The $100K Pin to Prick a $100M Balloon

It may be the best $100,000 the City of Portland has ever spent.

Mayor Adams commissioned URS to take a second look at the Columbia River Crossing project data. There full report is due imminently (I’m trying to get an electronic copy) but a summary memo has been circulating for the last week or so (including at the Freight Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s Transportation Cabinet). The Oregonian has found an electronic copy of the memo (PDF, 418K).

The top line takeaways from this report are:

  • The 10-lane bridge functions essentially the same as the 12-lane configuration. URS recommends a maximum configuration of 10 lanes (i.e., suggests eliminating the option of re-striping for 12 lanes at a later date, saving about $50M on the cost).
  • An 8-lane configuration would match the performance of the 10-lane configuration if demand management could reduce traffic volumes by 22% (CRC staff would hasten to point out that this 22% is in addition to the 15% demand reduction the project already forecasts via tolling – although they tend to get the math wrong and call this a 37% overall reduction – it’s actually 34% [.85 x .78 = .663]).
  • The current choke-point at the crossing effectively serves as a ‘meter’ preventing congestion at the Rose Quarter. If this metering effect if removed, there is potentially a traffic jam extending from Rose Quarter well into Washington State.

The last point has the Mayor particularly concerned – what are the economic impacts on the City and the region if we lose mobility throughout North Portland during the AM peak?

The immediate effect is that the conversation now shifts from whether 10 lanes is sufficient to a discussion of 8 versus 10 lanes.

What’s remarkable is that the project spent $60M in planning money convincing us that nothing less than 12 lanes would suffice (and has spent another $37M since figuring out how to reduce this to a mere 10 lanes). It only took 1 tenth of 1 percent of that money to inject some reality into this decision…

URS continues to study alternatives to the Hayden Island interchange.

12 Responses to The $100K Pin to Prick a $100M Balloon