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.

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