If you've lost Hayden Island, have you lost the CRC?

Carla Axtman

The latest issue of Portland Monthly has hit the online newsstand with a Micheneresque piece on how locals are souring on the Columbia River Crossing project:

“The Columbia River Crossing held 75 meetings on the island, but it was all Disneyland pictures of the paradise they are going to create,” Reddekopp says. “They never informed us the Safeway was going to be destroyed.”

The Hayden Island Livability Project joined a growing chorus of dissent that is stalling, if not threatening the life of, the Columbia River Crossing. In September, Mayor Sam Adams abruptly turned rank, yanking his original support for a 12-lane bridge in favor of a smaller design; Metro Council President David Bragdon began calling for a more comprehensive reconsideration of the size and scope of the entire project. In January, Adams and Bragdon joined with Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Clark County Commission Chair Steve Stuart in a letter of protest to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. The “cost, physical and environmental elements of the project as currently proposed impose unacceptable impacts on our communities,” they wrote. Requesting a “stronger voice for our local governments,” they argued for better management, a more realistic financing plan, and money to hire their own consultants to appraise key features of the project. Plus, in a big nod to the angry voices from the trailer park, they asked the governors to “commit to meeting the needs of the Hayden Island Community.”

Gregoire and Kulongoski shot back, extolling the project’s benefits: alleviating congestion, improving safety, and easing the movement of West Coast freight. Instead of bowing to local wisdom, they vowed to appoint their own independent committee of “national experts” to review the project. They also drew a not-so-subtle line in the sand: “The citizens of this region have watched our two states discuss and plan for a new bridge for over 20 years … they expect us to proceed.”

Bragdon and other bridge watchdogs were furious. “The governors appointed this stooge committee with a limited scope of work,” Bragdon said after discovering that the committee would be weighted with engineers, transportation officials, and a contractor. “They’ll fly them in, and they’ll issue their report: ‘Oh, this is great, go ahead.’”

Only weeks after the governors’ letter, the Architecture Foundation of Oregon happened to bring its own panel of nationally credentialed urban thinkers to review the project. The group—which included Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Robert Campbell; one of the Columbia River’s leading historians, Richard White; and the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) design program, Maurice Cox—skewered the project as a threat to the region’s livability and for its failure to uphold Portland’s reputation as a transportation innovator.

Shorter everybody: this project sucks a lot.

The part I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around is this, tho:

For a sense of scale, stand by the Starbucks in Pioneer Courthouse Square, look south to the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and imagine those 950 feet of SW Broadway transformed into freeway lanes and ramps.

That is one big ass bridge.

Even with initial cost estimates forcing a cut in the project (which chops it off, hence forcing the end of the only grocery store on Hayden Island), the legislature will still need to find $400 million in the budget to pony up their share. Not likely, given the ongoing budget woes of the state.

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    I haven't keep up on this, but has a tunnel been considered?

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    My guess is that the yapping of locals is irrelevant. We will get whatever Homeland Security decides will be best for commerce.

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    There are definitely other options to the bridge: http://www.thirdbridgenow.com/

    I was trying to get Google Street View set up to show the Starbucks to Performing Arts center distance. Unfortunately the resolution of the photos isn't good enough to see that far...

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      Not to say that the third bridge thing is the best or only other solution out there; the point is this doesn't have to be "my way or the highway", so to speak, when it comes to the super highway.

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    Here's another key section:

    "The islanders convinced Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force to review the Crossing’s impacts on their community. On April 19, the task force sent the governor a letter describing “systemic problems”...

    As Sustainability Law Clinic director and task force member Jonathan Ostar explains, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets strict guidelines for how “environmental justice communities”—that is, low income or racially diverse neighborhoods—must be handled. “With big transportation projects, the involvement of low-income communities is often tokenized,” Ostar says. “They just want to check the box. The EPA requires that these communities have meaningful involvement—that they not only be heard, but that they be allowed to influence.”"

    As far as the benefits on congestion and freight movement the governor cites, those are virtually all from tolling, which can be done with the current bridge. If you don't toll, you get even more congestion than we have today even building a MegaBridge.

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    With all the needs we have for infrastructure, another freeway across the Columbia is not it. Moving freight and people with rail is the cheapest, most efficient, and the most ecologically sound.

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    The megabridge project is losing support left and right:

    -- Clackamas County just sent a letter saying they're reconsidering their support because the project has failed to address traffic diversion to I-205, and because the project "is beginning to collapse under the weight of unresolved community concerns and expectations." http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2010/05/clackamas_count_1.html

    -- Metro President Bragdon and Portland Mayor Sam Adams's Transportation Director both testified last week that we need to leave the current plan and move to "Plan B". Bragdon went so far as to say that the project “dramatically fails” to be a cost-effective solution to the issues on I-5. His statement is here: http://news.oregonmetro.gov/6/post.cfm/david-bragdon-statement-before-the-columbia-river-crossing-review-panel

    Despite the writing on the wall that this project is going nowhere fast, the DOTs are continuing to spend millions and Oregon is wasting $750,000 on a panel to rubber stamp the current project even though it doesn't have the support of the local community or local officials.

    We need real solutions to the issues on I-5, not the same tired rhetoric about the same bloated project. It's time to move on.

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    I fully support the "megabridge".

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      Mitchell Gore, don't you think there are better ways to spend $3.5-4 bil. (that we don't have, anyway)?

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        Nope.The bridge has to be replaced and is a long-term investment in the region which needs to be made.

        ANd in these down-cycle economic times is precisely when we need to make these large infrastructure investments.

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    I wrote Mayor Sam's office with this brief recommendation: put a toll on both the Glen Jackson and I-5 bridges (both ways) and really, really encourage carpooling- go so far as to have local government help to organize carpools. Really all we need to do is reduce auto traffic over the bridges, and the tolls and carpooling could accomplish that.

    Of course I have no illusion that these recommendations would be taken seriously. It is amazing though, considering what is being inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico, and for other reasons (climate change), that more Americans will not do the right thing and take steps to reduce driving.

    I like Robert Liberty's plans for a better bridge but I'm not sure we can afford even that!

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    I don't like the idea of tolls on freeways and am strongly opposed to them.

    No toll exists anywhere on I-5 from the Canadian border south to the Mexican border, to my knowledge.

    The very real problem with traffic flow on I-5 near the Columbia River crossing has more to do with limited roadway just south of the Interstate Bridge than with the bridge itself. At least one additional lane in the southbound direction is needed to handle current traffic volume -- not to mention what traffic might be like 20 years from now. Backups are common here anytime of day, every day of the week.

    I would much rather live without a new bridge than with the proposed (and outlandlishly expensive) new bridge.

    For those who are against spending any money on infrastructure that supports automobile and truck traffic, get real. I like MAX and I like bicycles too, but the commercial lifeblood of the Northwest depends on a reasonably efficient freeway system in the Portland area.


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      Expanding the lane capacity south of the bridge and the bridge itself cannot, nor should they be either/or, but rather both/and.

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      Mike - can you tell me who said we shouldn't spend any more on cars and trucks? I can't find anyone saying that.

      As far as a reasonably efficient freeway system, the most affordable and effective way of increasing efficiency is tolling. What's your concern with tolling and why are you opposed?

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        Evan, I hear it all the time. There is a definite bias at City Hall (and here on this forum) against spending money on freeways and highways, which, after all, enable the free flow of cars and trucks and are one of our economic engines. We need to strike a balance.

        Tolling is a draconian solution to a failed tax system. Our infrastructure cannot be supported under the current tax system. The topsy-turvy idea that tolling is the way to control (i.e., limit) bridge traffic and reduce congestion is bizarre and strikes me as provincial. Portland is not the center of the universe. Hello! The interstate is connected to other important centers of commerce. Adding a toll to the Interstate and Sam Jackson bridges would have the same effect as 20 bridge lifts a day. Undoubtedly, traffic would slow to a crawl for most of the day, many shippers would try to figure out how to avoid Portland completely, and commuters would be mad as hell.

        How would you like it if you wanted to drive, say, to the wine country but found you had to stop at toll booths every 15 minutes for the privilege to drive on the roads your tax dollars are supposed to pay for?


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          Most tolling these days isn't done with stop-and-pay booths, but rather electronic transponders so you can drive through at a decent speed. Those without transponders either can pay with a booth, or if they try to cheat the system, their license plate is photographed and they're billed.

          We already limit/control traffic through congestion - we toll with time. Those people who don't want to pay the toll with time find another route, another mode, or another time of day.

          As far as alleged anti-spending on car rhetoric, I don't know what to say. The vast majority of our transportation dollars are already spent on cars and truck infrastructure. Go to the USDOT, ODOT and Portland Bureau of Transportation budgets and have a look-see.

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    Mitchell - what's your preferred financing plan for the $4,000 to $6,000 million you want to spend? Is it federal funds? State funds? Tolls at $6 a trip? I feel like a bunch of people got together and said "We have to fix this" and got all the way to today's megabridge without a credible financing plan. Answering the question has to involve an answer on the money.

    As far as down-economy strategies, it seems like doing labor-heavy projects like building sidewalks, dealing with the road maintenance backlog we have, and building transit would be more sensible than capital-heavy projects like the MegaBridge. They provide significantly more jobs per dollar spent. And road maintenance projects tend to pay back 3-to-1 over postponing maintenance and doing it later.

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    I don't see that we have any alternative than to do something significant to the current bridge.

    Even with tolling, the fact remains that the current bridge is extremely narrow and has no capacity for any add'l transportation modes.

    This is not just an economic issue for Portland; I-5 is a vital transportation corridor for the whole west coast.

    I am not a wizard and I am not a genius. I don't know what our transportation needs will be in 20 years. However, I remain extremely skeptical of those who claim omniscience about what they will be. Weren't we told just two years ago that by 2010 we'd be paying $10/gallon for gas? And yet ...

    If we do nothing, we are set for just one vision of the future, where residential, industrial, and transportation patterns change radically, reversing a century long pattern in the US.

    Possible, I suppose. But what if we are all driving hydrogen fuel cell and electric cars and trucks are fueled by natural gas.

    Then all we've done by continuing to dither about CRC is to put a choke hold on economic development in this area and ensure that Portland remains for another 50 years the poor relation to Seattle and San Francisco.

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      Paul Gronke posted, "But what if we are all driving hydrogen fuel cell and electric cars and trucks are fueled by natural gas."

      First- I think you can dispel the notion of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered autos, as it requires more energy to make the hydrogen than can be derived from the hydrogen.

      And we all hope there is a marked increase in electric car sales, but for at least a generation, these will remain pricey boutique items and will not be in the price range of most buyers.

      Natural gas is a little better than gasoline but still causes CO-2 emissions on a significant level. And it, too, will reach a point of peak of supply and then decline.

      What most likely will happen is that there will be planning for increased personal vehicle capacity, in hopes of that major transition to electric cars coming in, but the energy industry will just plow ahead and extract every last bit of bitumen out of Alberta and try to get oil-shale extraction going in this country and they will go after every deepwater oil patch and the global environment and also significant portions of the surface environment in North America and its waters will be irreparable.

      Therefore, I recommend we as a region choose not to enable this.

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        Funny, Honda is already road testing and test-marketing = hydrogen-based fuel cell cars with the the Honda Clarity in SoCal.

        This bridge should be built as robustly as possible since it needs to fulfill needs for more than half a century.

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          I think you can double the emphasis of your point, if you factor in "global dimming" , which seems to never be discussed over here.

          http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/einstein_symphony_qa.shtml (complete with program transcript) Arguably the most important thing that happened on 9/11!

          I can kind of see why. Some cretin representing big oil would jump all over it as a reason to not improve air quality. Fact is, we are rapidly improving air quality, assuming by "we" one means the world, and that has not been adequately factored into the climate change equations. The rate of change has to be much greater than we're currently talking about.

          Carbon will not be an option, and sooner rather than later.

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          Mitchell Gore, do you know what's currently the most-used way to produce hydrogen? It's made by burning methane to create steam by which the hydrogen is separated out from other elements.

          And, yes, Honda is test-marketing a model. But Ford, Renault-Nissan and GM have all canceled their hydrogen fuel-cell programs.

          From Wikipedia: "The drawbacks of hydrogen usw are low energy content per unit volume, high tankage weights, the storage, transportation and filling of gaseous or liquid hydrogen in vehicles, the large investment in infrastructure that would be required to fuel vehicles and the inefficiency of the production process."

          So, compared to all-electric vehicles for which we already have the infrastructure to recharge, and for which the energy can be produced by sustainable methods, hydrogen-powered vehicles are a bad idea.

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            And, Mitchell Gore (if you're still hanging around), please consider this interview with Energy Sec. Chu, given about the time Obama slashed funding for hydrogen fuel-cell research:

            Steven Chu: "...but I was always skeptical of it because, right now, the way we get hydrogen is mainly from reforming natural gas (methane). That's not an ideal source of hydrogen...if it's for transportation, we don't have a good storage mechanism yet. Compressed hydrogen is the best mechanism but it requires a large volume. We haven't figured out how to store it with high density...and, the fuel cells aren't there yet and the distribution infrastructure isn't there yet. So you have to have four things happen at once. In order to get significant deployment, you need four significant technological breakthroughs. It seems like a technology for the distant future."

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    Anywway, as regards Seattle and San Francisco: the commute traffic in those regions is horrendous! Isn't there a way in North America to have a prosperous economy which doesn't involve individuals in 3K lbs. steel boxes parked on highways? I guess maybe people enjoy sitting there, idling the engine- I don't know why they do it!

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    Shouldn't promoting our transportation goals be a sine qua non of the final solution? When you see things like eliminating the local grocery, one really has to wonder if their goal isn't to increase highway usage.

    The belief that people don't drive more when you build more is staggering, given the universal data to the contrary. Would any suggest that, say, simply tearing the whole thing down, without replacement would affect business? Obviously it cuts the other way too.

    Well said, SMA. My ire piques when, as they sit there idling, they chat away about the terrible situation in the Gulf. It's like pandering for a living, while complaining about street crime in the neighborhood!

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      Right-on, Mr. Hobbes. We need neighborhood grocery stores that people might be able to not drive to or, at least, drive a very short distance.

      And, yes, people could without too much difficulty take steps to lessen the impact their own driving.

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