Our First CRC One-Pager

While some folks responded to our request for “one page” ideas for alternatives to the Columbia River Crossing with speculation that you couldn’t replace several years of planning with one page, Jim Howell shows how clearly it can be done:

A Two Crossing Option for the CRC
“Twice the bang for half the bucks”
  1. New High-speed Rail Bridges (including improved infrastructure for trucks, freight trains and marine traffic) Cost – $1 billion
    • Is an essential component of the federally designated Northwest High-speed Rail Corridor “Project of National Significance”
    • Location – adjacent to the freight rail bridges in the BNSF rail corridor
    • Include a “truck-way” connecting Marine Drive and Mill Plain Blvd.
    • High-level bridges (no opening spans)
    • Bi-level long-span over main channel with minimum number of piers
    • 60 feet wide – top level for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians)
    • Replace swing span on BNSF Bridge with new lift span
    • Include passenger train flyover of North Portland Junction
    • Build high-level platform for Vancouver Station or relocate further north
    • Develop a C-Tran bus hub at Vancouver Station
    • Provide Commuter Rail service between Vancouver and Portland US
  2. New Light Rail Bridges (including infrastructure for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians) Cost – $600 million

    • Location – midway between I-5 and BNSF RR Bridges (Force Ave.)
    • High-level bridges (no opening spans)
    • Long-span over main channel with minimum number of piers in river
    • 90 feet wide – two tracks, two travel lanes, 16′ bikeway and 8′ sidewalk
    • Provides Hayden Island with additional vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian access to and from the mainland
    • Hayden Island station at ground level near west end of Mall
    • An additional light rail station in Vancouver could be located to serve the “Boise Cascades” development site.
    • Initially, loop light rail at 17th St. Do not build park an ride garages

These projects, coupled with traffic management techniques such as ramp metering and carpool lanes on I-5, would provide sufficient alternatives for commuters and truckers that traffic demand on I-5 and its interchanges would drop to a level that would eliminate the need for a massive freeway project.

13 responses to “Our First CRC One-Pager”

  1. Long-span over main channel with minimum number of piers in river

    I think this would unnecessarily complicate the navigation channel, thus opening up the potential for river traffic accidents. That is also what the CRC project does, although it sounds like Jim is proposing fewer piers. The Columbia currents get pretty wild during winter and early spring runoffs, as I can attest from having been moored just in the Portland Harbor channel. Even so, what would be the reason for having more than one bridge that accomplishes the purposes outlined?

    We need to get all of our various needs accomplished in one project while retaining the functional interstate bridges.

  2. I assume the HSR tracks would be stacked on top of the BNSF corridor in order to minimize the area impact of this new project. Where do they go when they get into washington?

  3. I believe, within certain ranges, two smaller bridges are cheaper to build than one HUGE bridge.

    I believe the HSR tracks would fly over Vancouver station (note the mention of a high-level station) and then land either in or north of Vancouver Rail Yard.

  4. The railroads will NEVER agree to a “high-level” span. They are enormously costly to build and ruinously expensive to operate. You talk about “high speed”; high arch spans must be operated slowly because trains running at high speeds introduce harmonics into the huge structure that weakens and loosens it. Plus there’s a huge amount of fuel expended climbing them and brakes baked descending.

    Do you have ANY idea how long the Huey P Long Bridge in New Orleans is? FOUR MILES (22,000 feet) ground to ground. And people are worried about the CRC looming over downtown Vancouver.

  5. Perhaps Anandakos missed the point that the “high-level” rail bridge is for high speed passenger rail. Freight would continue at the same level as now, but over a lift span rather than a swing span. I imagine that the freight railroads would love this idea, especially if their contribution was considerably less than the value that they would gain from removing passenger trains from their tracks.

    I also can’t imagine how a properly designed passenger rail bridge would require slow speeds, although trains stopping in Vancouver would certainly not be going especially fast at that location. What may be true of freight trains doesn’t necessarily apply to passenger trains.

    Also, this would actually simplify the navigation channel, by widening it and aligning it with the higher spans of the existing I-5 bridges, something that the Columbia River Towboat Association has proposed for several years, with support from local Coast Guard administrators.

  6. Doug,

    You are right. I did think you meant to have the freight on the high span. But if you don’t that makes it very expensive for not very darn much. Yes, passenger trains can climb considerably steeper grades than can freights, but not THAT much steeper. Three and a half percent is a likely maximum, which would make the bridge only a mile and a half long, instead of four miles. Pretty spendy for 18 trains a day (nine each way per day, the plan for 2030).

    Sure, BNSF would like to get a nice new high-speed lift span in the middle of the river to replace the swing span, and the barge operators would love it too. And I suppose that it might lessen the congestion around the Vancouver depot because there are three tracks (one from the Gorge and two from Kelso) leading to two crossing the river. The passenger trains would be above the junction.

    But the “high speed rail” ROW would still have to merge with the existing ROW somewhere near or just north of Mill Plain. There is no plan to build separate HST tracks alongside the BNSF ROW before 2030 at the earliest.

    But the road stuff is a red herring. You guys all seem to have this image of trucks shuttling between the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Portland. What do you think they’re going to be carrying? Is Maersk gonna unload a ship in Vancouver and reload another one at Terminal 6? I don’t think so. These ports are mostly bulk oriented. Portland is too small a market to have ships with a significant percentage of containers destined here. The few boxes we do receive get put on rail cars and sent back east.

    Why would a container be taken off a ship in Vancouver and taken to the terminal area on the Portland side, or vice versa? There’s no need, so there will be little or no traffic.

    Anyway, most of our tonnage is bulk commodities, forest products, grain, and so on. They don’t need truck shuttling back and forth between the ports. It’s just not reasonable.

  7. Anandakos,

    I believe you missed the purpose of the “truck way” on the HS Rail bridge. Its primary purpose would be to provide trucks traveling between the West Vancouver Industrial Area and I-5 south, and the trucks traveling between the Rivergate Industrial Area and I-5 north, an alternative to I-5 for crossing the Columbia River. It would also reduce the congestion at the I-5/Marine Drive Interchange.


  8. The State of Washington’s 2007 “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades” shows 13 round trips between Portland/Seattle in 2023. It also shows a new Columbia River rail bridge to be completed by 2023. This plan was done before the current Obama administration emphasis on high speed rail.

    Jim is moving the schedule up a bit, and suggesting commuter rail be added to the mix. A point to point shuttle between a C-Tran bus hub and Union Station should take about 10 minutes travel time, and if sufficiently frequent during the peak, should attract considerable ridership. So the total number of passenger rail crossings might be much larger than the 26 anticipated in the Washington State plan.

  9. Jim Howell,

    How many trucks per day leave Rivergate headed north of Vancouver? How many trucks leave the Port of Vancouver headed south of the river?

    If that’s your justification for walling off downtown Vancouver, you’re not a good steward of the public monies.

    Doug Allen,

    There is far too little capacity between Vancouver and Longview Junction to add twenty six trains per day, even if the state could afford them. Which it can’t and will never be able to.

    And you can be double-darn betcha that there will not be sufficient funds to build a high bridge at the CRC PLUS a third track between Vancouver and Kelso.

    And COMMUTER RAIL????. You obviously didn’t ride the free shuttle that Amtrak provided during the replacement of the lift mechanism on the 1918 span. I know so, because I did for all four days and didn’t see anybody else!

    Who is going to get on a bus that turns west just short of the bridge (even one that rides on the Great Wall of Vancouver) to that bustling center of recycling commerce known as the Vancouver Amtrak station, get on a train for a quick ten minute ride to Union Station (actually 13 minutes at a minimum) and then get on the Yellow or Green line to go on downtown? GET A LIFE!

    Especially when the 199 or 134 could have been in downtown Portland on the new HOV lane that would have been built on the new bridge before our doughty commuter even gets on the train.

    And who’s going to pay for this “commuter train”? C-Tran sure can’t afford it.


    The only thing we can afford is to build half a bridge for southbound traffic and use the existing ones for northbound. Put electronic tolling on the damn things to pay for the new bridge and accumulate money to pay for replacing the northbound old spans when they rust away with the other half of the southbound side.

    It would move most of the non-commuter through traffic over to 205 which is what it was built for.

  10. Anandakos,

    Here is a link to the State of Washington plan: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/AE671CC5-6633-4BF2-9041-FB328ADB1F31/0/LongRangePlanforAmtrakCascades.pdf

    You can argue with the Washington DOT about its merits.

    Sometimes what might appear obvious is in fact more subtle. I did take a ride on the Amtrak shuttle during the trunnion repair project. On my most recent Amtrak trip returning from Seattle, it took precisely 14 minutes to go from Vancouver to Union Station, with plenty of slow running. Ten minutes seems quite possible if this is upgraded to a “high speed rail” corridor, which seems to be the eventual intent.

    I agree that a Vancouver to Union Station shuttle would be pointless if the CRC plus free-flowing HOV lanes were built between Vancouver and downtown Portland. The actual merits of a commuter rail proposal can be debated, but categorical dismissal seems premature.

  11. “If that’s your justification for walling off downtown Vancouver”

    I don’t see anything in this proposal that “walls off” downtown Vancouver. The truck connection in this plan would be to the west of downtown near the railroad bridge. It seems like the real problem for Vancouver is increased truck traffic on Mill Plain.

    “How many trucks per day leave Rivergate headed north of Vancouver? How many trucks leave the Port of Vancouver headed south of the river? ”

    The question is not only how many trips originate there, but also how many trips have destinations in the ports and other industrial areas along the river. As I understand it, there is a lot of truck traffic that currently uses I5 that originates or ends in those areas. And the economic value of that traffic is considerably greater than the average SOV.

  12. Read the whole proposal on the “Northwest Passge” website and you’ll see that they want a freeway between I-5 somewhere just north of Mill Plain and the bridgehead.

    That’s the Great Wall of Vancouver.

  13. Sorry. I’m using Chrome and it has a nasty tendency to interpret mistaken keystrokes as the “Do It” key.

    Of course destinations are important. I was just trying to keep what are my often overlong sentences a little shorter by not saying “originating or destined “.

    The real point is “how much traffic from the Port of Vancouver is destined to or originates in Oregon?”. The clear answer is “Not very darn much!”

    There is of course quite a bit more between Rivergate and Washington points, but still not enough to make wrecking downtown Vancouver worthwhile.

    These Northwest Passage ideas have a germ of validity because there is a lot of Clark/Washington county traffic. But they’re only valid if they connect south of the bridge. The existing bridges are insufficient to allow for HOV priority, so they must be amplified. And they have to be amplified in the primary corridor. Detours don’t cut it.

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