Keeping an Eye on the CRC Facts

One of the more pernicious ways to influence a public debate is to keep repeating believable sound bites until they become received wisdom. Joe Cortright did a particularly nice job last week of knocking down a couple of those bits of received wisdom for the Columbia River Crossing. This letter is addressed to Bernie Bottomly, a government affairs official with the Portland Business Alliance:

Dear Bernie:

Several colleagues have sent me a copy of a document that you emailed earlier today to people interested in the Columbia River Crossing.

I know that the Portland Business Alliance would want to adhere to the highest possible standards of accuracy in presenting information to legislators and to the public in making decisions about this proposed investment.

In that vein, I think there are two factual errors in the first page of your attachment “A Request from Oregon’s Business Community” that you will want to correct.

“Highest Incidence of Crashes”

On page 1, under “Safety” you claim:

“Currently, the I-5 Columbia River Bridges have the highest incidence of crashes of any highway segment in the state of Oregon.”

This isn’t correct. The Oregon Department of Transportation prepares very detailed data on accident rates on every segment of state maintained roadway. The I-5 bridges actually have lower accident rates–expressed in crashes per million vehicle miles–than either the Fremont or the Marquam Bridges.

In 2009 there were 102 accidents in the Interstate Bridge area (defined as I-5 between Lombard Street and the Washington State Line), according to ODOT’s 2009 Crash Rate Tables, page 30. The Marquam and Fremont bridges have higher crash rates than the Interstate Bridges:

  • Fremont 1.53 crashes per million vehicle miles
  • Marquam 0.90 crashes per million vehicle miles
  • Interstate 0.88 crashes per million vehicle miles

The number of crashes on I-5 in the vicinity of the Interstate Bridges is not significantly different from other busy freeway interchange areas in Portland. Similar stretches of urban freeway have higher accident totals. According to ODOT

  • US 26/Sunset, (Sylvan to I-405) 3.05 miles long, 230 crashes
  • I-405/Stadium, (Entire length) 4.25 miles long, 131 crashes
  • I-5/Interstate Bridge, (Lombard to state line) 2.94 miles long, 102 crashes

You will find all of these statistics at the ODOT website:

In addition, most of Highway 26 (Powell Boulevard) and nearly all of Highways 99W and 99E through the City of Portland have higher crash rates than the Interstate Bridges.

“Most Significant Bottleneck on Interstate 5”

In the first paragraph, you claim:

“The bridges are currently the most significant bottleneck on Interstate 5 between the Canadian border and Mexico.”

That’s actually not true. There is a national ranking of bottlenecks, prepared by Inrix, the leading provider of real time traffic data, which uses GPS data from commercial fleets to measure travel speeds throughout the nation. Five segments of I-5 through Los Angeles rank among the top 100 bottlenecks nationally, at number 26, 40, 62, 76 and 91. These, not the Interstate Bridges, are the “most significant bottleneck” on I-5 between Canada and Mexico.

The I-5 Interstate bridges rank far behind all of the Los Angeles bottlenecks on I-5, and are not even among the top 100 bottlenecks in the nation. According to Inrix, the I-5 Interstate bridges are the 214th worst bottleneck on the interstate freeway system. You can read all of the Inrix ratings on their website.

In the interests of fairness and accuracy, I trust that you will undertake to correct these errors in this document.

And finally, I would point out, if we want to do something about crashes on I-5, and eliminating bottlenecks, there are much better options that spending upwards of $4 billion on the proposed Columbia River Crossing. Upgrading the downstream railroad bridge could virtually eliminate the need for I-5 bridge lifts (a key cause of crashes). Better access management at Hayden Island would reduce crashes, too. And unfortunately, while a 10 or 12 lane bridge across the Columbia might ease congestion there, it is likely to simply shift the bottleneck further south to the Rose Quarter, where I-5 narrows to two lanes in each direction.

Of course, as you know, there are many other issues regarding the CRC on which we reach different conclusions. I’ve tried to be quite explicit and careful in marshaling facts and evidence to support these conclusions. For your reference, and for those who may not have seen Impresa’s work, I attach my latest analysis of CRC questions to this email.

Best regards,


Joe Cortright
Impresa, Inc.

9 responses to “Keeping an Eye on the CRC Facts”

  1. It makes more sense to fix the three to two lane reduction of I-5 at the Rose Quarter section before proceeding with the CRC.

    Add in 217, I-84, etc. and the priority list is much higher in my opinion.

  2. There is a high incidence of crashes on the approaches to the Interstate bridges but almost none on the bridges themselves. The crashes on the approaches may be attributable to weaving from merging traffic, especially in the vicinity of N. Marine Dr. and Jantzen Beach.

    The local access bridge concept from Hayden Island to n. Portland, if it halts direct traffic from I-5 to Jantzen Beach ( it would seem you could except public transit and emergency vehicles, as Seattle does), could change this scenario—or maybe just push it further south. I can recognize that that concept would keep a lot of unnecessary traffic off I-5.

    A third interstate bridge, as long as it takes west side traffic off the I-5, would reduce the congestion and resulting frustration. However, people would drive faster, so crashes on the approaches could continue. But not on the actual bridges :) They are pretty darn safe.

  3. In 2009 there were 102 accidents in the Interstate Bridge area (defined as I-5 between Lombard Street and the Washington State Line),

    It seems pretty unfair to claim that there were fewer crashes on the Interstate Bridge, and then only measure crashes on one half of the bridge. The approaches on the Washington side also need to be considered in order to give us an accurate basis for comparison.

  4. ‘”The bridges are currently the most significant bottleneck on Interstate 5 between the Canadian border and Mexico.”‘

    Yeah, not to mention that the Interstate Bridge is not on the “Interstate 5 route” from Canada to Mexico.

    Canada/Mexico traffic is diverted to I-205 by signs in Tualatin and Vancouver.

    * Vancouver — Salem traffic directed to 205.,-122.663931&spn=0,0.006974&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=45.75389,-122.663877&panoid=XDfFQYtbVBf3L5qA1CV3YQ&cbp=12,184.54,,0,-14.26

    * Tualatin, Seattle traffic directed to 205.,-122.759503&spn=0,0.006974&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=45.364406,-122.759553&panoid=zWcfSvlBaUocOjo-WLlfXA&cbp=12,32.59,,0,0.28

  5. The entire Metro area freeway system is a disaster, but it’s a disaster Portland seems to have chosen we’ll accept. It would take a series of CRC mega-projects to get I-5 from Vancouver to (about) 99W up to modern standards. Pretty much the same applies to I-84 and parts of I-205. (See also: The Airport Way interchange compromise.)

    We’ve pretty well chosen that we’re not going to sink billions from the region/state into freeway upgrades, so we may as well look at other ways to move people.

    Like, maybe a few more local access bridges between states? (I know, it’s unlikely with the way the CRC deck is stacked against it.)

  6. Canada/Mexico traffic is diverted to I-205 by signs in Tualatin and Vancouver.

    They’re not diverted by it, it’s a suggested route. There’s nothing to stop drivers from saving about 10 miles of driving other than a suggestion on a sign each way.

    I-205 is useful for traffic from I-84 to I-5 and for local traffic, but not for bypassing the region. Unless I-205 is more consistently uncontested it’s going to be tough to get trucks to drive ten extra miles (and pay the state for those) than to just take I-5 through town.

  7. Ted Buehler Says: “Yeah, not to mention that the Interstate Bridge is not on the “Interstate 5 route” from Canada to Mexico.”

    There’s nothing ambiguous about the “Interstate 5 route”. It’s clearly marked for its entire length. The Interstate Bridge ABSOLUTELY IS the I-5 crossing over the Columbia. I-205 is merely a bypass, an alternate, just like I-405 in Seattle and LA, and I-805 in San Diego.

    I do agree that it’s not “the most congested part of the I-5 corridor”. The problem is it’s not a “freeway” bridge. It’s a local bridge that’s being used as a freeway. Having a lift span there is like having a railroad crossing on the freeway… it completely disrupts thousands of trips a day (on average). That’s unacceptable.

    I think we need to build a true freeway bridge parallel to it, but make the new bridge express lanes and use the existing bridge for local trips. By keeping the existing bridge, the new bridge only needs to be MAXIMUM 6 lanes, possibly even just 4 lanes if you make the center 2 lanes reversible. If you do reversible lanes, you’d have 6 total lanes SB and 4 NB (counting both bridges) during morning rush hour and the opposite for evening rush hour. Midday and non-peak hours, you’d have 2 express lanes NB and 2 SB.

    Make the express lanes diverge just south of Marine Dr and remerge just north of Hwy 14, then ALL of the existing interchanges can remain intact. Rebuilding them all from scratch is completely unnecessary and a HUGE waste of money and resources. So what if the exit spacing isn’t “optimum”? They function perfectly well (aside from the congestion) and they’re structurally sound.

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