Columbia River Crossing: Profiles in Courage

By Ron Buel of Portland, Oregon. Ron is a longtime progressive activist in Portland. In November 2006, he contributed "Let's put the East Bank freeway in a tunnel".

Every now and then Oregon has its own profiles in courage.

Metro Councilors Robert Liberty, Carlotta Collette and Carl Hosticka have provided us recent examples of what courage is like.

Facing an incredible political onslaught in favor of a new 12-lane, $4.2 billion bridge across the Columbia, they stood up to take a lot of flak. A project endorsed by The Oregonian, by The Portland Tribune, by Governors Ted Kulongoski and Chris Gregoire, by the Portland Business Alliance, by the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council and by the Oregon Trucking Association makes courage a rare commodity. Add to that the most managed and scripted project approval process that I’ve seen in 40 years of watching, fed by $50 million in consultant money. Add to that some poker-playing public officials in Vancouver and Clark County. Then take some formerly-credible environmentalists like Rex Burkholder, Fred Hansen and Gail Achterman and observe them leading the charge for all this additional highway capacity, trying to “greenwash” this project that is anything but green.

Progressives and environmentalists need to show up at the Hearing in the Metro Chambers at 2 p.m. this Thursday, June 5, and testify in support of Liberty, Hosticka and Collette and their lower-priced, phased, arterial bridge alternative that would include transit and bicycle-pedestrian facilities.

What the three Metro Councilors have accomplished is to make it possible for David Bragdon to take control of the process. He says he is in favor of a replacement bridge, but one that is downsized. He wants to do an independent audit of the Columbia River Crossing Task Force assumptions and projections. He wants to take the design pencil out of the hands of the backward, behind-the-times Departments of Transportation for Oregon and Washington. He wants to recognize climate change and peak oil as realities, to say nothing about $4 a gallon gasoline. And Hosticka, Collette and Liberty have enabled Bragdon to take the lead.

Too bad that Governor Kulongoski, our big-talking advocate for reducing global warming pollution, has lined up behind the big, new bridge instead, completely blowing his credibility. Because 40% of the global warming pollution in the region comes from fossil fuel used by vehicles. And this bridge project will induce a lot more driving, and more driving means more global warming pollution. Where is Kulongoski when we need him to transform the Oregon Department of Transportation into a 21st-century agency, instead of a 1950s-style highway department?

We need the $1.4 billion in local and state match that would be spent on this big new bridge. We need to spend it instead on a competitive transit system that helps people get out of their cars at rush hour. Projects that help people live closer to where they work. Projects that don’t promote sprawl, but instead promote compact urban growth. Projects that recognize that the price of a barrel of oil has tripled from $45 to $135 in the last four years, and is headed straight up. Projects that don’t mean a big increase in greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more about the issue, go to, and then show up to testify Thursday afternoon at Metro.

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    I heard you on Think Out Loud and I've read your posting here, and I remain unconvinced. The I-5 Bridge is a vital transportation connector for the west coast if not the nation. It has to be replaced or rebuilt.

    The proposal from the three councillors is a stalling tacctic, nothing more. Instituting congestion tolling avoids the major issues with entry/exit to the bridge--there just aren't enough ramps or space to get on and off those ramps. We would have longer wait times, more pollution, and we'd deal an economic hammer blow to our transportation infrastructure.

    You believe that Americans are going to fundamentally change the way they live and work. But if we're thinking big, why isn't it just as likely (if not more likely) that the future won't portend single passenger vehicles powered by clean energy? Why isn't it just as likely that we will end the central city living arrangement and move toward smaller, scattered cities and lots of telecommuting?

    I'm very supportive of encouraging density and discouraging wasteful energy usage via gas taxes, congestion pricing, etc.

    But I am also very worried about closing off potential futures in favor of just one path to the future. We've done terribly in the past trying to predict residential and work patterns in the future. I fail to see how our vision is so clear at this point. In many ways, it seems to be that your vision of the future is just as constrained by the limitations of the present as those who you oppose.

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    But Paul, the same argument about bad predictions applies to this monstrosity, except it costs $4.2 billion.

    The fundamental problem is that this project was designed with reducing congestion as its prime criterion, and it doesn't even do that very well, by its own projections.

    What needs to happen is a redesign with reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with trans-Columbia transportation as the prime criterion.

    In that context, stopping the momentum of a wrongly premised behemoth is exactly what is needed. You call it stalling tactics, I call it interim measures until we get on the right track.

  • Mike Austin (unverified)

    It seems to me that a major cause of congestion during rush hour is truck traffic. When trucks are going up hills - say, the westbound Sylvan hill on 26 - they rarely go the speed limit and they force cars to go around them. The effect is to congest traffic behind them. Multiply this by all the trucks on the freeways during rush hour and it quickly adds up.

    Does anyone know of any places where trucks are denied use of the freeways during rush hours and what effect this has had on congestion? This might inconvenience truckers, but it would be good for the rest of us, and a lot cheaper than a new bridge...

  • thedue (unverified)

    The major cause of congestion are the 100,000 clark county residents who work in PDX. The new bridge does nothing but subsidize this lifestyle without solving the underlying issue of freight movement. If we can all agree that freight is the issue then build a bridge with a dedicated freight lane, transit and let the clark county commuters fight over the other two lanes. As it stands now this bridge is nothing more then a clark county real estate gift that will do nothing but move the I-5 congestion to the rose garden. PDX will end up dealing with all the bad side effects. It's fate needs to be the same as the Mt. Hood Freeway.

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    I am new to this bridge issue and do not know what has been covered in all the reports, but I would have two questions:

    (1) What difference in selecting the best bridge option would a societal switch to plug-in electric cars make? Governor Kulongoski has visited Israel and been briefed on their efforts to make the switch. And he has talked of making some efforts in Oregon. Tom Friedman thinks we need to make the switch? (See my diary on Loaded Orygun here).

    (2) Is the $4.2 billion, or, more specifically, the $1.4 billion in local and state match, the best allocation of funds to provide both for our transportation needs and to reduce global (stress global) greenhouse gas emissions? On the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, I worry about China, and that however much we do here in Oregon to reduce emissions, that China will make up for our savings in a few days of increased emissions (see my Load Orygun diary “China’s coal, Global Warming: What can a small state like Oregon do?”). To my knowledge we are currently spending no funds on state or local efforts to influence China to reduce their greenhouse gases. So spending billions to cut greenhouse gases here in Oregon while we have no strategy for engaging China does not seem wise or smart to me.

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    Great piece. The notion that a bridge for cars is the only way to reduce congestion is outdated. Considering what rising gas prices has done with regard to consumer and driver behavior, we know that behavioral change is possible. In keeping with those changes, any modern proposal for highway improvements should be firmly coupled with additional bike lanes, public transit, pedestrian options, substantial rewards for carpoolers, and so on.

    1-5 is a significant way that trucks travel around our region, yet the numbers of those trucks will undoubtably decline as prices of non-local goods go up and more and more people opt for locally produced goods.

    Also, I, for one, also don't want to encourage greater growth in Clark County, which does not have the same urban planning standards as Portland.

  • Mike Austin (unverified)

    Maybe we should devise a plan to get the major Oregon employers - Intel, Nike, et. al., to build office space in Vancouver for their Washington employees. It would cost Oregon tax revenue but, then again, we'd save 4.2 billion dollars that could be used elsewhere.

    With the current state of mobile computing and a dedicated shuttle service from these Vancouver offices to the main campuses (to attend necessary face-to-face meetings), this is certainly doable.

  • Charles (unverified)

    Profile in courage? How about profiles in ardent defense of the status quo? The existing bridge sits on Douglas Fir piling. There is an inherent fallacy to the notion that what we have is just fine. Honestly, these people are staking their political capital on guessing that the current infrastructure –which was built for horses and buggies and sits on Douglas Fir piling- can make it through an earthquake, or many more years of wear and tear. Not only is that disingenuous and irresponsible, but it has real world consequences as severe as people’s lives. It is so easy to claim we are “green” because we can say no to something without actually thinking about what no means.

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    The whole "sits on Douglas Fir piling" is an anecdote. We already shored it up recently, and could shore it up for even better seismic standards for less than $200 million.

    And if we're concerned about earthquakes, let's look at all the buildings and bridges in the region and how dangerous they are. Then let's prioritize, and if the I-5 bridge is at the top, great, let's spend the $120-150 million on it.

    If you're concerned about safety, there are many, many better ways to spend $4.2 billion than a sprawl-inducing bridge.

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    Here is the problem.

    Simply doing nothing is not a solution as well. Folks have been studying this thing with a dedicated, well represented regional task force since 1999.

    Now, people come in late to the process, as is their right, and throw up walls to stop it. Fine, but propose something else!

    And no, a light rail only bridge will not get it done because once commuters get across the river where are they going to go?

    It is time that Portlanders (and I am one of them) stop thinking about Vancouver as something different than Hillsboro, Gresham, West Linn or Tigard (in fact Vancouver is closer to Portland city center than most of those). We are a METRO REGION. We need REGIONAL solutions. People are going to keep moving here. They are going to need to live somewhere. Vancouver is an attractive alternative for some people and that is their right.

    And as long time North Portlander I go nuts when I hear "it's for Clark County" folks argument. Yes it is in part but as someone who lives in North Portland let me tell you that there are an ALOT of us badly impacted by the traffic on I-5. Not only is it impossible to get anywhere after 2:00 but people seeking relieve from the congestion on I-5 spill out onto our side streets and zip up Williams and Interstate and Greeley and Denver and MLK. This in turn causes traffic in our neighborhoods and reduces our quality of life and pollution in our neighborhoods.

    I also want to point out that people are being really disengenious about the nature of the project. The likely locally preferred alternative is going to have light rail, bike and ped and tolling. What more do you guys want?

    I am torn because the lefty in me wants to do the right thing and wishes everyone could bike, public transit, carpool etc to work and it would be a great world. But I also want people to recognize reality.

    We need a new bridge. Badly.

    The 100,000 plus commuters of Clark County are not going to suddenly stop driving. let's face reality here. Our best chance for the future in reducing global warming and carbon emissions is NOT public transit and biking. It is alternative/low emissions vehicles and if that is the case then we are STILL going to need a new bridge.

    Better now than later I say.

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    Here's something I've heard some out here in east county...

    Why don't they limit trucks on I-5 during the busy hours and make them use I-205. Build a smaller bridge across the river out in the Troutdale area, which moves the east county traffic over the river onto that bridge instead. And use some of the money to do additions/repairs/etc. to the current I-5 bridge.

    I don't know if this is feasible, costs more than the current project, etc. But it's something I'm hearing a lot out here. People out this way are tired of having to drive into Portland to get to the nearest bridge across the river and are feeling mad at having to pay for a new bridge in Portland.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Bridges enable sprawl? Or sprawl promotes the demand for bridges? I don't know. I do know as an ex-Vancouverite who still works over on The Dark Side but lives in Portland (carpooling when possible), the commuter traffic on the I-205 bridge (into Portland in the AM, back to Vancouver in the PM) has ALSO gotten enormously heavier over the years I've been watching those poor schmucks stuck in traffic. I can also tell you that there is effectively no planning in Clark County at all. The Clark County commissioners have been in the pocket of developers for years.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Republican Ted Kulongoski has been the worst Governor, as far as the environment is concerned, in the past 4 decades.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    This resolution by Metro Councilors Robert Liberty, Carlotta Collette and Carl Hosticka that proposes to place a motorist toll on the existing Interstate bridges only demonstrates that Metro is part of the problem, not part of any solution. This is an out of touch with reality kill the economy type of agenda that needs to be rejected! The final chosen project must be one that that brings the two sides of the river closer together, not farther apart. That requires “if“ any tolling is done at all, it must be equitably collected from the users of ALL vehicular modes of transport, including transit passengers and freeloading bicyclists, not just motorists.

    If the resolution was to increase or add a surcharge to transit fares to pay for expanding light rail, or to tax the freeloading bicyclists to pay their own way that would make bicycle infrastructure financially self-sustainable instead of poaching the funds from other sources, the resolution would make sense. However motorists already pay their fair share of tax dollars for infrastructure - some of which Metro continues to siphon off and waste on projects that actually increases congestion, increases the amount of time engines are idling, and increases the amount of fuel consumed by motorists. Examples include curb extensions where busses stop and obstruct traffic in travel lanes to board passengers.

    Additionally, Metro continues to waste tax dollars on those cutesy little “drive less save more” TV commercials. With energy prices as high as they are, I think everybody gets the idea by now.

    With the Columbia Crossing Project, Metro once again wants to ride ruff shot over the project like an elitist ruler, cater to the special interests, and not only dictate to Oregonians, but also tell Washingtonians on the other side of the river what to do. Mr. Burkholder in his command of the Middle Ground Subcommittee corrupted the public process by not allowing verbal public testimony at the open meetings. The outcome has been a totally ridiculous alternative that is nothing more than a sham, a pointless folly that appears to be specifically designed for the purpose of politically eliminating any type of less costly option that would reuse the existing historical bridges thereby once again wasting taxpayer dollars.

    Furthermore, the other alternatives on the table are also less than desirable. The No-Build does not have enough capacity for either motor vehicles or transit in addition to lacking the safety requirements of a modern freeway, and the big new bridge concept is too expensive with a footprint that is too massive. Under NO circumstances should energy be wasted that will take more than a century to recover to construct a separate bridge structure for the chosen transit option, freeloading bicyclists and/or pedestrians.

    It is time to take the politics and the special interests out of this project and come up with a reasonably priced cost effective reality check option that meets everybody’s needs while not just recycling, but reusing the existing I-5 historical bridges.

    Clearly a new I-5 Columbia River Crossing is needed for interstate highway mobility purposes and to meet the modern safety standards of a freeway, including not having a lift span on a high seed highway that creates congestion and is prone to causing crashes. However a new freeway bridge only needs to have six full width full service lanes, three in each direction, IF the current I-5 historical bridges are retained for slower local traffic and interstate interchange purposes.

    Under this logical reuse compromise the chosen transit option could be either placed at ground level using one lane in each direction on the existing historical bridges, or using the transit in a box concept stacked under the new freeway bridge. The transit alternative itself needs to be decided by the voters of Vancouver and Clark County. The transit authoritarians, Oregonians or even Oregon politicians have no business deciding for Washingtonians if light rail should be running through their communities

    In addition to constructing a new freeway bridge for I-5 through traffic with six “full service” travel lanes, three in each direction, and all the necessary safety requirements; and reusing the existing historical bridges for slower local and interchange traffic, bicycles and pedestrians, and possibly transit; the highlights of such a compromise include minimizing the construction disruption as compared to a total replacement alternative; reducing the amount of energy needed for construction by combining modes into the same structures; decreasing the footprint of the project by combining some interchanges; and adding to the eco-effects on the positive side by preserving and reusing a historical structure instead of demolishing it - all of which equate to a SAVINGS for TAXPAYERS while still building a workable project that will meet the needs of the region and the West Coast international I-5 Highway corridor.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    "ruff shot"?

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    They meant to say "roughshod". Then again, I guess it's not my place to correct, since I'm a freeloading bicyclist.

  • Jim Labbe (unverified)

    The argument that we should charge bicyclists and transit users a toll to be fair- as if this is some kind of civil rights issue- is absurd. Nevermind that most people who bike and use transit own cars and ARE paying for the transportation system through gas taxes that mostly go to fund the federal highway system.

    The point of tolling drivers is they are causing the congestion. In fact, cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users free up road capacity for drivers and freight. People who bike, walk, or use transit also lower the wear and tear on our freeways. Finally, unlike drivers they don't "freeload" on the capacity of our atmosphere to be a pollutant sink. We all benefit from more people using bikes and transit because they are saving all of us the monetary, social, and environmental costs of building and maintaining freeways.

    A 12-lane freeway bridge proposed by CRC staff will do precious little to reduce travel times during peak hours but it is going to facilitate a lot of bad behavior by individuals- to drive more and emit more greenhouse gases- and by local governments and developers in continuing to sprawl out across rural Clark County.

  • UrbanLegend (unverified)

    The transportation analysis completed over the past several years is the most exhaustive study to date on the I-5 corridor, mostly done by transportation engineers who call themseleves progressives. Replacement is long overdue and the congestion just adds to lowering the air quality. Lessing congestion will reduce pollution (air & noise) and allow the flow of traffic to a level where goods and services can be made more efficiently.

    A draw-bridge over the Columbia river is like pulling a horse-drawn trolley over the street-car alignment.

    Just stating facts (JDW).

    Seems like some people can't seem to get past the 12 lanes (6 each way, with bike/ped crossing). Well, guess what, Portland/Vancouver isn't a small sleepy little town anymore. 12 lanes isn't large compared to the flow of traffic traveling between OR & WA. It's a matter of perspective...

    If Ted Kennedy were our Senator, this bridge would be $8.2B, with final costs over $18B and progressives would be hailing the project as a success.

    Just my opinon.

  • Anon Insider (unverified)

    The "studies" done here are worthless now. These studies were done when gas was 1.50 a gallon, and don't at all reflect current realities.

    The decisionmakers here need to take a big step back.

    One alternative: buy every commuter a segway. You could buy 1.3 million of them. And since there aren't that many commutersm, you could buy 500,000 segways and still ahve enough to update the bridge.

  • Anon Insider (unverified)

    And there's just no way for Ted and Earl to hit their much-vaunted emissions and global warming targets if this bridge is built as planned. Just now way.

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    UrbanLegend, You're waaay out of date on how people in Boston look at the Big Dig -- even before pieces of it started falling down and killed a motorist the cost overruns weren't seen as a success by anyone and the length of time it took with attendant disruptions had no one too happy. Also I think Tip O'Neill gets the credit.

    Torn on This, I have no problem looking at Vancouver as part of the Metro Area, but it appears that Vancouver and/or Clark County do.

    Critics are in fact posing alternativese.g. one from inside the site linked in the article, or another from Coalition for a Livable Future (pdf).

  • Jim Edelson (unverified)

    Repeat after me and Anon.

    Worthless. Transportation. Demand. Studies.

    Reference Case in the DEIS is $59 per barrel. In 2030.

    That ought to instill a lot of confidence on which to base a $4.2 billion decision!!!!!

    Are you CRC supporters telling the region that David Bragdon should not ask for a clean, non-Department of Transportation review of these assumptions?

  • Urban Legend (unverified)

    Anon - Your statement speaks volumes. Transportation studies are not analyzed in terms of the price of gasoline or the price of oil per gallon. Years of research indicates the price is not a primary factor. Rather, population and commerce traffic are factors. Empircal evidence is vast adn rich on this topic. For example, commerce will continue - in Europe there has not been a slow down in commerce or vehicle traffic despite $6+ a gallon gas and extensive public transportation. The populaion of the Vancouver/Portland Metro area is growing and will continue to grow. No matter what you may want to believe, these studies are still relevant and the professional engineers who sign and seal those studies stand by them.

    Also, what credientials do you have to trump expert analysis by Professional Licensed engineers who work for private, state, local and federal governments? Do you think that Disneyland hands out engineering degrees and Professional Engineering licenses?

    Chris - perhaps I was too subtle in refering to a tunnel option in terms of the Big Dig. The most economical way of getting cars and commerce (trucks) across the Columbia is a bridge. The majority of the costs are in the superstructures and adding lanes isn't that much of added cost. Would you rather build the bridge for pennies on a dollar or strap your grandchildren with more debt when they have to expand the bridge due to politics and conjecture (short-sightedness)? The life span of a bridge is 75 years and if properly maintained can last 100 years. The $4.2B price tag is spread over 75 to 100 years. Over the entire history of construction prices have done nothing but go up. Think about it.

    Jim - the best of the best in private consulting and public engineering officials have studies this issue to death. Whom do you think should review the "assumptions" you so dearly think need reviewed? Bring up specific names of people or engineering consulting firms with the qualified educational background in civil engineer and transportation planning. Please no economists, or urban planners. That is like asking your therapist for a second opinion when your medical professional give you a diagnosis you don't like hearing.

    I have no problem with independent, separate reviews by qualified professionals. The fact of the matter is this issue have been independently reviewed several times (the I-5 corridor has been studied for 15+ years) and the nay-sayers continue to reject those independent reviews and then re-state again and again that 'all they want is a separate review.'

    Those 6 alternative steps is like putting a band-aide on dying patient, proposes no long term solution for adequate transportation, and suggestion items that voters have resoundedly said No! (Tolls & Light Rail to Clark Co). I guess democracy doesn't mean anything to some people.

    Also, where are the links to the studies for each alternative? Where are the itemized construction cost completed and stamped by engineering professionals and reviewed by construction professionals? Where are the traffic model numbers published for these alternatives? Engineering solutions have engineering behind them with supporting documents. Please provide me with the links.

    If an engineer placed "Cost: Undetermined" on a website as a suggested solution, the State would likely take away their professional engineering license.

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    Posters here and on other sites assert constantly that high gas prices will result in a fundamental shift in driving behavior.

    Yet, in the same breath, they then say a 12 lane bridge will encourage car transportation and sprawl.

    Aren't these two contradictory?

    I don't agree regarding predictions. If the doomsayers are right and we fundamentally change our lifestyles, then we will have spent 4.5 billion on a bridge that will reduce congestion for a the next two decades (surely we don't think fundamental lifestyle changes will occur faster than that). We'll have a big wide bridge that we can convert to light rail, buses, bikes, etc.

    But if the optimists are right, and the high gas prices encourage innovation and the development of new transportation technologies, then we have a bridge that accommodates current and future demand.

    But if we do nothing, then we discourage economic development in the region, hamstring freight transport, increase congestion and pollution, all in the hope that the doomsayers happen to be the right prognosticators.

  • jim (unverified)


    As a matter of fact, you might want to study a similar effect that just occurred at PDX in the past 3 months.

    In putting together their 30 year PDX Futures forecast, the Port hired Jacobs Consultancy, a widely respected international consulting firm. They too started out with the EIA outdated oil price forecasts. With an open process, they eventually included a reasonable price for carbon, and an updated escalator for oil prices of only 29%.

    With this data, they ran thousands of new Monte Carlo simulations and voila - forecast growth in passenger boardings were reduced by 150,000 in 2020.

    Now, again, where is this evidence that price of energy doesn't have a demand response?

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    Paul and Urban Legend,

    Again, the problem is that the analysis has been done primarily with respect to the traffic and congestion aspects of the problem in the immediate area of the bridge. If we make carbon emissions reduction the central criterion the analysis will come out differently. Even if you weight the two equally, it will come out differently.

    U.L., on democracy, when do I get to vote on whether I should contribute to paying the $1.4 billion and pay half when 75% of the benefit is going to Clark County people who don't want to pay tolls? In a recent interview the mayor of Vancouver said that he wasn't sure the 1996 vote on light rail was reflective of current realities, btw, although it also sounds as if there's an issue about differences between Vancouver and places further away from the river, and maybe there is something to be worked out there in terms of thinking in a metropolitan fashion.

    Paul, I am not sure that oil prices will remain as they are now. I heard an economist on NPR laying out a potential for a significant drop-back. Clearly the secular trend is going to be upward, but there may be a lot of fluctuation along the way.

    I think the argument is partly that the response to the current rapid price rise, in terms of carpooling and other changed behavior that has reduced the congestion for the nonce, shows that the congestion problems can be met by such changes for the time being. It may also be that it's an argument about what kind of demand a new bridge system will need to meet in the long run. I don't make that argument myself.

    The sprawl issue relates to the forecast population growth in the area. Building the bridge as projected in the $4.2 billion proposal incentivizes sprawl.

    I'm less sanguine than you are about technological fixes that will allow continuation of current car culture (which has other problems than global warming anyway) -- powering vehicles electrically would require huge increases in electric power generation, bio-fuels are to put it mildly proving much more complex and much less of a panacea than once hoped, hydrogen at present is mostly derived from natural gas.

    If my "pessimism" from your point of view is right, and as you suggest that would in itself tend to make sprawl less of a problem, that implies a) less need for a car-oriented bridge and b) more need to provide alternative transport modes. But if your optimism is right, then sprawl will remain an problem, one that is not restricted to carbon emissions, and should not be incentivized. Either way a smaller scale and different kind of new bridge system is desirable.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    If it is absurd to charge bicyclists and transit users a toll as Jim Labbe suggests, then it is even more absurd to spend millions and even billions of dollars to build the specialized bicycle and transit infrastructure on the crossing. One estimate suggests a $9.00 cost per transit passenger mile if light rail is the chosen transit option. These figures however are being hidden from the public by the CRC and must be calculated. Moreover, the entire of costs for constructing the proposed bicycle infrastructure has so far been hidden from the public. Given the possible number of bicyclists that will use it, the cost per bicyclist mile will undoubtedly come in even higher than the cost per transit passenger mile. Compared with the Federal Government’s latest figure of 51.5 cents per auto mileage deductions where gas taxes pay for roads in addition to subsidizing other modes of travel, driving is a bargain for taxpayers as in contrast to subsidizing transit and bicycling. The bottom line is that transit and bicycling must be made more financially self-sustainable. Therefore the users must be directly charged to pay for the infrastructure to accommodate these modes.

    Parked cars do not contribute revenue to provide infrastructure. Bicyclists are freeloaders that need to be directly taxed, tolled and pay license and registration fees. Transit passengers need to pay fares that better reflect the total costs of providing the service. Both user groups must be charged a toll or user fee on the Columbia Crossing if motorists are required to pay a toll.

  • randy (unverified)

    I'd suggest the Feds just move I5 west by enough to completely bypass Portland. Kick it over down around Salem and build a new bridge out past St Helens and then go north to connect with the existing I5. Then the true interstate traffic can flow without having to mingle with the commuter traffic and the point-to-point city stuff.

    Another benefit is that then the Feds can take care of the interstate traffic needs without having to listen to all the idiots in Portland whine about mandatory bike paths and light rail and all the other mumble jumble they spew.

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    Spending $4.2 billion to build a new bridge with transit, tolls, etc. is projected to decreases traffic 3%, compared with doing nothing. That doesn't seem like a lot of bang for the buck.

    Tolling and light rail reduce traffic by 20%.

    Congestion pricing is what actually reduces congestion (and increases capacity at low cost, as free-flowing traffic has higher capacity than congested traffic).

    Climate change is real. When we are spending billions of dollars on new projects, we need to make sure they don't feed the fire.

  • Unit (unverified)

    The fact that the DOTs are proposing 12 lanes raises some important questions:

    • What are their plans for the rest of I-5 if this project is built?
    • Are 12 lanes needed if I-5 thru North Portland is only 6 lanes?

    A cursory review of the EIS traffic technical report shows that this project will move the bottleneck into the Lombard Street area, with morning rush traffic backed up 5 miles to 4th Plain (see exhibit 7-11). This is what we get for $4.2B - continued extreme congestion. There is little reason to invest in this project unless we expect to widen the section thru N Portland to 8 lanes....and then widen the eastbank section to 6 lanes....and then widen the section thru SW....and then widen the section south of 217....and then widen down to Salem. You get the idea. Which begs the questions:

    • Is it reasonable to widen the section thru N Portland? What about the eastbank section? The others?
    • Is it worth the billions more this will cost?
    • Even if we did all this, would we end up where we started?

    Other cities' experience tells us we would. Atlanta's 16-lane freeways are just as congested as our 6-lane freeways.

    Make no mistake, this is what Clark County is expecting - this project is only a step in the "right" direction. Their commissioners have made statements to this effect. The DOTs' vision is less clear, but probably similar.

  • randy (unverified)

    It is an Interstate freeway system. If the Feds allow every whack job politician in every podunk town to lay a toll on Interstate traffic then you'll have a real mess. That type of system worked okay in medieval times with feudal lords extracting tolls on people passing by, but it isn't exactly conducive to the flow of traffic required by a highly leveraged economy.

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    Randy, have you ever been on the Interstate freeway system out east? It works pretty well, even with tolls. Electronic transponders mean 90% of people drive past sensors and traffic flows nicely. Only a few people stop to pay the tolls physically.

    And if not tolls, how are we going to find the $4.2 billion?

    Finally, the toll-free system we have now isn't exactly conducive to the flow of traffic. Giving it away for free causes is people to pay in time (and gas costs), rather than tolls.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    The problem with planning for transportation and other development it that it extrapolates from past trends. Our planning has not come to grip with the end of cheap fossil fuel or with the climate emergency caused by burning fossil fuel. Transportation will be much different, more expensive, and much curtailed in the future. Much less merchandise will be carried long distances. People will not commute long distances to work or travel frequently on vacation. Not only will fuel cost a lot more, but concrete and asphalt road surfaces will be too expensive to maintain.

    My suggestion:

    • use the money to lay railroad track, as rail transport is the most energy efficient way to move people and freight over land.

    • alter planning and zoning to promote communities where people can work and shop near their homes, to promote food production near urban areas, to help people and communities adapt to new realities.

  • Doug Allen (unverified)

    There is a lot of misinformation being spread by Rex Burkholder and his pals, the Consulting Engineers. The existing bridges do not need to be replaced, they can be seismically upgraded (per the official DEIS), and all bridge lifts due to towboats can be eliminated (see this) at much less cost than the replacement bridge.

    A supplemental bridge for local traffic, light rail, pedestrians, and bicycles can be added for much less. Fixes to critical I-5 on-ramps and interchanges are possible. Tolls are a reasonable way to pay for these improvements. This provides a more robust transportation network than pouring everything into a single I-5 crossing.

    The idea that the current bridges are "broken" or unsafe, and must be replaced, is not based on any cost-benefit analysis, or any engineering reality. Non-engineers may not understand that the seismic limitations of the current bridges have nothing to do with the piles being Doug Fir, but are due to the fact that the piles do not extend below the zone of potential liquifaction in a mega-earthquake. The CRC project found that it is possible to bring the current bridges completely up to current seismic standards for a total cost, including engineering overhead, of $265 million. Since no other river bridge in the area except the new Sauvie Island bridge meets this standard, they suggested a more modest $125 million upgrade might also be an appropriate upgrade.

    Anyone, including Rex Burkholder, who has spent time learning about the relationship between transportation and global warming knows that even with changes in vehicle and fuel technology far beyond what the experts anticipate is possible, reductions in vehicle miles traveled will be necessary to avert a climate disaster. Transit and bicycles may not do everything, but they help.

    Get ahold of the DEIS, and see what it says about re-using the current bridges. Their replacement bridge option, compared with their own disfavored "supplemental bridge" option, which keeps the existing bridges, provides the following peak hour travel time benefit in the year 2030, for a trip between I-84 and 179th Street in Vancouver: AM Peak Southbound - 0 (zero) minutes; PM Peak Northbound - 1 (one) minute. In other words, the DEIS itself shows that keeping the current bridges, and adding an additional one, is not only cheaper, but fully credible in terms of energy, transit, congestion, and safety. The problem is that their "supplemental" bridge is way oversized, meaning that the cost differential is not big enough for people to notice.

    And this comes straight out of the DEIS, for which we paid $50 million dollars (fixing the raiload bridge to solve the lift problem was costed at only $42 million when it was studied in 2000).

    People are not coming late to this, the criticisms have been made to the highway departments, and ignored, for the past four years or so of the project, and the critics have the knowledge and credentials (like Joe Cortright's economic analysis). It is time to get past our own selfish desire to travel anywhere, anytime, at 70 mph, and start thinking about spending our (and other people's) money more responsibly.

  • Jeremiah Baumann (unverified)

    Let's be clear on the global warming front: there's no way the metro area can meet a target of an 80% reduction in global warming pollution by 2050 if the $4.2 billion 12-lane version goes forward--

    1. Assuming optimistic forecasts for average gas mileage of cars and for moving toward cleaner fuels (electric/plug-in hybrid/sustainable biofuels), we STILL need to level off growth in the rate of driving in order to meet the goal.

    But the bridge planners are planning for a 40% increase in driving. If we spend $4.2 billion building to accommodate a 40% increase, we are spending $4.2 billion either ensuring we don't meet the goal, or best-case scenario, ensuring that if we meet the goal, 20 years into the bridge's life it will be vastly under-utilized. Money wasted.

    1. I'm still trying to square their numbers, but depending on which ones you look at, the 12-lane bridge either reduces that 40% increase by a few percentage points or increases it by a few percentage points. Any increase is obviously totally unacceptable (again, because we could never meet the necessary goals for global warming pollution reduction) and $4.2 billion to make a terrible forecast a few percentage points worse is a colossal waste of money that could be going to transportation projects that actually reduce congestion AND help us meet global warming pollution reduction targets.
  • George Seldes (unverified)

    Just one thing, Jeremiah -- there is no such thing as a sustainable biofuel, nor is there likely to be. The belief that there is a substitute for petroleum -- that some magic science fairy is going to pop up and solve a problem that has bested us for decades -- is the root of the idea that we can continue auto-dominated business as usual. As long as Oregon environmentalists continue to collude in the fantasy of biofuels, you can expect more projects like this to get rammed down your throats, because you have told people that the fairy is on the way and that they get to keep on driving like we have been.

  • George Seldes (unverified)

    I had just posted the last when I stumbled on this, also relative to the biofuels fantasy that propels the "Keep on paving" mindset --

    FAO HEAD BLASTS BIOFUELS FOR DEPRIVING PEOPLE OF FOOD JULIAN BORGER, GUARDIAN, UK US subsidies for biofuel production were condemned by the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, who said they were depriving people of food. Opening a UN food crisis summit in Rome, Jacques Diouf attacked the subsidies for corn ethanol during a wide-ranging critique of global policies on climate change and food security, which he said were slanted to favour the west. "Nobody understands [why] $11-12bn of subsidies in 2006 and protective tariff policies [should be used to] divert 100m tons of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuel for vehicles," Diouf, the FAO director general, said. It was a thinly veiled attack. The FAO estimates US subsidies for the production of corn ethanol at $11-12bn. Diouf also asked how a $64bn (£33bn) carbon market could be created in developed countries while "no funds can be found to prevent the annual deforestation of 13m hectares, especially in developing countries, whose tropical forest ecosystems act as carbon sinks for some 190 gigatonnes." Before the summit, leaders of the US, Canadian and European biofuel industries wrote to Diouf warning him not to condemn biofuels. "It would be highly precipitous . . . for the United Nations or other international bodies to single out biofuels as the major cause for escalating food prices and take actions that might lead to even higher food prices," the industry group argued. But Diouf appears to have shrugged off the appeal. The US agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, stirred controversy on the eve of the Rome summit with his defense of corn ethanol, arguing that biofuel production only contributed "2 to 3%" to the recent dramatic rise in global food prices. The claim clashed with research carried out by several international organisations. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that 20 to 30% of the food price increases in the past two years are accounted for by biofuels, and that last year they accounted for about half the increase in demand for principle food crops.
  • Urban Legend (unverified)

    TOm - for generations people have been decrying using "past" historical data as one basis for projections. Problem is that history has showed that works the best. There have been several cities that shunned the historical trends for thier preferred forecasts. The result: under & over estimates. Looking back at the data, guess what, if historical trends were used as one of the basis the forecasts would have been correct.

    Sort of like the economists who predict stock market conditions correctly 40% of the time when flipping a coin would give you 50%.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    The word is not "courage." The word(s) is (are) "short-sighted politically-correct stupidity."

    Without a new bridge there's no light rail across the Columbia.

    Without a new bridge there's impaired freight traffic along the I-5 corridor.

    The amount of traffic on the bridge will be controlled by tolling, or congestion pricing, which I thought was a goal of the Robert Liberty types.

    While Liberty et. al. want to abolish individual vehicles, our neighbors to the south are working on a new type of vehicle that runs on hydrogen fuel cells So there's an excellent chance that the personal vehicle will remain the dominant mode of transportation in the U.S., only in a way that doesn't involve emission of global warming gases and dependence on foreign petroleum sources. Which means that new roads and bridges are here to stay.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    Link above is broken. The site is

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Urban Legend,

    Planning based on the past DOES work well, unless circumstances are about to change much more quickly than usual, or, as in the case of global warming, we have resisted accepting change that has been building over time. The energy supply situation has, itself, been predictable since Hubbard drew his curve, but lobbying, political contributions and PR by the industries involved [oil, gas, coal, autos, etc.] have prevented any government lead effort to adapt over a reasonable period of time.

    We now face a situation requiring quick change to ward off potentially cataclysmic climate change as we deal with the expensive changes that are probably too late to reverse - sea level rise, ecosystem disruption, agricultural dislocation and others - at the same time that a couple centuries of cheap fossil fuel are coming to an end. It is quite obvious that even though public leaders are talking about sustainability, our present economy as well as the one we are planning for is maladapted to life on earth.

    Metro, ODOT and USDOT are planning for a fantasy world that will never exist unless some close-to-miraculous new cheap energy source materializes. Our whole economy is based on this fantasy, so denial is deep and difficult to overcome. The denial is so powerful that a elected official can speak enthusiastically in the morning about the need to create sustainable economy, then spend the afternoon planning to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure unnecessary and antithetical to that sustainable economy.

    There's a monkey on our back, and it's whispering lies in our ears.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Urban Planning Overlord,

    Unless our neighbors to the south are planning a pipeline to the sun, hydrogen is a fuel, not an energy source. The energy to generate the fuel will need to come from somewhere other than cheap fossil fuel.

    We can run society on sustainable energy, but not the way we do it now. An energy consultant friend puts it this way:

    1) in the absence of all of the stored sunlight we want (fossil fuels), all we have available to us, except for an extremely limited amount of nuclear energy (where the fuel supply is also finite and running down fast), is current sunlight. 2) photosynthesis is about 1.6% efficient at converting current sunlight to biomass. If you want the fuel in some other form than biomass itself, then the efficiency goes downhill from there. So no matter which biofuel option you pick, the overall efficiency of converting current solar income to useful fuels is dismal. 3) photovoltaics are about 15% efficient, today, at converting current solar income to useful fuel - one order of magnitude better. The EROEI of most renewables (aside from biomass-derived options) is between 3 and 8. Not great, but a lot better than most biomass options. 4) the current EROEI for the economy, predominantly fossil fueled, is about 25 to 1. So we'll be going from our current economy at 25 to 1 down to the future economy, fueled by current solar income, at about 5 to 1. This implies an 80% reduction in the economy's energy intensity (not per capita) just to stay where we are. No growth, just contraction, at least in the mostly anachronistic economic terms we understand today.

    We have used up most of the easy to get solar energy that has been stored since life began on earth - a planetary trust fund of sorts. Now its time to begin living within our means on the current solar budget. Like most trust fund kids, we bitch and moan about adapting and tend to run up the credit card accounts before accepting reality.

    We need new technology to run the new economy, but no technology is going to allow us to use energy as we do now.

  • Jed Williams (unverified)

    Terry... you are so desperate to paint bicyclists as the "free loaders" you bypassed Jim Labbe's inconvenient observation that unlike drivers, bicyclists "don't 'freeload' on the capacity of our atmosphere to be a pollutant sink."

  • (Show?)

    There's really no point in arguing with Terry. He's stubbornly repeating the same points he's been repeating for the past two years, even when the data or holes in his argument are pointed out.

  • (Show?)

    Wow what a discussion. Thanks Ron for highlighting this issue here at Blue Oregon.

    I'm pretty pissed about the idea of paying Oregon taxes for a bridge that will bring more pollution and traffic to my neighborhood that primarily benefits folks from Washington.

    We've lived in Piedmont blocks from I5 for nearly a decade. This is a serious issue. 4 to 12 lanes? Yikes. There has got to be something more reasonable than making I-5 in North Portland a superhighway.

  • Joe Smith (unverified)

    Kari, I don't suggest you put this on the blog, both because the blog is already going on three days old, and because it's too long for a post, but if you feel like starting something that invites ideas, this might be useful. Testimony of Joe Smith, private citizen, and part of the Ron Buel gang, to Metro, June 5, 2008

    Preliminary point: we do not suggest that a new span of some kind is unneeded. We do strenuously argue that a $4½ Billion mega- bridge is wrongheaded.

    Second preliminary point: the congestion driving the current debate occurs during rush hours, and the growth of those rush hours, as people adjust their schedules trying to miss the worst traffic.

    At City Planning Commission, point was made by supporter of mega-bridge that 10,000 people commuted across I-5 bridge to Washington County, many clear to Hillsboro, and that this will do nothing but grow. I asked, is that a good thing? I ask today, should we be encouraging more people to drive individual cars 20 miles and more to get to work, given all we know about climate change and peak oil?

    Another question: suppose we build the mega-bridge, and it relieves the congestion across the river. What will we do about the bottlenecks at Portland Road, and downtown, and the Sylvan tunnels? The mega-bridge will encourage people to think living in Washington and working and shopping in Oregon is still the cool thing to do. Do we really want that?

    A major and legitimate concern driving the mega-bridge is the cost to interstate commerce of longer and longer travel times during rush hours, and the expansion of those rush hours. We suggest that an overarching goal should be to reduce the number of private automobiles during those hours, to relieve that handicap.

    There are 4 ways that might happen: 1. A severe economic downturn, so that thousands of people lose their jobs and quit commuting. Not good. 2. People decide that living close to their jobs is more important than grabbing the tax benefits of living north of the river, or whatever else it is that beckoned them there. Hopefully that will become more common, and it’s something to seriously promote, but it’s not within the immediate purview of the present decision.

    That leaves two that are worthy of consideration. 3. Get people out of cars, and on to transports that eliminate or minimize competition with commercial vehicles during rush hours. Two obvious ways: Bicycles; they should be encouraged, but it’s unrealistic to expect folks to bike from Vancouver to Hillsboro, or even to Beaverton, every day, and, even the hardiest biker will yield to really bad weather. The other: truly effective mass transit. There should be a new passage for commuter rail and buses (to which bike paths could be affixed), and we should do everything we can to make mass transit so convenient and time-saving that it becomes really attractive. (I’ve been saying for four years that when my kids are my age, there won’t be a single city of size in America that really works without an effective rapid public transit system – which in most cases will mean a subway. I’ve watched with dismay for example at the decision to build the downtown transit mall, which will do little if anything to significantly reduce automobile commuting. Surely we should be thinking about that.)

    1. The fourth way is to get more – lots more – people sharing rides during rush hours. So, how do we do that?

    30 years ago when I ran the Pacific Northwest Regional Commission I commuted the 7 miles from my Irvington home to Officer’s Row in Vancouver. Except when the weather was really bad, I rode my bike, and every day I smugly watched the opposite traffic, moving much slower than I was. And, just like now, almost all cars with just the driver.

    I thought how wonderful it would be if we could cut that traffic in half, by getting just two folks in every car. I had a fantasy – which I actually hoped to make happen: I wanted to hire 100 or so people to do a hands-on survey of cars crossing the I-5 bridge, getting information on their job destination, where they started, and the route they followed, and then match potential car poolers. It was a fantasy then, in part because we were still in the infancy of computers – or at least their early adolescence.

    But there are things coming together now that could make that fantasy work -- and by using cameras and mailed or telephoned questionnaires, obviate the initial inconvenience of stopping several thousand cars on a couple of days to do the surveys.

    Two obvious things converging are the cost of gas, and the congestion we’re trying to address.  We can make that favorite of the right, the market, produce the solution.
    How?   The answer seems obvious: a toll, graduated both by time, and by occupants.
    Four in a car, free.  Three, a buck.  Two, Three bucks.  By yourself? You get to pay five.  Adjust that down as you move away from rush hour.  (The fees I give of course aren’t gospel; they explain the concept.) (Five+?   Maybe we pay you?)
    Then, do a survey, feed it into the computer, and provide every commuter presently driving alone with a list of folks whose travel profiles make them legitimate carpool candidates, and let the market do its work.  Get the average to two in a car, traffic cut nearly in half.  Three?  Nearly a third.
    Fantasy?  With gas $4.00 and going north?  With commute times becoming prohibitive?

    With growing awareness of climate change and the need to reduce carbon footprints? And, this could be started now.

    I end with my first questions: suppose we build the mega-bridge: how does that help with all the other choke points; won’t it just encourage more people to think commuting is the thing to do?  And, don’t we really want to find ways to go the other direction – to reduce the number of private automobiles competing for space?
  • (Show?)

    To reinforce what Tom Civiletti has said, consider this, from the website cited by UPO:

    All fuel production creates emissions, including greenhouse gases. Generally, emissions are associated with producing a fuel and using it in a vehicle (called the "well-to-wheels" cycle). Because hydrogen can be made using different methods and different sources, the well-to-wheels comparison is particularly important. When producing hydrogen using electrolysis and renewable energy, the well-to-wheels emissions are zero. No pollutants, no greenhouse gases. When producing hydrogen from natural gas—the most common method of making hydrogen today—the well-to-wheels emissions is between 40% and 60% less greenhouse gases than a gasoline car, and about 20% less than a hybrid. The FCV [fuel cell vehicle] pollutants are zero. When using grid electricity for electrolysis, the well-to-wheels emissions for CO2 and pollutants is higher than for a gasoline car. The emissions are, however, more easily controlled from a single source (the power plant) than from millions of cars.

    In other words, according to this industry promotional source: a) the most common method of producing hydrogen fuel today relies on natural gas, a wasting fossil fuel resource, and if applied to an auto fleet expanded by population growth and economic "growth" would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the scale needed;

    b) production of hydrogen fuel by electrolysis using electricity from the current power grid will produce more greenhouse gases than use of gasoline -- not mentioned is that this electrical demand will add to growing demands for electric power arising from population growth and electrical and electronic technologies;

    c) the claim that "renewable" electricity is all zero-emission depends on your definition of renewable; but taking the statement at face value, the problem of being able to shift the already expanding current demand for electricity to renewable sources is already difficult if not impossible, and any expectation that a huge additional demand to produce hydrogen fuel will be easily met by renewable sources is risible.

    There is not going to be a technological quick-fix that will support the continuation and expansion of present U.S. car culture and its attendant spatial and social relationships.

  • Urban Legend (unverified)

    Joseph - I-5 was not built for Portland and it's not fully up to Portlander's to decide what to do - it's a Federal highway system for commerce (and military) travel.

    Rather than moving I-5 (Trillions of dollars) perhaps a good compromise would be to make it illegal to use a new I-5 bridge (6 lanes?) if you live in the Portland/Vancouver area.

    Project's like this and Light Rail are heavily Federally subsidized so the local taxpayer shouldn't be too upset (Interstate Max was 75% funded by the Federal Taxpayer).

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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