Be Careful What You Wish For

The Columbia River Crossing took another PR hit this week, with the revelation that by not relying on Washington State to collect the bridge tolls, ODOT will need to invest north of $50M to create a sophisticated tolling system.

Now not too many people are more anxious than I am to see that the CRC not get built to ODOT’s current plan. But I still think we want to be a little careful about how we defeat it.

I for one, WANT ODOT get good a tolling, because managing our transportation system effectively in the not-very-distant future is going to require it. So we can be outraged about ODOT’s late disclosure of this issue, but let’s be careful not to tar the tolling technology and capability itself with the same brush.

I feel the same way about counting on anti-transit activists in Clark County to help stop the project. There are plenty of good reasons to rethink this project, let’s not get too enthusiastic about the bad reasons…

10 responses to “Be Careful What You Wish For”

  1. I agree. I’m in favor of the Common Sense Alternative, or other staged solutions that focus on early, less expensive improvements first, on retrofits of the existing bridges, and only on new bridge construction at a much later date, and even then, not for a new freeway bridge, but for an arterial bridge.

    While I somewhat selfishly (self = me and every other resident of inner N/NE Portland) would like to see light rail extended across the Columbia, as I believe it would lead to higher frequencies on the Interstate Light Rail line, I think we should consider starting up (electrified) commuter rail between Union Station and downtown Vancouver as well. It doesn’t have to be either/or; I think both could likely co-exist in the long run, as they may prove to serve two different markets:

    – Commuter Rail: Higher fare, faster travel times (12-20 minutes downtown to downtown), more amenities (bathroom, bar/lounge/cafe potential).
    – Light Rail: Lower fare, slower travel times (~45 minutes downtown to downtown), access to more interim destinations (Jantzen Beach, Expo Center, Inner N/NE Portland, Lloyd Center, etc.)

    Regardless, it seems like we (Oregonians) need to stop, take a breath, re-evaluate this project, and figure out how to achieve our mobility goals without breaking the bank…

    • Garlynn,

      Commuter rail to Clark County will never work, because it doesn’t serve the populous areas. Both BNSF mains run along the edges of the urban zone in the river bottom. The people live on the plateau. Nobody is going to drive to the Amtrak station (which has TERRIBLE access) and ride to Union Station, only to transfer to a Green or Yellow Line train to get to the activity centers farther south.

      I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy.

      Now if the old trackage along Cornell were re-established and a good transfer to the Blue Line at Quatama provided, you might get folks travelling to the Tech Center to ride a version of WES because the traffic on 26 is so bad. But the cost per rider would be high and there would be backlash in Clark County.

        • Yes, along Cornelius Pass Road. I realize that there are huge roadblocks, but it’s the only plausible commuter rail route, precisely because it avoids so much road congestion.

  2. I think we should embrace realpolitik in this instance because the CRC process was not just or moral, so it follows that the measures used to defeat it won’t be.

    ODOT is gung-ho on milage taxes but I have a feeling there would be outright revolt among less-informed citizens if they got wind of it. It will be 10 years or more before tolling takes place here. We will see sales tax instituted before that comes to pass. Besides, new toll roads are not doing well nationally.

    CRC 2 needs to start over from scratch outside of both states’ department of transportation so that something other than just a freeway bridge is the answer. They need to respond to voters desires and long-term planners goals. Consensus, outreach, leadership, and a vision for the future.

    • The problem is–depending on where you draw the lines for the relevant constituencies, the intersection of community desires north and south of the river is the null set.

      Portland’s liberals, and Clark County’s conservatives, are essentially taking the positions that whatever the other side wants is unacceptable. Any increase in freeway capacity? Unacceptable here. Mass transit (particularly light rail)? Unacceptable there. The CRC tried to compromise by providing both, but neither set of activists liked the result–instead they were united in their opposition to the project.

      (And a minimalist solution–not to mention no-build–is unpopular with the political establishment in Salem, as we are seeing. Whether this is due to pork-barrel politics, a desire to dine at the federal trough, or legitimate concerns about inadequate infrastructure, or some combination thereof, I’ll let you all decide).

      Long term, I suspect that the Portland side has a better chance of prevailing–as gasoline stays north of $3/gallon, as climate change effects become more apparent, and as demographics (and political overreach) start to make Tea Party-style conservatism less of a political force.

      The wild cards, of course, are the state capitols. Salem was able to squash opposition from Portland liberals, whereas Olympia was not able to squash opposition from Clark County conservatives. But there’s another election next year, and who knows how that will go?

      • Scotty,

        Are you saying that the Oregon legislature might fold and allow a road-only capacity increase?

        How craven! Portland doesn’t want it, for all the right reasons, and would suffer all the harms. Disgusting. The rest of the state should be ashamed of itself.

        • So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case–but it is something that concerns me. It won’t happen this year or next–Kitzhaber wouldn’t dare if he has any thoughts to being re-elected in 2014, and I doubt this would happen without clear support from the Portland delegation.

          If 2014 turns into a GOP wave election (could happen, though so far it doesn’t look like 2010, and the Tea Party is flaming out), then I could see a coalition of a GOP governor and rural/suburban legislators trying to ram through a transit-less CRC. But such a thing probably couldn’t fly until 2017 at the earliest, assuming conservatives win back the Olympia governor’s mansion and the White House. THAT I think is a long-shot.

          The other possibility is that Democrats win a clearer majority in Olympia in 2014 (while keeping the state House), the political equation in Oregon stays much the same (Kitz or similar in Mahonia Hall, and a similar legislature). In this scenario, Olympia squashes the protests of Clark County and we get the CRC as planned, just a few years later than originally intended.

  3. Now that the CRC has become an Oregon only project, scrap the unfunded bi-state project and go back to the original data from the I-5 TF. It clearly shows that 1. freight is obstructed by too many SOVs and 2. a good 1/3 of the traffic on I-5 over the river is local or short trips. Build a bridge with light rail, a wide bike/ped promenade on the down river side and 2 or maybe 4 lanes for local traffic…an extension of MLK to downtown Vancouver. Think of it as a “frontage road” on bridge and remove the Hayden Island interchange.
    No tolls; build it with FTA and ODOT money; put the light rail tracks in place, but let Vancouver/Clark decide when and how to actually build it out on the WA side. Until they do, make Hayden Island the temporary terminus for the Yellow Line with good transfer facilities with C-Tran local, limited and express buses which could all use the bridge. Getting daily trips down to 100K on the freeway would allow HOV/Freight lanes to be striped on the existing bridges.
    Next focus on the private RR bridge and do a deal with UP and BNSF to rebuild it with a lift span and third track…essentially a new bridge, that could accommodate higher speed rail and commuter rail.

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