CRC: Frequently Repeated Lies

As an economist–someone who follows data and trends closely–and as a long time observer of the CRC public relations machine, I’ve become accustomed to the Orwellian spin that they frequently put on the facts. The latest sign of CRC’s continuing disconnect from reality is its effort to deny that higher gas prices and declining traffic volumes matter at all.

The Columbia River Crossing has updated its “frequently asked questions” page. You can view it here:

Here is CRC’s completely numbers free explanation of traffic trends:

Can we rely on traffic forecasts with all the volatility in gas prices and other factors?
Traffic count data marginally declined between 2006 and 2009 at some locations when compared to historical daily volumes. This was the result of the stagnant economy and slowing regional population growth, as well as increased price of fuel over that time period. It is typical for traffic volumes to decline during a recession and to rise during boom periods. These fluctuations are expected. However, traffic counts during peak commute periods have remained steady or increased. Based on the most recent counts, evidence suggests that traffic volumes are resuming their long-term upward trend on both I-5 and I-205.

CRC officials–like highway builders everywhere–are simply in denial that a world of $4.00 gasoline has not only erased but actually reversed the trend in driving. This is not a temporary, local, aberration: it is a permanent national change.

Here is the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Americans are now driving about 25.6 miles per day–7 percent less than in 2005, and 14 percent below the 1990-2005 growth trend. And plainly, this is not a recession induced blip (you can see recessions in 1990-91 and 2001-2002, and they look nothing like the hard right turn we’ve seen in this line since 2007. And, even though the economy is recovering–VMT per capita continues to decline. All indications are that Americans are continuing to adjust their behavior in ways that will reduce VMT further in the years ahead.

The truth is, CRC continues to rely on traffic forecasts that haven’t changed in the past five years–traffic forecasts that are built on the underlying assumption that gas will always cost about $1 per gallon in real terms, and that driving and sprawl increase forever without limit. We know none of those assumptions are true. This means that the rationale for a massive increase in highway capacity, the accuracy of the project’s environmental assessment, and the validity of the project’s toll-based financial plan are all simply wrong.

The Final EIS approved in December, 2011–made no changes to the traffic forecasts CRC has used since 2007. And the FEIS document doesn’t even contain any data about actual traffic levels on the I-5 bridges after 2005. These are symptoms of advocates who are in deep denial about a changing world, and who will simply ignore or edit facts that don’t fit with their worldview. This is no basis for making a multi-billion dollar investment.

9 responses to “CRC: Frequently Repeated Lies”

  1. Even with federal funding very questionable, they are plunging ahead with piling work. In another Oregon project, there was an article just yesterday about how the Highway 20 straightening project in Lincoln Co. is now projected to be nearly double the original cost. No doubt, that once they have gotten part way on the CRC, including buying up commercial properties and eliminating jobs, there will be additional pressure in DC to get more money for it.

  2. The Salem River Crossing Draft EIS was just issued. It relies on essentially the same modeling – as I understand it, Salem is using a model developed by Metro.

    The traffic projections are equally ludicrous and replete with Orwellian doubletalk.

    What do you know now that you wished you knew and had done when the CRC draft EIS was open for comment?

  3. While there may be validity to your concerns , your ability to predict the future is no better than DOT’s or anyone else’s.

    We have no idea if another boom will come along and fill another Vancouver-sized chunk of real estate in Washington. Cheap land will always drive growth , eh.

  4. Cheap land has driven growth in the past, but higher fuel prices have destroyed that advantage. Just look at the real estate prices in the last ten years. The exurbs have gotten hammered, the suburbs have taken a decent hit, and the close-in neighborhoods have stayed relatively flat.


  5. There is a huge desire for ‘cheap, accessible’ land. Don’t forget that 2nd part. As costs to reach the suburbs have increased, people have started to realize the land out there isn’t as valuable. However, if some cheap-enough way of accessing the land were developed, then I expect the land out in rural Clark County would again be desirable.

  6. It seems so inevitable, but there HAS to be a way that this could be stopped, or at least scaled down. How many lanes is the current proposal at, is it still 10? It is insanity.

  7. There’s no denying that the I-5 Columbia River bridges must be replaced eventually. Both bridges are 2-lanes wide acting as 3-lanes without shoulders. Both have a high accident rate.

    The Marine Drive interchange is most in need of replacement. ODOT has produced a decent design, especially with the off-island access option Concept #1 for Hayden Island. Thumbs up ODOT!

    Washington State DOT chumps prefer the higher impact, higher cost braided weave ramp design on Hayden Island. Wsdot also favors a giant bore tunnel unanchored in unstable soils beneath hundreds of historic, vulnerable Seattle buildings sited atop a major earthquake fault. Thumbs down Wsdot!

    We should return to the 2008 southbound-only bridge proposal. Its single-deck design is probably the only solution for river traffic clearance issues. The MAX corridor on its west side is a safety feature that could provide emergency access the voters of Vancouver should consider. With this access, the bridge width could be reduced from 5+ to strictly 5-lanes. Similar aspects of the Northbound bridge, built in the near future, can and should be reconsidered.

  8. Washington has done everything in its power to keep increasing the traffic into Portland, with unchecked growth in Ridgefield and Battle Ground and on the east side with Camas and Washougal as well. Add to that the huge widening project of state Highway 14 underway and you have more trips across the bridges. And now we’re being asked to accommodate that sprawl by making sure people who move to exurbia and beyond aren’t inconvenienced on their morning commute. I would suggest we go out of our way to inconvenience them.

  9. Would 20 coal trains daily through the Gorge, Portland & Vancouver be considered an inconvenience in Wyoming coal country? Indeed.

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