Can You Put Your CRC Idea on One Page?

Metro Councilor Robert Liberty would like you to. He’s tired of waiting for the current project to collapse under its own weight and wants to start generating alternatives now.

From his current newsletter:

Columbia River Crossing: Time to leave the monster project behind and find some smarter, cheaper, greener solutions

The designation of an expensive expert panel by the Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation is the latest, and most embarrassing, exercise in rubber-stamping for the $3 to $4 billion project.

The temptation is to rage against the two state agencies for this latest waste of public funds on opinion management.

But rage is not a constructive emotion. It is time to move on, to leave the monster project (which is primarily a freeway widening project with a bridge included in the mix) and the DOTs behind and begin talking about solutions that are smarter, cheaper and greener.

Many such proposals have been offered by thoughtful citizens in Oregon and Washington, including interesting mixes of upgrades or repurposing the existing bridges, supplemental lanes for local or freeway traffic, pricing to pre-pay for improvements and reduce congestion immediately, improvements to the downstream rail bridge to enhance barge movement and perhaps allow for commuter rail connections, and many, many others.

The DOTs weren’t interested in hearing those ideas.

I am.

I would appreciate it if you would share your proposals with me. List the needs or goals your proposal addresses, give an estimate of the cost and how it might be financed and provide a photo or map or diagram illustrating your idea. If there are illustrations of your idea already being used in other places, provide that information.

And put it all on one page. Yes, one page. We need to show that you don’t need $90 million, a huge staff and hundreds of pages of paper to come up with solutions that are smarter, cheaper and greener.

I will sort through those proposals and begin to share them with other citizens and elected officials on both sides of the Columbia River.

Councilor Liberty’s e-mail address is Feel free to copy us on your ideas as well, here at

12 responses to “Can You Put Your CRC Idea on One Page?”

  1. Gosh, too bad nobody thought of this decades ago. Imagine all the money and time that’s been wasted on detailed alternatives analysis on every major infrastructure project in this country. We’ve been requiring these projects to perform cumbersome, time-wasting activities like scientific analysis, engineering and now computer modeling, as though that would somehow provide useful information. What were we thinking? Apparently, all the information you really need to determine the best approach for solving complex transportation problems is a hunch about how much it will cost, a gut feel for how it will perform, and a sketch. Or, if you aren’t such a good drawer, then instead of a sketch find a photo of some other project that’s kinda like your idea.

  2. It helps any problem solving process if you start with an open mind. And it doesn’t matter how much you fact gathering and analysis you do, if you have already drawn your conclusions before you start.

    This particular process is obviously a brain storming exercise. Like any brain storming, it may or may not produce any useful ideas.

    My problem with this is that Robert is defining the problem as the current bridge and seems to be limiting the solutions to ideas for a bridge.

    I would define the problem as too much traffic. And the solution as setting a limit on the maximum number of vehicles crossing at one time. That limit ought to include separate passenger and freight components so capacity is set aside explicitly for freight. Then you use tolling on both the I5 and I205 to achieve those limits throughout the day.

    Use the toll proceeds to provide as many alternatives as possible to allow people to share the vehicles within that limit, whether in car pools, buses or light rail. Any infrastructure improvements ought to be targeted at making those alternatives more attractive and easier to use.

    Finally the two cities ought to discuss a local bridge that extends Denver across to Vancouver and connects Haydn Island. That bridge would provide local traffic lanes, pedestrian, bike and light rail facilities. Depending on the need it could also include lanes for freight movement between the ports. The bridge design and/or operation needs to make it unattractive as an alternative for commuters trying to avoid tolls.

  3. BTW, for anyone interested. Tolling of the existing facilities was never considered during this ten year process. A group was convened by the ODOT in the late 90’s to make recommendations on congestion pricing, before the I5 discussion started. The panel’s recommendation was that tolling existing facilities was not politically acceptable and congestion pricing should not be applied to existing facilities. That panel’s conclusions were then used to remove the option from consideration in the I5 bridge discussions.

  4. Tolling the existing facilities is more than just politically acceptable; under current law it’s illegal.

    Recently, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was denied permission to use part of tolls on the PA Turnpike (I-70 and I-76 in PA) in order to finance construction and maintenance on I-80; tolls on the turnpike may only, under federal law, be used for turnpike maintenance.

  5. The current plan for the I5 bridge calls for tolling I205. The legal problems are the same.

    If congestion pricing of the existing bridges had been considered as an option, the current choice would be between two proposals that included tolls. One requires with high tolls on all users to pay for it with a huge investment of additional resources. The other would have targeted tolls for a portion of the day that could likely total far less than what is needed to fund a replacement bridge.

    I suspect even Clark County users would prefer tolls targeted at the people who use the bridge during peak periods when there is congestion, rather than requiring those who use the bridge the rest of the day to subsidize building expensive new capacity.

  6. One other issue with tolling I5. At least one of the current spans was built with tolls, not federal highway money. Someone told me (WARNING: This is rumor, not fact) that its not clear that the prohibition on tolls applies in that situation.

  7. Before arguing one way or the other about whether tolls are legal, check out the factual information (gathered two years ago) at this site:

    You may enjoy some of the other information at that site, which is a time capsule from one and two years ago. The essential facts do not seem to have changed. It is definitely time to stop wasting money on the mega-bridge concept.

  8. @EngineerScotty:

    The PA Turnpike Comm. was denied permission to introduce NEW tolls on I-80, proceeds from which would have gone in part to transit agencies. That I believe is the salient point. I wouldn’t put very many eggs in that basket; tolling I-80 was the cornerstone of PA’s transportation financing package. SEPTA’s finances are in shambles right now (even more than usual).

  9. Let’s look at one basic, unquestioned assumption. The whole problem arises from the notion that Clark County is and should be more integrated into the Portland metropolitan area. Why not let it go and be its own little community, and we can be our own big community?

    Take as an example Vancouver and North Vancouver, BC. The Lion’s Gate Bridge is small and congested, and therefore, North Vancouver has remained relatively small and sleepy compared to what it would have been if the bridge was twice as big. They saved a lot of money by not replacing that bridge.

    Of course, the notion of less integration between Portland and Vancouver is unacceptable on both sides of the river, but it does suggest that future solutions could include reducing the number of reasons for crossing the river.

  10. but it does suggest that future solutions could include reducing the number of reasons for crossing the river

    Sounds like you’re advocating for a sales tax!

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