Oregonian Makes it Official: We Can Talk About CRC Alternatives

So the editorial board decrees:

The Columbia River Crossing, imagined for a decade and energetically planned since 2005, had bogged down this winter over objections from the city of Portland, Metro, Hayden Island residents and a gaggle of alarmed architects and urban planners. The delicate consensus reached two years ago to proceed with the bridge had evaporated amid complaints that the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation had been allowed to dictate the shape and size of the bridge and its interchanges. The people and communities most affected by the bridge felt increasingly estranged from the planning process.

But then the dynamic started shifting, thanks at least partly to the co-chairman of the Project Sponsors Council, Portland lawyer Henry Hewitt.

“Henry recognized we were not getting where we need to go,” explains Catherine Ciarlo, transportation director for Portland Mayor Sam Adams. She credits Hewitt with driving the creation of a working group to reassess problems such as the project’s heavy footprint on Hayden Island.

Getting past the spin and more to the point:

Later, the city of Portland hired its own transportation consulting firm, San Francisco-based URS Corp., to explore alternative configurations and issues related to expanding the traffic crossing over the Columbia. URS’ research and presentations helped expand the bridge conversation to include its effects on the Rose Quarter.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the review council convened by the governors of Oregon and Washington, highway engineers said their primary unresolved issues involve the configuration of connections to Hayden Island, the width of the bridge and downstream effects on congestion at the Rose Garden. That acknowledgement is a form of progress, demonstrating an understanding of how many parties are needed to steer the bridge to a conclusion.

In other words, the City paid a truly independent (from the DOTs) analyst to review the data and confirm what we all knew.

OK, let’s get on with some real conversation.

12 responses to “Oregonian Makes it Official: We Can Talk About CRC Alternatives”

  1. I think its important to remember the Rose Quarter is a placeholder for all the impacts of this project outside the “bridge influence area”. The problems on I5 at the Rose Quarter are still keeping the discussion on the DOT’s turf. The real transportation challenge is the impact on the local street grid and parking facilities in Oregon’s job centers needed to support that many more employees arriving by automobile. Focusing on the Rose Quarter is still limiting the discussion to the DOT’s part of those problems.

    The problem is not only that the DOT’s were allowed to limit discussion to a small portion of I5 and not consider impacts on the rest of the transportation system. The problem is that they were allowed to limit discussion to the task of transporting people without considering what kind of place was being created in the process.

    The broader issues include the impact on the urban centers in Portland that provide employment to everyone in the region. How does this highway investment help keep those centers attractive places for business, much less make them more attractive?

    They include the issue of induced residential development in rural Clark County and the impacts that auto-dependent development will have on the whole region, including the city of Vancouver.

    At some point, like Washington and Clackamas Counties before it, rural Clark County will become urban Clark County after enough people move there. It will need transit and other urban services. It will have its own transportation and congestion problems. It will need schools and parks, sewers and water, paved streets, sidewalks and streetlights etc. And someone will have to pay through the nose to create those after the fact.

    Compare that to the plan to channel growth to Damascus where the discussion and planning for urban services is already underway. Not after the area has urbanized, but in preparation for it.

    Anyone who doubts those impacts are real ought to look at the studies done by Metro when the bridge was going to have only three through lanes in each direction. They still showed rural Clark County property values exploding, while property values on the Oregon side would either not be effected by the bridge or would decline slightly. That ought to tell you that even a much smaller bridge will make living in rural Clark County more desirable which means more people will choose to live there. That’s why property values will increase relative to what they would be with the current bridge.

    Any review needs to ask the basic questions. Where do we expect people to live, work and recreate? What kind of places should those be. What services will they need and how will we provide those services in those locations?

    If we can’t provide those services at a reasonable cost, then we shouldn’t invest huge amount of resources in providing only the transportation infrastructure needed to support and encourage people to live there.

    The problem with this result is that it reflects a classic reason for government failure. The DOT’s were allowed to keep their planning in a narrow silo. Taken out of that silo, the project plan makes no sense at all. It doesn’t need to be tweaked, it needs to be abandoned. But that would mean leaving a lot of money on the table at a time when jobs are scarce.

    Given that, the real solution is to narrow the discussion to the crossing itself. Leave out all the interchange improvements. Build something that is flexible enough that it can be used as a local bridge or a highway bridge or a combination of the two. And then let future generations figure out what best meets their needs.

  2. I think the underlying problem is population growth. None of the major ideas advanced thus far has been very unrealistic, and if implemented would be a series of expensive–yet incomplete–solutions. And aside from the impact to local streets–as mentioned above—-rapid population growth will present major planning headaches apart from traffic issues.

    But instead of formulating an official policy that thwarts natural growth in the region, I would prefer to see a fiscally conservative transportation spending policy that doesn’t create an excessive amount of employment–and contracting— opportunities that further fuels the growth from the relocation of businesses to our area.

    So, it’s not a “McCall” type of policy that doesn’t welcome business location ( not that that is really accurate for Gov. McCall) but I wouldn’t support infrastructure spending that has as a reason the ‘creation of jobs.’ I am not impressed with Kulongoski’s boast that the CRC would produce 27,000 jobs. So what?

  3. The discussion about property values and population growth implicitly assumes “more of the same”.

    AGW is likely to result in a cooler and wetter western Oregon and Washington (think May 2010…) because the increased evaporation from the tropical oceans has to fall somewhere. It will fall where it’s already cloudy. I don’t know how many of you look at the sky, but the clouds over our city have gotten much thicker in the past few years. The overall insolation at the ground has probably fallen 5 to 8 percent during the cloudy months as a result. It’s going to be colder and less pleasant.

    Who’s going to want to live here if the climate’s like the Aran Islands or Iceland? Not many people.

  4. (think May 2010…)

    Think it’s called the Pineapple Express and we have had it in October and November, too.

    According to METRO statistics only 14 percent of our GHG originate from “local vehicular traffic” (which would include everything that goes on suburban and city streets 24/7.) So even if we had twice as many commuters taking TriMet we would still be making a very small dent in area GHG. And GHG, apart from commuting habits, will increase if the number of people predicted to move here actually do, especially people who come from where little fossil fuel is used for heating.

  5. I’d like to take a moment to remind folks, before this thread goes downhill (it hasn’t), that arguments over the existence of human-caused climate change are off-topic for this site.

    That being said, discussions of what we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the context of transportation/land-use, local and regional public and private politics, etc., are generally OK.

    Please also keep in mind that no single weather event is evidence of climate change (or disproof thereof), nor can it be said that climate change is the “cause” of a particular single weather event. What we have are various models which try to attempt long-term shifts in climate and the overall frequency of various types of weather events which may result.

    So, we can’t say “this pineapple express is the result of global warning”, but we can say “that scientific model over there predicts an increase of pineapple express-type events for our region”.

  6. Sorry, I didn’t quote that right.

    This link says “25 percent from local transportation” which would be pretty inclusive of all transport locally:

    Their pie chart, on p.5, shows 14 percent from “local passenger transport:”

    (Now, to get off the main subject: I don’t think anyone in their right mind would dispute that we have milder winters, at least in North America, than a few generations ago. There are lots of accounts of long term frozen conditions around the country from the 1800’s. And we are generally quite a bit warmer than when ice sheets covered our world. What proportion anthropogenic factors have contributed to this, and what activities have contributed how much….who knows? And then it is even a much longer leap to try to construct a local planning policy to mitigate this—considering all of the other variables that will enter in, naturally and anthropogenically, to alter the equation. By analogy, , it is p—— into the wind. But I expect that people will gradually opt for lower GHG activities, partly because of market conditions and partly because of social trends. To accurately analyze this would take a genuine economist, such as our state economist did with the CRC.)

    So, what is the broader conversation that we need to be having? I could be wrong, but I don’t see the advantages of the growth model, as we seem to be currently advised to embrace. At METROS “When Business as Usual Isn’t Good Enough” symposium we were advised to expect a US population of one billion by 2100. However, I don’t see any kind of magic number that turns a country into a “success.” The Scandinavian countries have tiny populations compared to us.

  7. I guess the notion of limited economic growth is catching on, probably stimulated from a treehugger perspective. Last week I picked up an issue of Mother Jones at the Fred Meyer newsstand and there it was, Clive Thompson’ “Nothing Grows Forever.”

    Apparently there have been a spate of related articles recently.

    As far as I understand the more college grads we turn out seeking professional careers, the greater number of low skilled and semi-skilled people we need to keep the industrial mechanism going…. unless and until you can automate. With our country’s low birth rate that means higher immigration levels, which nowadays also translates into urban growth. There is a balance between professional vocations and operative ones, and when one segment grows the other must, too. Unless your country can actually rely on enough sales of professional services to maintain a favorable trade balance. (Luxembourgh, maybe? Hong Kong?)

    Peter Schiff, Republican Senatorial candidate in Connecticutt has been saying as much when he writes of “the bloated service sector.” This is a little different than disparaging growth entirely; it is simply saying that a higher percentage of people should prepare to remain in operative roles and not see higher ed. and professional vocations, as the only route to success.. Like me! And I’m not semi-skilled, am I? Maybe just in the virtual world….

    Would that model of low growth mean economic failure? Like I said above there seems to be no magic number at which a country’s population produces a successful economy. Bringing it back locally, I don’t doubt that rapid growth could provide more lucrative economic opportunities for greater numbers of people. But as we have seen in this complexity of our present urban planning decisions there is a lot of downside as well.

  8. If only 14 percent of GHG locally is due to “local passenger transport” we would be reasonably obliged to deduct from that figure the means that are not categorized as “personal vehicle commuting trips.”

    Those would include: buses, taxis, shuttles, business trips, pleasure and recreational trips, shopping trips. That is, in most cases. So, then how much is left that results from the use of automobiles for commuting…..which is the main target of public transportation policy? Maybe 8-10 percent?

    So even if you had a phenomenal effort that cut this amount in half—that would only be a 5 percent reduction in area GHG from a better transit policy. Is it worth a very expensive strategy to do that? And I know that during the building of this elaborate system, construction workers are not going to be driving the “green” vehicles to work or taking the bus.

  9. “So even if you had a phenomenal effort that cut this amount in half—that would only be a 5 percent reduction in area GHG from a better transit policy. Is it worth a very expensive strategy to do that? ”

    I am not sure your logic is correct, transit serves a lot of non-commute trips.

    But the obvious answer to your question is that it depends on how expensive the alternatives are for those same trips. Any investment designed to serve commuters is only used a few hours each day.

  10. I am not sure your logic is correct, transit serves a lot of non-commute trips.

    Got any statistics? I am convinced the vast majority are for the sake of either convenient commuting (nothing wrong with that) or because the person, for one reason or another, doesn’t want to use a car.

    Whatever the actual statistical breakdown is, it is still true that you would have to deduct those other means I have mentioned, although their percentage of contribution to local GHG could be somewhat variable.

    I don’t think there are “obvious answers.” Neither one of us is a professional economist. When you get into how you expect that people should act, a lot can happen over the course of time to change projections.

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