A phased approach for the CRC?

With the recent revelations by the Oregon and Washington state treasurers that yea verily, the funding for the Columbia River Crossing is not all there, and the amount of money available from tolls is not likely enough to pay the bridge’s ginormous price tag–it is good to see the editorial board of the Oregonian acknowledging the elephant in the room. The folks at the state’s paper of record do insist, of course, that a new bridge is still a necessity, but recognize that funding the current plan is a problem–depending on who you ask, there is a $500 million shortfall to be made up if the current design is to be built.

One possibility mentioned by the paper–one that hasn’t, too my knowledge, been considered by the CRC project committee–is a phased approach: Build part of the project now, with available funding, and part of it later, when more money falls off the proverbial tree.

The obvious phasing would be to do the bridge itself, and the intermediate interchanges, first; and then do the other interchange rebuilds–mainly in Washington–second. With the single-bridge design, mode phasing (highway first than LRT, or vice versa) is probably not a useful option, and there’s probably too much mistrust between the various political factions to arrange things in that fashion.

Some may protest that by doing that–doing the important part of the project first, and then the less-important part of the project second, that the less-important part of the project simply won’t ever get done. Which, of course, is precisely the point. It would be an interesting and useful analysis to determine if Just The Bridge, sans interchange work, still meets project goals and cost-effectiveness criteria (and whether it would be a serviceable MOS)–and then, if the interchange rebuilds north of SR14 pencil out as a separate project. If it turns out that the bridge-only project substantially still meets the project goals, but the interchanges are a deadweight feature, then there’s no real loss in not building them.

(The other advantage of a phased approach, at least for Oregon residents, is that phase 2 might become a Washington problem. Which makes sense; I don’t see the Olympia lining up to assist Oregon with any improvements to I-5 in the Rose Quarter area, improvements already being considered, which would doubtless become more pressing without the present bottleneck in place).

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