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”

  1. Lowering the speed limit, from the current snail-pace 55MPH? Oregon already has some of the slowest freeways around. Also, maybe there’s something to be said about a cars’ most gas-efficient speed? And the traffic impacts of all the people that’ll get pulled over!

  2. 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.

    That “best case scenario” seems like quite a stretch of imagination. Even if the existing or new CRC acts as a “meter” what is going to happen given the projected population growth of 1-2 million people? What is going to happen with the Interstate traffic from the rest of the I-5 corridor, plus its links to other US and state highways, as it passes through our metropolitan area? Do you think these new inhabitants are all going to opt for the MAX: The 1.4 mile MAX (in WA) that only goes to Clark College? At least the Gresham MAX and Westside MAX cover reasonable distances. (16 and 14 mi. I believe).

    Even assuming that Vancouver develops bus rapid transit with a terminus at a Clark College MAX station, someone trying to get from Battle Ground to a job in the Silicon Forest would have a very lengthy, slow commute. Both ways. Or if we had to have more or lengthier MAX routes in Clark Co. should not the cost of those be on the table now….so that we can realistically gauge what is going to happen?

    Mayor Tim Leavitt, in his interview on KGW, even said that a new CRC bridge would only prevent congestion for a maximum of twenty years. I doubt if it would even be that long if Portland politicians keep seeking more federal subsidization for grandiose plans—–with the added job seekers flocking to the area seeking public works employment.

    If the CRC goes through it will be the broken linchpin into a spiral of expensive, grandiose projects, futile solutions, population growth, transient job-seekers, local planning headaches and then, more federally-sponsored projects.

  3. I said lowering the speed limit in the project area–I mean from SR500 down to Interstate or so; not lowering the speed limit on all of I-5.

    @Ron. If the population does jump to 3-4 million or so, it won’t because of journeyman construction workers in town to build the bridge or other public works projects. Itinerant construction workers tend to leave when the job is done, and don’t care how nice and liveable a particular city is. :)

  4. Speeds below 55 mph generally make more efficient use of the road. Because of the distance between cars, you can move more cars past a given point at 35 mph than 55 mph. You can also have narrower lanes. As for fuel efficiency, generally vehicles are going to be more efficient at the lower speed as well.

    The larger question is whether lowering the speed limit will actually lower the speed of traffic. That is more a design issue than an enforcement question. And it is VERY doubtful you could get ODOT to set the design speed for I5 to 35 mph.

  5. Actually, the safe throughput for a highway is generally 1800 vehicles per hour per direction, assuming passenger cars–the “two second rule”. Throughput goes down slightly as speed drops, then drops dramatically below 30MPH. Going from 55 to 45 doesn’t improve capacity. It will improve reliability, however, as safer operation (and fewer accidents) is possible at lower speeds, and there will be less interference from vehicles accelerating or decelerating while on the mainline.

    Going to 35MPH (an example speed) generally will lessen the fuel economy of gas-powered passenger cars (NOT SUVs, minivans, pickups–just CARS); which nowadays are sufficiently aerodynamic to not be bothered by drag until 60MPH or so, and have powertrains optimized for this speed. Larger vehicles, OTOH–and this includes SUVs and pickups–generally have their peak fuel efficiencies at 40-45 MPH, and really large vehicles (busses, full-sized trucks, RVs) even lower than that.

    Hybrids also do generally better at lower speeds than do gas- or diesel- powered vehicles, depending on their configuration.

  6. According to the Vancouver mayor, a new bridge (10-12 lane variety) will be obsolete in 20 years, as it will have the same amount of congestion as we do today.

    In 2030, are we to build another CRC bridge @ 20+ lanes bridge to serve the communities’ insatiable desire to drive and move goods via trucks?

    At what point do we say “enough” of this over-building of our freeway systems? At what point do we question the way people and goods are moved throughout our cities?

  7. During the last days of the Governors’ I-5 TF, the consultants reported that a 8-2 configuration, that is an 8 lane freeway bridge with a two lane arterial bridge (with light rail and bike/ped), worked just as well as a 10 lane freeway bridge. At that point, I moved that a 6-2-2 option be included in the DEIS…retaining the existing freeway bridges and adding two 2-lane arterial bridges; one with light rail and another in the heavy rail alignment for freight. Mayor Katz seconded the motion, and the vote was 9 Yes and 10 No with Metro voting No with ODOT and the Port. ODOT staff promised that night that the 6-2-2 option would be in the DEIS as the vote split the Task Force down the middle. That promise was not kept and may come back to haunt the CRC PR campaign.

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