Archive | May, 2010

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

Pressure for “Plan B” at the CRC

I clearly missed an important meeting at the Columbia River Crossing Independent Review Panel yesterday.

Metro President David Bragdon gave this testimony (PDF, 112K), with a clear call for “Plan B”:

Moreover, we need an expedited process to get us to Plan B quickly, through a collaborative governance model which makes the highway divisions participants in the process, a role for they are qualified, rather than being the manager of the process itself, a role they have shown they are not qualified for.

I’m told that Catherine Ciarlo of Mayor Sam Adams’ office made the same point.

I also understand that technical analysis of project data re-analyzed by a consultant funded by the City (can someone who was at the meeting confirm this) appeared to demonstrate that the project was over-built.

And of course, I suspect everyone there was mulling over last night’s election results in which Councilor Rex Burkholder, one of the architects of the process that led to the current design, placed third in the race to succeed Bragdon, behind Bob Stacey, a harsh critic of the current design (not forgetting of course that Mayor Tom Hughes, who placed first a couple of points ahead of Stacey, has supported pretty much any design that gets the bridge built). The fall runoff will almost certainly feature the CRC as a key issue.

We live in interesting times.

What is The Next Interstate System?

What is the next infrastructure investment for the U.S. comparable to the investment in the Interstate Highway system in the 50’s and 60’s?

The retrograde folks who run state highway departments have an answer straight from the 50’s: more urban freeways. (I’d laugh if it didn’t scare me so much).

On the more positive side, over at Richard Florida’s blog the answers range from high-speed internet to high-speed electric rail to … wait for it … walkable cities.

Busy Week for the CRC

Lots of Columbia River Crossing happenings this week:

  • The Independent Review Panel (IPR) will convene for the first time, and will be met by a protest at its first meeting.

    PROTEST PLANNED FOR FIRST MEETING OF CRC ‘RUBBER STAMP’ PANEL

    (Portland, Ore.)–The Stop the CRC Coalition–a grassroots organization opposing the Columbia River Crossing Project in its current form–will protest at the first meeting a panel of ‘experts’ appointed to review the project on Wednesday, May 19.

    The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) picked the panel’s members, who are transportation consultants for various road-building agencies. While the panel’s ostensible purpose is to address mounting concerns from citizens and local elected officials about the bridge’s impact on sprawl, the environment, public health, state budgets and local communities, the panel has not asked to hear from critics of the process, focusing its work on only reviewing the current design, finances and post-construction of the bridge, and working from documents and information that the transportation agencies have prepared.

    “The cost of this review panel is $750,000, over and above the $1 million being spent every month by the project,” said David Osborn from the Coalition to Stop the CRC. “And yet, the review panel appears to be getting ready to rubber stamp the bridge’s current 12-lane, $3.6 billion design, despite widespread opposition to the project.”

    Opponents of the bridge in its current 12-lane design have spent thousands of hours reviewing documents and working on alternatives, but have been largely relegated to three-minute appearances at public hearings, or being refused the opportunity to testify outright.

    WHO: Stop the CRC Coalition

    WHAT: Protest and action at Rubber Stamp Panel first meeting

    WHEN: Wednesday, May 19, 8:45 AM (protest first before Coalition members attempt to enter the panel’s meeting)

    WHERE: Portland Expo Center–protest outside; panel meeting in Room D201

  • The IPR has also announced a public hearing, with all of two days notice. Stellar citizen involvement:

    The panel will host a public meeting to hear directly from members of the community starting at 7 p.m. on May 19 at the Expo Center.

  • Perhaps most intriguingly, there is some buzz on the grapevine that Washington (the state) is putting pressure on ODOT to seriously look at slimmed down alternatives in order to generate some consensus and get the project moving again. One can only hope that this might be true…

Stay tuned…