Our Occasional CRC Update

The Columbia River Crossing is the project that keeps on giving. Some recent developments and opinions:

Keep your TV tuned to this channel for periodic updates.

6 responses to “Our Occasional CRC Update”

  1. Anyone want to share what Jefferson Smith’s comment was so that I don’t have to sign up for an account with the borg to read it?

  2. What Jefferson Smith doesn’t address is why the project has been driven by politics. The political support is a direct result of a long range strategy by the state DOT’s. The motivation was access to federal funds for a large highway project.

    The loss of Hatfield (chair of the Appropriations Committee) and Packwood (chair of the Finance Committee) as Oregon’s Senators in the 90’s left Oregon without the seniority and committee chairs needed to deliver big projects. By contrast, Patty Murray’s seniority was putting her in a position to deliver pork for projects in Washington. The strategy of the DOT’s was to leverage Murray’s power for a road project in Oregon.

    The DOT staff understood the likely barrier to success was the city of Portland’s reluctance to add road capacity. And it was likely they would look for cheaper, less auto-centric, solutions to the congestion problems on the bridge.

    So they identified likely alternatives. One was changes to the I-205 bridge to attract traffic off I-5. Another was the use of tolls to manage traffic volumes. A third alternative was transit solutions, whether light rail or buses. Finally, there were alternative bridge options, either upstream or downstream.

    A study of “congestion pricing” took the idea of tolling existing capacity off the table as a matter of regional policy. Essentially eliminating tolling as an alternative to adding new capacity.

    The Washington transportation planners made SR14 and SR500 the primary focus of improvements, turning SR500 into a limited access freeway. The goal was to increase use of I5, rather than I205, as the crossing point for people living in the western part of the Vancouver region. Essentially, they were designing for congestion.

    Finally, they launched a “trade corridor” study that was directed at the business community who had interests in highway capacity. Their conclusion was that a new bridge was needed. But they were convinced by their consultants and staff that they needed to build a broader regional consensus in order to get a bridge built.

    They managed to tie any light rail crossing to a new highway bridge. ODOT staff told me explicitly that they “weren’t going to let Portland get a light rail bridge” without expanding the highway bridge. They were convinced, rightly I suspect, that once the light rail bridge was built, there would be no support in Portland for increasing highway capacity.

    They started with a study group that further restricted options. This is the study Lenny served on and where the idea that “most of the traffic is local” got started. One of that groups most important contributions to the project was accepting the notion that the I205 bridge should not be part of the final DEIS process.

    That lead to the CRC process. It explains why it has been, from day one, a PR campaign for a larger bridge. This has been a carefully managed effort to get to this point. What is driving it is federal funding for staff at the DOTS, construction contractors and the building trades.

  3. Jefferson’s comment for those of you who prefer to avoid Facebook:

    “The thing to understand about the CRC: the problem isn’t the engineering, it’s the politics. Or rather, the problem is that the politics have been driving the engineering.

    So much power has been pushing the project that little sunlight gets in. People who ask hard questions are deemed enemies of the project and disregarded. The consequences for opposition are significant. The strategic answer to hard questions is to hire more lobbyists rather than to think more carefully. With that dynamic, you get results like a bridge span that is the wrong height and a project with deep funding flaws.”

  4. Metro re-approves the amended LUFO (Land Use Final Order) for the CRC, as the previous approval was rejected on the grounds that Metro has no authority of the stretch of the Columbia River between the state line and the northern shore of Hayden Island, which is outside Metro’s jurisdiction.

    The approval this time was unanimous; though project opponents on the council indicated that they were still opposed; merely voting yea for procedural reasons.

  5. IMO, the chances for any significant level of funding for the CRC from the federal government is VERY SMALL, at least for the next two years.

    I’ve been looking for specifics of how much the DOT thinks it can obtain for this project. In Progressive Railroading (Feb. 16, 2012)it was claimed that USDOT Secretary LaHood’s request for Oregon transit projects is $119.4 million:
    “The recommended funding includes $346.7 million to start construction for five rail and bus rapid transit projects in California; $119.4 million to initiate construction for up to two rail and bus rapid transit projects in Oregon; and $70 million to expand the LYNX Blue Line in Charlotte, N.C.”

    I’m not sure how much of this would go to the CRC. If they continue to use this as matching for funding from both states they could get more engineering done and also move forward to the property acquisition phase. However the federal money would be from a new Transportation bill, and getting anything more than extensions of the existing one through Congress this year is doubtful. (At least that is what “The Hill” predicts.)

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