it will serve Vancouver to Washington Co trips, but it will serve trips to all places between.

    Maybe we could even shut down some or all of the I-5 ramps to Jantzen Beach. (South off/North on, specifically.)

  15. Heck, why not just build a bridge connecting Hayden Island with the Oregon side (rail + road), make that the new access to Jantzen Beach, and close down ALL the ramps from I-5 to and from the island?

    We’d probably have to improve connections to Marine Drive and I-5 to make that work, without adversely impacting commerce on the island… OTOH, here’s another, longer term question:

    Why is a major shopping mall in such a God-awful location? The reasons are largely historical, I know… but it might be worth a lot of money in CRC cost savings to MOVE the mall into Delta Park, so highway access to Hayden Island isn’t such a problem. Many of the residents there probably wouldn’t mind either.

  16. 1.What causes northbound traffic on I-5 to stall out every afternoon is all of the traffic merging on to that one route from North Portland. Make another route for them to go north, as long as it is easy to get to, which this is, and that problem should be considerably lessened.
    2. Traffic northbound now on I-405 to Washington now has only one route—I-5—unless they are going way out east. But with this bridge some of that traffic could also go up Hwy 30 and cross. Or it could go up Front Ave., too.
    3. Traffic leaving downtown Portland to Washington also gets on the I-5 now. Or it can go out to I-205, but that only makes sense if they are going that far east.
    4. Traffic coming from any number of feeders into Central Portland that wants to go north to Washington, also now goes on the I-5.

    No wonder it is packed with people!

    So, a third route could gain traffic from what are now several merging streams of traffic. Once the volume is reduced back to below the tipping point for congestion, normal speed and commuting time is restored. Been living here all my life, and as far as I can remember there was not a serious traffic jam on the I-5 until job growth took off in Washington Co, in the late 1980’s. I checked comparable travel from Vancouver to West Union. 20 miles on I-5 and US 26 and 15 miles on a route up through Forest Park.

  17. Building anything to facilitate more traffic is DOA in this day and age. If someone lives in North Portland and works in WA county, maybe they should move; we need not accommodate their choice, regardless.
    Focus needs to be on removing toxic freeways that should never have been built in the first place from valuable urban land and building a complete network of high capacity transit, streetcars and bike/walk trails.

  18. Since the existing BNSF/UP span has been sorely neglected during the whole CRC process, I was very intrigued by this proposal. One of its main strengths, as Unit points out, is that it moves the vast majority of freight traffic out of St. Johns (rerouting BYP 30 from Lombard to Columbia would help alleviate this problem as well).

  19. (rerouting BYP 30 from Lombard to Columbia would help alleviate this problem as well).

    There have been hints of this, where PBOT would swap with ODOT. The complication, as I’ve been told, is due to some kind of overcrossing on Columbia.

    But since Lombard has been suggested as a potential future streetcar corridor, the question of truck traffic has come up, and the suggestion of rerouting 30 has been discussed by PBOT.

  20. instead of where he people want/need to go – along 82nd Avenue…

    Well, I-205 already has the land for a rail line, greatly reducing the construction cost and disruption. There isn’t land readily available on 82nd unless MAX took over some of the traffic lanes, and construction would cause a lot of disruption, including having to adjust all the utilities that are probably buried under the roadway. Moreover, being fully separated from surrounding traffic, including pedestrians and whatnot, allows trains to travel faster and be more reliable because of less crashes.

    In addition, it’s not that far of a walk from 82nd, especially if you’re going to/coming from a place east of the street.

  21. The Governors I-5 TF had an excellent study done on rail congestion in the corridor…much better piece of work that the various motor vehicle studies. Conclusion: congestion is at either end of the existing bridge and can be greatly reduced with relatively modest investments of between $100M $200M. Some of those projects are being done.
    Replacing the swing span with a lift span (same as was done on the Willamette 20 years ago) and moving it to mid River would solve the navigational issues with the I-5 bridges as well. That was once priced at under $100M.

  22. If someone lives in North Portland and works in WA county, maybe they should move

    What if their wife is able to walk to work, and them moving to N Portland would cut their pay by 50%? Should they just take the pay cut because you don’t want them driving, or should they move and make their wife get a new job?

    I have friends in a similar situation. They live in Hillsboro, he rides his bike, and she drives to her job in N Portland. She doesn’t want to give up a job with benefits, seniority, etc to take lower pay, and it wouldn’t make sense to sell their house and move since then he’d need to find another job.

    It’s a lot easier to say everyone has to live close to work than make it happen in the real world.

  23. “The Governors I-5 TF had an excellent study done on rail congestion in the corridor…much better piece of work that the various motor vehicle studies. Conclusion: congestion is at either end of the existing bridge and can be greatly reduced with relatively modest investments of between $100M $200M. Some of those projects are being done.”

    Lenny, does that study take into account projected population growth in the Portland Vancouver metro area? Does it allow for a potential doubling of the population over the next fifty years? I agree with your comments on improvements to the RR bridge but please get up to speed on what our future looks like. There will be a much better choice on transportation options, very shortly coming our way. Electric buses, electric cars, electric motorbikes, biodiesel buses, streetcars. Not everyone wants to ride in the gold plated cattle car.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *