Clackamas County Weighs in on CRC

The letter is very diplomatic, but makes three points very firmly about the Columbia River Crossing:

  1. If you toll I-5, you better toll I-205, we don’t want your damn congestion
  2. Keep the costs real and practical (and by implication the scope as well)
  3. Don’t you dare soak up all the transportation funding in the region, we have needs too you know!

I could hug their whole Commission…

Dear Columbia River Crossing Review Board:

While Clackamas County has not been an official sponsor of the Columbia River Crossing project, we have followed the planning process closely. Last year, we supported the Locally Preferred Alternative, with one specific condition, that tolling be imposed on the I-205 Bridge at the same time it is implemented on the I-5 Bridge. The project analysis indicated that diversion from one bridge to another would be likely, which is a serious concern in our county.

We have urged the project team to view the Columbia River Crossing in the context of the larger regional highway and freight movement system. The businesses and industries in Clackamas County that depend on the highway system to move their goods to the airport and to the Port of Portland cannot afford additional congestion or decreased reliability on the I-205 as a result of an incomplete solution to the I-5 bridge replacement.

More than the tolling and diversion issue, however, the current status and approach of the project has caused Clackamas County to reconsider its support of the Columbia River Crossing as currently proposed. While we firmly believe that a bridge replacement is necessary, and that light rail and pedestrian/bike access are critical elements of a successful project, it appears to us that this project is beginning to collapse under the weight of unresolved community concerns and expectations.

Clackamas County has made great strides in approaching highway development by considering practical design, least cost planning, and phased system improvements. We urge the project sponsors to consider applying some of these nationally recognized approaches to the Columbia River Crossing project to determine appropriate solutions and funding strategies. We have recognized that the funding and development strategies of previous generations are obsolete. Between evolving environmental expectations and diminishing federal partnership, these mega-projects do not reflect the priorities of the communities we are elected to serve. Our citizens and businesses deserve leadership on infrastructure projects that is forward looking.

In addition to seeking a design that is sensitive to affected communities (including Clackamas County), we have grave concerns about a funding strategy for the Columbia River Crossing that prioritizes it above all other regional transportation investments. While we understand that there are rare funding opportunities for this project, we are also all too familiar with the tradeoffs involved in selected regional transportation funding priorities.

Clackamas County would like to see a revised approach to the Columbia River Crossing project that addresses the concerns about community sensitivity, phased design, and realistic funding. While we have not been invited to the table as a sponsor of the project – Metro is our representative — we are certainly willing to participate as a constructive partner in moving this project forward. We are willing to consider and help communicate with the public new ideas that can work. For example, we continue to be interested in the idea of tolling the I-205 bridge along with the I-5 bridge as a pilot project. We know this is not widely popular and are more than willing to discuss these issues with the broader public. It would not be appropriate to use these tolls revenues solely for the Columbia River Crossing when there are so many other long-anticipated projects worthy of such funding along I-205 in Vancouver, Portland and Clackamas County.

Additionally, we are happy to share our expertise in practical design where appropriate for this project. Clackamas County is part of a national coalition of experts and advocates for this approach to transportation facility design and we have access to resources that could be useful in considering design modifications or project phasing. Because we firmly believe that the scarce financial resources will require a phased approach, we would urge you to move quickly in this direction to restore faith with funders and with community stakeholders.

Similarly, we continue to emphasize a broader system view of this project. Removing a bottleneck on the I-5 bridge and moving it to the I-5 in the Central City is not a viable solution, and the region is then forced to make additional difficult and unrealistic choices. By the same token, it is not helping the freight community if traffic on I-5 is more reliable but comes at the expense of the reliability of I-205. There are a number of unresolved questions on this project that with additional investigation and investment could restore community confidence.

Clackamas County is very supportive to our partners in local government who are attempting to address a significant problem while meeting multiple objectives. This letter is meant as an attempt to help guide this project back in a viable direction. We have been watching with great concern as many of the project partners have not been able to identify solutions to these very serious community issues.

We ask that you consider our proposal to revise key aspects of the project planning approach. It is our belief that the NEPA process can continue while practical design, system planning, and revised funding strategies are concurrently applied. While we know this is a complex undertaking, we are committed to finding a solution that works for this region. The project cannot continue in its current process without losing community support. Clackamas County is willing to be a part of helping this project move forward in the wisest community context possible, and we hope the project sponsors will seriously consider the issues and alternative approaches we have raised.

Sincerely,

CLACKAMAS COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

Lynn Peterson, Chair,
On behalf of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners

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