CRC FEIS on the Horizon

Jim Karlock is often our sparring partner, but we share a core value of open public information.

Jim has filed a public records request and received a copy of the draft FEIS for the Columbia River Crossing, which he has posted on his site.

38 responses to “CRC FEIS on the Horizon”

  1. I was unaware:

    Steel Bridge Improvements
    In addition to extending the MAX Yellow line, the CRC project would include minor modifications to a critical element of the existing MAX light rail transit system located outside the main project area. These modifications would improve the existing light rail transit track and electrical system on the Steel Bridge, which is located approximately 4 miles south of the crossing of the Columbia River. These improvements would allow the Yellow Line trains, as well as all other MAX line trains that would use these tracks, to increase their travel speed over the Steel Bridge.

  2. OK…. so why isn’t TriMet upgrading the Steele Bridge now? Or when they added the Green Line? Weren’t we told that the Steele was already upgraded as much as it could be, and that the maximum speed they could ever achieve was 10mph?

  3. These improvements would allow the Yellow Line trains, as well as all other MAX line trains that would use these tracks, to increase their travel speed over the Steel Bridge.

    Halleluiah! I’m switching sides to become a CRC supporter. (Not really. Yes to the Halleluiah, though as Arron Hall points out, we could have done that at any time.)

  4. Very good, Bob… in Latin, “Halleluiah” is spelled with an “i”. It seems both you AND Councilor Roberts have been watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade recently…. :)

  5. In all actuality it was a 50/50 chance between two choices offered by Firefox’s built-in dictionary.

    Having had some background in both the Pentecostal and Episcopal traditions (don’t ask, please don’t), I’m forever confused as to which spelling to use for variously-transliterated religious terms.

  6. I’m not sure a 1.33 mph increase is concern for praise here.

    I just made that number up but does anyone expect it to increase greatly? I’m skeptical.

  7. In chapter 2 there are more details on exactly what changes will be made. They will increase the speed to 15 MPH, it says.

  8. I’d love to see the cost of the bridge and the Hayden Island, Marine Drive, and Mill Plain Blvd interchanges, separately the cost of MAX between the current north end and Vancouver, and then an itemized list of things that are “a part” of the CRC and see how much of the CRC is just paying for other things the region wants. The new SR-500 interchange being packaged in as part of the CRC (last I read, I haven’t made it that far in the DEIS) seems like another stretch just as bad as Steel Bridge improvements under the CRC banner.

  9. Dave H, this is what the CRC claims as far as itemized costs:

    I don’t see an “other things that are part of the CRC” category. I wonder if this Steel Bridge fix falls under “light rail” or “right-of-way and utilities” or what.

    SR-500 is certainly a ways out there, but it’s only a trifling, trivial nine million bucks.

    And I bet this Steel Bridge fix is probably a trifle compared to the rest too.

  10. The Steel Bridge is slow, but it’s also short. Crossing it is like taking that hairpin turn under the freeway just west of Sunset TC. As a rider, you’re conscious that you’re creeping along that segment. But in terms of overall trip time, it doesn’t add much because you’re past it pretty quickly.

    What I’d like to see done with the Steel Bridge is to create whatever structural reinforcements are necessary to (a) strengthen the bridge against future earthquakes, and (b) allow light rail to run on all four lanes of the upper deck. Running all four light rail lines across that bridge creates the worst bottleneck on the entire system. Splitting the N/S and E/W lines would allow faster, more frequent, and more reliable service on all MAX lines in the future.

  11. Doug,

    Increasing the speed will help reduce the bottleneck, and is likely why the improvement is listed as part of the CRC project (increased yellow line service frequency).

    Aside from cheap fixes like this, I’m not sure how much more money they should dump into that bridge. A faster, long term solution like a transit tunnel might be the better bet. It’s going to take much longer to accomplish, but will greatly improve MAX service through downtown.

  12. I used to support a MAX tunnel, but I’ve grown increasingly skeptical in recent years. A tunnel would likely be a billion-dollar project, and I don’t know that the marginal benefits (increased speed, longer trains at rush hour, fewer accidents) would be worth that large an investment. If a fix to the Steel Bridge came in at, say, $50 million to eliminate the bottleneck and thus allow more frequent service, I’d go for the bridge.

    It’s been discussed elsewhere on this board that Tri-Met could speed up service through downtown by closing/consolidating certain MAX stations from Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow. That wouldn’t be as good as a tunnel, but it’s a cheap way to get improved service.

    My bottom line is if given a choice between (a) spending $50 million or so to eliminate bottlenecks, increase rush hour passenger capacity by 50%, and cut 5 minutes off downtown travel time, or (b) spending $1 billion to eliminate bottlenecks, double rush hour passenger capacity and cut 10 minutes off downtown travel time … I’d pick the cheap option in a heartbeat.

  13. Douglas:

    Name one major city in the world that does not have an underground/raised transit system in its core?

    You can’t.

    The MAX is packed as is, and capacity and speed are its biggest issues and barriers to growth.

    Not to mention, despite all of the bubbly statements about TriMet ridership numbers of late, modal split is p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c in the Portland Urban Area:

    7.4% of people take transit to work in the Portland area. With billions invested, too.

    I expect biking to work to surpass transit to work in the city. That’s a huge statement on the level of service people are offered moreso than the statement about bicycling amenities offered in the city.

    A good bus system can get you 7.4% modal split to work. Easily. Why are we diddling with slow and expensive rail then?

  14. Name one major city in the world that does not have an underground/raised transit system in its core?

    Can you be more specific about the definition of “major city”?

    Now, I happen to be a supporter of building some kind of subway and a new river crossing (above or below). I agree that the right kind of investment could significantly improve speed and capacity. (We’ve built a multi-mile subway for sewage already, why not one for people?)

    But, as far as I know, for a city the size of Portland our mode share is doing better than others the same size or even a bit larger, and I can think of a few cities (again, hangs on the definition of “major”) which don’t currently have grade-separated transit in the core.

  15. Name one major city in the world that does not have an underground/raised transit system in its core?

    Why? Portland isn’t London, New York, Tokyo, Paris or Hong Kong. We don’t need what they have in transport capacity, and never will.

    A more relevant question would be: what major US metropolitan areas Portland’s size or larger don’t have an underground/raised transit system in the core?

    Kansas City, Cincinnati, Orlando, San Antonio, Sacramento, Denver, Tampa, San Diego, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Detroit (unless you count the People Mover as a transit system, which I don’t because it’s just a downtown circulator), Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. There are also cities like St. Louis with a mostly-surface LRT system that drops underground for just one or two stations.

    In any case, “other cities have one” isn’t an argument to build a subway. In Portland, “we need four-car trains on the Blue Line because the trains are so packed they’re leaving people on the platform every day” is probably the only argument that would justify the expense of a subway. We’re nowhere close to that point yet.

  16. Portland MSA 1990 Journey To Work Mode:

    6.0% Transit

    Portland MSA 2005-2009 ACS

    6.3% Transit


    1990 to 2009 transit growth from billions “invested”:


    Similar size city and metro area (and strikingly similar geographic layout):

    Pittsburgh MSA 2005-2009 ACS

    5.8% transit rate. Portland’s not doing much better and it spends more $.

    Here’s another comparison:

    Oakland City 2005-2009 ACS

    17% commute to work transit percentage for Oakland for a city below 400k people (yes I know it’s next to SF).

    Portland city (580K people) commute to work via transit: 12.4%


  17. Douglas:

    Forget my comment about major cities and their respective transit systems. It’s moot and doesn’t matter. All I want are answers to Portland’s poor numbers and slow times through downtown.

    Please, tell me why the city of Seattle, a city of very similar population to the city of Portland, has a transit to work usage of 6% higher than Portland!? We’re the #1 transit city in the US I thought.

    People are not going to take slow transit. It’s just human nature to take the quickest route. All of the lines for LR go through downtown — this is a major problem for future growth.

    Nobody has been able to seriously answer how to speed up downtown transit times substantially besides a few stop consolidations that really won’t improve things by much, nor entice people out of their cars.

    I see denial about how TriMet can get better transit growth except for $6 a gallon gas.

  18. I don’t want this conversation to drift too far away from the CRC draft FEIS, so I’ll just point out that direct comparisons between Portland and Seattle have been challenging in the past due to Seattle’s (city of) far greater population density and narrower boundaries, and comparisons to older east coast cities with long-established transit traditions and established older, walkable neighborhoods are problematic. Further, to increase transit mode share in recent decades, as Portland has done, at a time when it was declining in much of the country, is not such a bad thing.

    In any case, I think most (not all) of us can agree that _if_ Portland wishes to continue to grow and to do so with greater density, eventually some kind of high capacity grade-separated upgrade in the core is going to have to happen.

    Interestingly, much of our suburban rail transit development has been grade-separated, or at least on dedicated ROW. Getting back to the CRC, it looks like a MAX extension would be primarily grade separated until it lands in downtown Vancouver.

  19. Nobody has been able to seriously answer how to speed up downtown transit times substantially besides a few stop consolidations that really won’t improve things by much,

    I don’t doubt that a tunnel would speed things up considerably. Fewer stops, faster speeds between stations, no need to worry about cars and pedestrians, and no accidents that shut down the entire system until the tow truck arrives.

    But the question is, how much faster will it be? It takes roughly 30 minutes right now to get from Hollywood to Washington Park on MAX. If consolidating stops and maybe some other tweaks can shave five minutes off the “Washington Park to Hollywood” segment, and the subway can shave ten minutes, is the five minute marginal difference really worth the investment required for a tunnel? I would say “no.” On the other hand, if the subway design makes it possible to travel from Washington Park to Hollywood in ten minutes (a twenty minute savings) in addition to doubling the capacity of the entire system, then I’d say, “okay, let’s look at this.” (Perhaps ironically, the faster subway will be significantly cheaper, since it will have fewer stations.)

    And tying this thing back to the CRC, my objection to the subway concept comes from the same place as my CRC objections: if you can find a way to achieve 90% or 95% of what the proposed project achieves at a smallish fraction of the cost, give up the 10% incremental advantage and save the money for other stuff. I expect nearly everything the CRC promises in terms of capacity, congestion relief and transit could be met nearly as well with a second bridge and some other improvements (like a lift span on the railroad bridge) that most likely would come in well under a billion dollars.

  20. It’s not just what a light rail tunnel would do for MAX; it’s also what it would do for competing uses on surface streets and bridges.

  21. I see the mega-Portland advocates are at it again. Given the extraordinary cost of getting a bridge across roughly one-half mile of water, what would the downtown subway cost?

  22. mega-Portland advocates

    Not really. “More populous, denser, walkable, less-auto-dependent Portland advocates”.

    Given the extraordinary cost of getting a bridge across roughly one-half mile of water, what would the downtown subway cost?

    Less than the Big Pipe project currently wrapping up.

    TriMet’s also pretty good at bridging rivers at a modest cost (assuming the Milwaukie Light Rail bridge budget holds up, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t at this stage.)

    But it does help to illustrate just how massively expensive the CRC is, which, as mentioned earlier, is largely due to all the extra “stuff” not directly related to bridging the Columbia is in there.

  23. Well, according to Cortwright, mega projects typically double in cost. This would be a mega project, wouldn’t it, at least by Oregon standards?

    My understanding is that the 99E overpass at the Ross Island Bridge amounted to double. (Looking for credible source….)Having been over it a number of times now I can also testify that whoever did the finish grade layout needs to go back to survey school. Clearly visible in the undulating guard rails and the bumpy feel under my tires. I would try biking across it someday, but my stomach is giving me bad trouble :(

  24. Whether the MLR bridge budget figures “hold up” is a rather minor point since the whole project is outlandish in cost. Plus you have to figure in things like the Moody project and the Transit Mall.

  25. Ron Swaren Says: “Whether the MLR bridge budget figures “hold up” is a rather minor point since the whole project is outlandish in cost. Plus you have to figure in things like the Moody project and the Transit Mall.”

    Uh, no you don’t. The Transit Mall has nothing to do with the bridge, and the Moody project is tangentially related but a totally separate entity. Also, as of two days ago (the last time I drove through), the new 99E viaduct still wasn’t finished. So it’s a little early to be judging finished grades when the finished paving hasn’t been done yet.

  26. Spencer, that’s an interesting graphic, I have to now wonder did the full interchange (flyovers to/from I-5 north of SR-500) get removed from the plan? I’m on my phone, so I can’t quite check the DEIS.

  27. Dave H,

    The way I remember it, there was a point at which the CRC shaved down the cost estimate from the previous $4.2 billion to the current $3.6 billion. The most striking changes this produced – based on what I could see looking at the maps – was that the Hayden interchange went from having something like 19-21 lanes of pavement to the current 17, and the stretch north of SR-500 was lopped off, with much less work done to the SR-500 interchange. So at that point the CRC as a whole went from about 5 miles long to its current 4.4 miles long.

    Which incidentally means that based on the CRC’s numbers it works out to 818 million dollars per mile, or based on Joe Cortright’s numbers, it’s more like 2,270 million dollars per mile.

  28. Seriously. Around a billion dollars a mile to widen an existing freeway, fix some ramps, and extend a light rail line a few more stops? All in the name of avoiding a few daily off-peak bridge lifts and moving rush-hour congestion a few miles south? Because that’s what we’re talking about here. I don’t get how ANY elected official can look at this project with a straight face.

  29. Douglas K, you forgot one other “advantage” of the CRC, it makes it easier and more convenient for Washington State residents avoiding state income tax to shop on Hayden Island to avoid paying sales tax.

  30. Before this thread degenerates into competing stereotypes of typical Vancouverites and Portlanders, keep in mind that whatever you think about people’s decisions about where to live and commute, there ought to be more cost-effective options (such as a local arterial connection) to get people to and from Hayden Island from both cities.

  31. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, put the money into current bottlenecks that are more easily removed and are not as subject to induced demand like the CRC is.

    -I/5 Rose Quarter area lanes from 2 lanes to 3 lanes
    -3 lane-ing 217 all the way through (plenty of ROW too).
    -Additional auxiliary lane on US 26 (going East) to I-405 Interchange

  32. Douglas,

    You can’t have rail tracks on the outer lanes of the Steel Bridge because they’re not in the structural “core” of the bridge through which the lower level rail tracks also run. It’s actually a double deck double track railroad bridge with “elephant ears” cantilevered from the structural core. Those are the auto lanes of today.

  33. “there ought to be more cost-effective options (such as a local arterial connection) to get people to and from Hayden Island from both cities.”

    Agreed. Therefore the third interstate bridge would be able to do this. Jim Howell’s proposal of extending a bridge from EXPO center to Hayden Island (and thus getting a lot of traffic between Hayden Island and the mainland off the I-5) makes a lot of sense, too, as long as it can be done for the amount he thinks (

  34. Anandakos:

    Thus my point about improving the structure of the bridge to support rail on the outer lanes. I’m not an engineer so I don’t know what that would take or how much it would cost, but I’d be surprised if it was impossible.

  35. Regarding a downtown Portland subway, look at the original history of subways and elevateds

    They arrived when the downtown surface routes were completely overcrowded.

    So, when the limiting factor on frequency on the branch routes is the Yellow Line interfering with the Red and Blue Lines at the grade crossing, with as many trains as possible being shoved through both routes, people will seriously start talking about a subway.

    Regarding the CRC it’s been clear for a long time that the major problem with it is a demented desire to add freeway lanes. All the actual *problems* are better solved by other actions: light rail bridge, arterial bridge to Hayden Island, removal of interchanges to speed up through traffic, reconfiguration of the shipping channels and the BNSF bridge, etc. The added freeway lanes will just move the bottleneck south a few miles, as others have documented.

    But the alternatives which do not involve adding new freeway lanes DO NOT INVOLVE NEW FREEWAY LANES, and are therefore anathema in the eyes of the DOTs, and are rejected for whatever spurious reason. In private they apparently admit that they simply won’t consider any proposal which doesn’t involve adding new freeway lanes, but in public of course they can’t admit that.

    Very Big Dig of them.

  36. The main problem is the Hayden Island Interchange design. It increases roadway hazards and statistical accident rate. It also hampers the island’s east/west connectivity, and it reduces redevelopment potential and value.

    Last year, I voiced support for the only decent Hayden Island interchange yet, Concept #1 Off-Island Access. By eliminating access directly to I-5, the “merge problem” and the supposed need for the most lanes is also eliminated. The cost of the Main Span is reduced enough to reconsider the artful cable-stay design.

    I blame Wsdot more than ODOT. Wsdot has screwed Seattle with a vengence. The deep bore tunnel for Seattle is so incredibly dangerous and poorly engineered, it’s criminal negligence of national importance. It’s worse than Big Dig.

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