Digging Deeper in the CRC IRP Report

Most of the local press coverage tends to present the Independent Review Panel report on the Columbia River Crossing as an “endorsement” or “approval” of the project.

While there is no question that IPR concurs that a project is necessary, the report is actually fairly critical, not the rubber stamp that many of skeptics feared. Sarah Mirk at the Mercury does her usual excellent job of honing in on the key points:

  • The $3.6 billion cost estimate of the bridge is not accurate. The design of the bridge has changed significantly since the project staff did an in-depth cost estimate validation process, so the pricetag for the current design hasn’t been seriously fact checked.
  • The local “consensus” about the bridge doesn’t agree on much. The locally preferred alternative that politicians and highway planning bigwigs OK’d in 2008 “reflected a very low level of agreement between the parties”… which is why the project is stalled over serious disagreement now.
  • The environmental impact analysis is seriously incomplete. The bridge has changed so much (especially in regard to its footprint on Hayden Island) since the first environmental impact statement that the panel recommends drafting a new supplemental one. Also unresolved? Environmental justice issues.
  • The bridge is an untested, experimental design. The CRC staff identified nine bridges around the world that are similar to the “open web” design proposed for the CRC. But the review panel said that none of those nine are actually similar enough to use as a model, writing, “The open-web design is unique with no history of construction or performance.” That means the bridge would have to be thoroughly tested, a process that could cost $600,000 and take three years.
  • Widening the bridge could just make the Rose Quarter the new traffic pinch point. The review panel noted that concerns about pushing traffic south into the Rose Quarter are still unresolved.

I’d also point out that as I read the report, while it clearly says a project is necessary (I agree – as do many of the skeptics), I don’t actually read anything that says a supplemental bridge approach is out of the question.

13 Comments

13 Responses to Digging Deeper in the CRC IRP Report

  1. Just Saying
    August 3, 2010 at 6:55 am Link

    The problem is that desirable>necessary. To say the CRC is necessary is that same as saying buying a McMansion on an acre of land in the suburbs is necessary because you need someplace to live. The report actually gives scant support to ANY of the details of the CRC proposal.

    What has happened is a decade long $100 million process of kicking hard choices down the road. They are nearing the end of the road and all the hard choices are there waiting for them.

    What is apparent is that this project has been hopelessly mismanaged. And the problem is not the competence of the people staffing it. Its in the politics and structure of the managing agencies. The project is at a dead end until they create a new management structure for the project that doesn’t have an interest in a specific outcome that making hard choices might threaten.

  2. Allan
    August 3, 2010 at 10:43 am Link

    I think the thing that was quite clear in the moderated video that you showed earlier is that the local officials aren’t willing to leave the current bridge as the most dangerous point on Oregon’s highways at the end of any project, and they clearly won’t be reducing it to 2 lanes, so they have to blow up the current bridges.

  3. Unit
    August 3, 2010 at 11:02 am Link

    Two points of clarification re: Allan’s comments.

    1. The existing CRC is not the most dangerous point on Oregon’s highways. Far from it. Lots of fender benders, yes. I’d be more concerned if it was lots of injuries and deaths.
    2. Widening a highway does not usually make it safer. In fact, if the added capacity increases vehicle-miles traveled (which every widening in history has), it will increase the numbers of networkwide crashes since there are many more people traveling, even if some of them are moved from the bridge to other places (i.e. ramps, surface streets from CRC trips). It’s really just shifting and worsening the problem.

    If we were worried about safety, we’d be addressing the substandard ramp terminals on Hayden Island, rather than a major capacity expansion.

  4. Carter
    August 3, 2010 at 3:03 pm Link

    That’s home in, not hone.

  5. Chris Smith
    August 3, 2010 at 4:01 pm Link

    to make more acute or effective; improve; perfect: to hone one’s skills.

  6. Dave H
    August 4, 2010 at 8:57 pm Link

    The supplemental bridge, while I support it, is a problem because of Vancouver and BNSF’s ownership of the existing rail bridge. There aren’t many other great corridors due to PDX and Pearson Field to build another bridge, and the BNSF bridge is privately owned, so an agreement needs to be worked out with them and both states (and probably the feds) to replace that with anything else.

    Fixing Hayden Island’s interchange is a great idea, but without replacing or significantly modifying the existing bridges (a big part of the cost), that’s not going to help anything. Without light rail, Portland won’t support pretty much any option, so we’re pretty much back to the CRC being the only solution that seems to represent a compromise.

    There’s no other solution that will make BNSF, Vancouver, Portland, Washington, Oregon, and the Federal Government happy through this without getting everyone to sit down and make some concessions.

  7. Ron Swaren
    August 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm Link

    Build a third bridge near the rail corridor connecting Vancouver to North Portland and combine with a route out to Beaverton and Hillsboro.

    Reduces VMT. Shortens mass transit commute time. Shortens bicyle travel. Doesn’t tear up private properties. Everyone wins.

    Politics is the art of compromise.

  8. Dave H
    August 4, 2010 at 10:40 pm Link

    Ron, the question becomes where can we build it? To the rural part of Mill Plain west of the existing BNSF bridge? Without further connections through St Johns to US-30/26, who does this serve? Or do we try to get the feds to give us an exemption to take away the ownership of the bridge by BNSF? Where does that get WA and OR as far as high speed rail goes if we piss off a major land owner we need to work with?

  9. Just Saying
    August 5, 2010 at 5:49 am Link

    “Build a third bridge near the rail corridor connecting Vancouver to North Portland and combine with a route out to Beaverton and Hillsboro. ”

    There is almost no current traffic that would use that route. I am sure some people who work in Washington County would take advantage of it to live in Clark County. But why is that a goal worth a $billion of scarce transportation dollars?

    We just invested a bunch of money in WES to try to reduce automobile traffic in Washington County. This is a proposal to encourage more of it. I don’t get it.

  10. Ron Swaren
    August 5, 2010 at 8:54 am Link

    There is almost no current traffic that would use that route. I am sure some people who work in Washington County would take advantage of it to live in Clark County. But why is that a goal worth a $billion of scarce transportation dollars?

    No, the current traffic does go on I-5, 405 and then US 26. If you were right, then obviously there would be no reason to do this. But we need to have a study to understand how much commuting traffic would use this if it was a shortcut, how many people who want to go further out on 26 from N. Portland or Washington and would opt for this, as opposed to the congested central city route and how many intraday commercial travelers would opt for this shorter route? We also need to project future demand, as the Metro 2040 growth concept unfolds. Although all areas are growing the most phenomenal growth (according to official statistics) has been in Washington County and Clark Co.

    Likely, arguments similar to yours were raised prior to the construction of I-205 and the Glenn Jackson Bridge. Further, unlike the WES, serving one county, this route would serve three counties. Big difference. But I am not the expert; we need a professional study that is realistic, not the truncated proposal that CRC dismissed. However, since the Transportation Council serving several counties in Washington state had proposed this, don’t you think there is some credibility to it?

    And since you are talking about “scarce dollars” have you really examined the sum total of projects that Portland area agency and officials have proposed? Have you looked at Sam Adam’s “Freeway Loop Study?” Have you looked at the “Greatest Places” master light rail plan? Have you looked at the elaborate plans for the Sellwood Bridge, far exceeding other comparable projects in Multnomah Co?

  11. Just Saying
    August 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm Link

    “we need to have a study to understand how much commuting traffic would use this if it was a shortcut”

    My understanding is there already is data on this. There are not that many people working Washington County who are coming from Washington State.

    “the most phenomenal growth (according to official statistics) has been in Washington County and Clark Co.”

    Even if true, I don’t know how that is relevant. The folks in Clark County don’t work in Washington County and vice versa.

    “Likely, arguments similar to yours were raised prior to the construction of I-205 and the Glenn Jackson Bridge.”

    Well no, they weren’t. I-205 was going to be a nice un-congested bypass so traffic could avoid the congestion on I-5. But you have the formula right: build freeway, spur new development along it, complain about congestion, repeat.

    Its the real estate speculators wetdream. There are still people who own land along the old western bypass in Washington County who had hoped to get rich when the freeway went in.

    “have you really examined the sum total of projects that Portland area agency and officials have proposed? ”

    You can find them all and more in the RTP.

  12. Ron Swaren
    August 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm Link

    Just Saying, Why don’t you put up some data to support your points instead of just relying on others to accept them at face value? Anyone can make claims.

    You are even accusing me of views that I have never held.

    METROS’ own 2009-2030 residential growth report has statistics on where each of METRO area’s counties residents work, including Clark. Check it out before opening your ****.

    Well no, they weren’t. I-205 was going to be a nice un-congested bypass so traffic could avoid the congestion on I-5. But you have the formula right: build freeway, spur new development along it, complain about congestion, repeat.

    Part of the problem with this objection is that we live in the real world and Portland planning objectives do not stand by themselves on their own merits. We happen to be part of a growing CORRIDOR, in case you didn’t notice. Such statements, as you cite, should have the disclaimer “Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.”

    A similar criticism could be leveled at light rail when it does nothing, beyond a less than a decade of relief, to reduce congestion on the routes it parallels. Both I-84 and US 26 are clear examples. Not that I was ever opposed to the east or west MAX lines—just pointing out a reality. And the development that you speak of is generally favored by local officials who are looking for tax revenue and employment opportunities for residents.

    But if you are serious about putting a lid on further development, halleleujah! And the first project to be cut should be the CRC. Then we could discuss the elaborate light rail proposals. And maybe get down to an agenda that is fiscally realistic. Not that the people have much of a voice in the people’s republic.

  13. Just Saying
    August 6, 2010 at 6:36 am Link

    “You are even accusing me of views that I have never held.”

    I haven’t accused you of having any views or even implied you hold any views. But where you got this idea is beyond me. I said nothing remotely similar:

    “if you are serious about putting a lid on further development”

    Recognizing that transportation decisions help determine where development occurs is just common sense observation.

    “Why don’t you put up some data to support your points”

    You suggested the need for a study of Clark County commuting patterns. That has been studied and you can find the information somewhere on the CRC web site. Why would I track down information I already have?

    “We happen to be part of a growing CORRIDOR”

    Sure – all the way from San Diego to the Canadian border. I am not sure what that has to do with a new freeway from Clark County to Washington County.

    I also wonder about proposing a billion dollar project and then saying:

    “we need to have a study to understand how much commuting traffic would use this if it was a shortcut, how many people who want to go further out on 26 from N. Portland or Washington and would opt for this, as opposed to the congested central city route and how many intraday commercial travelers would opt for this shorter route?”

    Now you say this:

    “METROS’ own 2009-2030 residential growth report has statistics on where each of METRO area’s counties residents work, including Clark. Check it out before opening your ****.”

    If you looked at that report objectively, I think you would find plenty of evidence that a freeway between Clark County and Highway 26 will not serve many current users. But you seem to already have a project you want to build and are looking for some evidence it would be used.

    Of course, as with I-205, if you invest a billion dollars in infrastructure people will use the opportunities it provides. But the same is true of adding transportation infrastructure in Damascus, where it would not only serve residents, but attract employers for those residents. The point is that the project you propose will encourage more people to live in Clark County and commute to Oregon. It makes no sense to spend a billion dollars to do that. So the question is whether we should invest in infrastructure consistent with the region’s goals or should we invest in infrastructure that serves to sabotage them.

Leave a Reply

By posting a comment, you are granting a license to Portland Transport for your comment. Please refer to The Rules.