Part Two of our series on responses to our candidate questionnaire. Please remember the ground rules on comments for this series
3. Columbia River Crossing:
The CRC, even with the cost reductions currently being discussed, would represent a significant fraction of all transportation investment in the region in the next 20 years. What is the priority of the CRC versus other transportation investments?
[Burkholder] Interstate 5 is a major trade route for this region and the country. The bridge over the Columbia is a major choke point for freight and commerce. 25% of Jobs in the region are directly related to trade and this project addresses significant travel delays for freight in the center of the region and of the Ports of Vancouver and Portland. For these reasons, the Region, through the action of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, the Metro Council and the SW Washington Regional Transportation Council have declared this to be the number one regional transportation priority.
Of note is that the majority of funding for this project is project-specific, ie, without the project there would be no revenue from tolls, New Starts grants or special earmark for Project of National Significance.
[Stacey] The CRC alternatives recommended by the ODOT/WDOT project steering committee are unacceptable in part because of the disproportionately high cost of constructing them–a cost that would prevent the region from achieving other needed transportation investments. It is important to provide congestion relief on I-5 over the Columbia; but it is also important to address congestion that delays freight movement and commuters on every other stretch of the region’s highway network. Temporarily reducing hours of delay at the bridge with a $3.5 billion to $4.2 billion investment, and thereby hastening an increase in hours of delay on I-5 at the next “choke point” on I-5 south of the bridge, is an unacceptable misallocation of resources. I have proposed lower-cost alternatives for the CRC that are aimed at easing congestion on the bridge without significantly increasing highway capacity.
Do you support a CRC project and if so, what is your preferred configuration?
[Burkholder] I believe this project must meet our sustainable economic and environmental principles, and reflect our region’s clear outcomes for smart transportation investments.
My support of a Columbia River Project hinges on the inclusion of:
- Transportation choices – light rail, safe bike and pedestrian options, and freight mobility;
- A commitment to reduce the current environmental, financial and neighborhood impacts;
- A financially responsible pricing plan that is acceptable to citizens of this region.
[Stacey] The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the CRC shows that the proposed 10 to 12 lane bridge will support a 35 to 50 percent increase in traffic crossing the Columbia on I-5, with an attendant increase in global warming pollution. This increase in traffic cannot be accommodated by the six-lane freeway system on the Oregon side, leading to large increases in hours of delay on southbound I-5. This means hours more of slow and idling traffic spewing pollutants in North Portland neighborhoods adjoining the freeway, and significant increases in cut-through traffic on Interstate, Denver, Vancouver-Williams, and MLK. Coupled with massive expansions of interchanges and the freeway itself from Marine Drive to SR 500, this will render much of the corridor a very hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians, whether or not improved pathways are made part of the bridge itself.
The increase in capacity on the bridge and on I-5 on the Washington side (expanding from six through lanes to eight, plus two additional on-off lanes) will induce low density auto-dependent development along the I-5 corridor in northern Clark County and increase political pressure on Oregon to “relent” on the long-standing policy of limiting the metro-area freeway system to six lanes and investing in alternative transportation choices instead.
I have recommended a package of least-cost improvements that will reduce peak-period congestion on the bridge, assist the region in achieving its greenhouse gas reduction goals, add diversity to transportation choices in the I-5 corridor, and not increase highway capacity in the corridor. I believe the following elements should be seriously considered:
- Retain and seismically strengthen the existing I-5 bridge spans (estimated cost is roughly half the cost of demolishing the bridges);
- Relocate the movable span of the downstream railroad bridge so that it is aligned with the highest span on the existing highway bridges, eliminating nearly all need for I-5 bridge lifts to accommodate commercial river traffic;
- Apply variable-rate congestion pricing to the existing I-5 and I-205 bridges to maintain efficient traffic flow at peak periods;
- Utilize tolling revenue to provide frequent express bus service during peak periods between Clark County and the TriMet transit system, until and unless Clark County elects to participate in extending light rail across the river;
- Construct an additional bridge that can accommodate high capacity transit, bike and pedestrian facilities, and local traffic between Hayden Island, mainland Portland, and downtown Vancouver; and
- Close the Hayden Island interchange on I-5 once the local traffic bridge is constructed, and redesign the SR 14 and Marine Drive interchanges to facilitate operation of the existing six lanes on the I-5 bridges as through lanes relatively free of merge movements.
There may well be other alternatives that also achieve balanced transportation and land use benefits. The current proposal is not one of them.
If you support the CRC, how would you propose to fund it and what impact would your funding proposal have on the availability of funding for other regional transportation priorities?
[Burkholder] The majority of the cost of the project is projected to be dependent on the project itself (Projects of National Significance, tolling, New Starts). Significantly, this project will not be able to be built without large federal investments–out of competitive programs like New Starts–supplemented by user fees, rather than out of local or regional pots of money. New Starts program provides funding for large, High Capacity Transit projects. Vancouver/Washington are well positioned to qualify for this program as there have been few HCT projects built in Washington State. In addition, Senator Murray has passed legislation that allows the road portion of the project to be used for local match for the New Start funds that could pay for most if not all of the Light Rail extension to Vancouver.
If the project does not get the New Starts funds and light rail is not included I will not support the project.
A second key difference with this project is that significant share of the project funding will come from tolls, not from general transportation funds. Tolling will also be useful in managing demand.
[Stacey] My proposal, outlined above, would cost significantly less because it does not require tearing down and replacing the existing bridges, and would not include widening I-5 in Washington north of the bridge. It would more likely be capable of funding, with smaller contributions from each, from the same combination of federal, state and local sources contemplated for the $4 billion version, including a significant contribution toward construction and operation of both highway and transit improvements from congestion-pricing toll revenue. My proposal could also be built in phases if necessary, rather than requiring an “all or nothing” $4 billion megaproject.