Criticism of CRC Highway Mega-Project Mounts

Evan Manvel

Yesterday saw the release of three compelling pieces on the CRC highway mega-project. First, Rep. Katie Eyre Brewer and Sen. Chris Telfer wrote a piece in The Oregonian highlighting just how costly and risky the plan is, and said “it’s time to rethink the bridge":

While the project is estimated to cost as much as $3.9 billion, that's just the tip of the iceberg. That estimate doesn't account for cost overruns. If recent Oregon Department of Transportation projects are a barometer, policymakers will need to consider a much higher price tag. Over the next 30 years, according to CRC planners' own numbers, taxpayers and road users will end up paying a total of $8.6 billion in tolls, increased taxes, interest payments and collection costs.

Second, Spencer Boomhower released a video outlining a cheaper, smarter plan to move freight, improve transportation choices, and reduce congestion in the corridor – one that would cost about half as much as the plan from the highway departments, and one that could be phased. The plan was created by George Crandall and Fred Jim Howell, and includes several new bridges. From BikePortland’s editor Jonathan Maus:

I asked Howell if it's too late to consider alternatives. "It is not too late," he said, "I think the governors picking a bridge type is a bluff to try to show that this project is a done deal."

Third, Steve Duin’s column covers the Governors’ press conference where they announced their support of an ugly bridge (which, remember, is only a small portion of the project – the project’s costs are mainly huge highway interchanges). The composite deck truss design has been panned by urban designers and architects everywhere and the project’s own Urban Design Advisory Group. From Duin:

Kitzhaber, on the other hand, was borne aloft by the usual whirlwind of catchphrases of the "a bridge to the future, not to the past" variety. What the heck does that mean, anyway, in light of the fact that Kitzhaber and Gregoire have settled on the clunky, circa-1955 composite deck truss design?

The crowd at Monday's "press" conference was telling. The room was jammed, reminding you of just how many lobbyists, consultants and transportation groupies have made a living off the $125 million that has been spent on the bridge before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

And so it goes.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Rich! Sorry Jim!

  • (Show?)

    That's a very interesting (if slow-paced) video. Compelling argument.

    • (Show?)

      I agree about the pacing. A less lethargic narrator would spice it up and moving away from the folksy guitar music would de-hippy the proposal.

      • (Show?)

        Okay... I see a hip-hop/electronica background music. Lots of jump cuts to keep the interest up. And for the announcer? Miley Cyrus... No, she's too expensive. How about that autotune girl? We can autotune the whole thing so people will recognize her. I see this going viral!

        :p

      • (Show?)

        I would happily find another narrator if I could find one who would put up with rerecording rewrites at three in the morning the night before release :). Which, come to think of it, might tend to contribute to any lethargy that might be going on.

        Never thought of the music as hippie-ish, so that's interesting. And I kinda get where you're coming from, though I like how its folksy nature offsets the slickness of the computer graphics.

        The music is by a guy named Lucas Gonze who digs up copyright-free sheet music - mostly from the late 1800's - and then makes new recordings of it which he then releases copyright-free. Not having to secure rights for music on a what is essentially a hobby project is a big plus.

        Beyond that, the intent of the music is evoke a sense of classic American nostalgia, of heritage. Because I think, with something like the CRC, it's worth thinking about the heritage of this region, and the heritage we're going to create going forward.

        These Interstate Bridges look to me more or less like the Hawthorne Bridge. We get all warm and fuzzy about the Hawthorne - celebrating its 100th birthday, putting it on all sorts of Portland-related graphics - but the Interstate spans at 96 and 53 years old are made out to be past their relative primes.

        I like that the Interstate Bridges are practical, pragmatic structures - qualities that are consistent with the region's heritage.

    • (Show?)

      Glad you liked it, Kari.

      And I'm always interested in learning from any feedback. Were there parts in particular that seemed to needed to be trimmed?

      With earlier CRC videos, and with earlier versions of this one I frequently got the feedback that the screens with lots of text-based information were zipping by to fast (like the timeline showing the rail bridge is one of the oldest in the area, while the Interstate Bridges are relatively new). So I might have erred on the side of holding still for too long in places.

      Or were you feeling like the whole thing was a little too leisurely?

  • (Show?)

    This seems like a far better approach, but it also seems like a huge (but probably warranted) set-back for the project. Like it would take years of planning and engineering to get it going. And I don't know how much confidence we can have in the cost estimates. But I like it because: A. It's modular. Smaller pieces are easier. B. It directly addresses freight. We should get most freight onto rail. C. It provides more than one path over the river. I think it's foolish to continue with just 2 mega-crossings.

  • (Show?)

    Questions re CSA proposal: 1) How congestion does the I-5 drawbridge cause?

    2) The Mega-Project is poorly defined in relation to the the existing traffic system in Portland disconnected from both the City's and Metro's long term transport planning. Is this any better integrated?

    a) Is there analysis of sources and destinations of current traffic to and from the current bridge? Do the parts of the multi-modal bridges proposed in the CSA aimed at autos go to and from where people are seeking to go? What kinds of changes in the road system away from the river would be needed? The related costs are needed for real comparability.

    b) A goal of the Portland transportation plan is to limit traffic in residential areas -- do the multiple outlets here potentially conflict with that?

    3) CSA might help the interstate long-haul dimension of the problem by letting metro commercial traffic take more effective alternate routes. However, all of the new "modules" would be West of the existing bridge, not connecting to and from the "Columbia Corridor" industrial zone to the East of the current bridge (the megaproject "new highway" in orange early in the video on the Oregon side mostly feeds East). Would CSA require new East-West arterial building for commercial traffic on the Oregon side, with what environmental impacts?

    4) The Phase 3 bridge is labeled "Rail & Truck Bridge" but the voice-over seems to emphasize the commuter rather than truck aspects. Leaving that tension aside:

    a) Can commuter rail and inter-city rail share tracks? At minimum the commuter rail can't be light rail unless there are to be multiple tracks, but would need to be like the WES.

    b) The inter-city rail is describes as "fast," not clear if this is the same as the "high speed rail corridor" from Vancouver BC to Eugene that is mooted. Can high-speed rail co-exist safely with commuter rail on the same tracks?

    c) The rail route from Vancouver to Union Station has a nearly 90 degree N-S to E-W turn on the Oregon side. Does that work with either "fast" or "high-speed" rail?

    d) Is Union Station a realistic destination for commuter rail for where Vancouver based travelers want to go or come from to get to & from work? It seems to require a subsequent bus or Max transfer, & possibly several, given the poor articulation of Union Station with the Max Red & Blue lines. Tri-Met service cuts don't help matters. Union Station might make sense as a stop for "fast" or "high-speed" inter-city rail, but for commuting purposes it seems as if you might ideally want light rail that went to the Rose Quarter, allowing transfer to all of the other Max lines.

    In sum, is the treatment of all "passenger rail" here as mutually compatible and an effective commuting choice realistic?

    • (Show?)

      Some good questions. I wonder, concerning CRC, if a parking lot on I-5 next to the Rose Quarter is a realistic destination for Vancouver based travelers to go or come from to get to & from work?

    • (Show?)

      Hi Chris,

      I pointed Jim Howell to your questions here. and he replied:

      "I'm not on facebook but here are some answers to most of Chris Lowe's questions."

      Your questions are in italics below, and Jim's answers are in quotes. I'm going to break this up into two comments, because apparently the whole thing blows the character limit for comments.

      How (much) congestion does the I-5 drawbridge cause?

      "I don’t know, but from the complaints I hear from new bridge boosters, it must be significant."

      The Mega-Project is poorly defined in relation to the existing traffic system in Portland disconnected from both the City's and Metro's long term transport planning. Is this any better integrated?

      "Yes, the CSA would reduce freeway traffic, unlike the assumptions in Metro’s long term planning."

      Is there analysis of sources and destinations of current traffic to and from the current bridge? Do the parts of the multi-modal bridges proposed in the CSA aimed at autos go to and from where people are seeking to go?

      "The CRC O&D documents show significant peak hour travel between Clark County and North Portland. The CSA could provide additional access between these locations for both auto, and transit (if a bus route is provided over the rail / truck bridge)."

      What kinds of changes in the road system away from the river would be needed? The related costs are needed for real comparability.

      "No changes."

      A goal of the Portland transportation plan is to limit traffic in residential areas -- do the multiple outlets here potentially conflict with that?

      "No. The opportunity provided for more public transportation options will potentially reduce traffic in residential areas."

      CSA might help the interstate long-haul dimension of the problem by letting metro commercial traffic take more effective alternate routes. However, all of the new "modules" would be West of the existing bridge, not connecting to and from the "Columbia Corridor" industrial zone to the East of the current bridge (the megaproject "new highway" in orange early in the video on the Oregon side mostly feeds East). Would CSA require new East-West arterial building for commercial traffic on the Oregon side, with what environmental impacts?

      "The CRC plan (orange in the video) serves the same destinations as the existing highway configuration but with more capacity. The CSA truck crossing will reduce northbound congestion at the Marine Drive Interchange by providing an alternate route between I-5 and the North Portland and West Vancouver industrial areas. No additional E-W arterials would be needed."

      (continued next comment...)

    • (Show?)

      And here are the rest of Chris' questions, and Jim Howell's responses in quotes. (Though I suspect because of the way the newest replies are posted highest on the page, this will appear to come first. Sorry for any confusion this causes.)

      The Phase 3 bridge is labeled "Rail & Truck Bridge" but the voice-over seems to emphasize the commuter rather than truck aspects. Leaving that tension aside: a) Can commuter rail and inter-city rail share tracks? At minimum the commuter rail can't be light rail unless there are to be multiple tracks, but would need to be like the WES.

      "Yes, they can share the same two tracks. Commuter rail is not light rail."

      b) The inter-city rail is describes as "fast," not clear if this is the same as the "high speed rail corridor" from Vancouver BC to Eugene that is mooted. Can high-speed rail co-exist safely with commuter rail on the same tracks?

      "There are no current plans to build a 'High-speed' rail line in the Pacific Northwest. Washington’s long-range plan (Oregon doesn’t have one) is to increase the number schedule to 13 round trips a day and decrease travel time between Seattle and Portland to under 3 hours."

      "The CSA could provide the track capacity for additional local commuter trains."

      c) The rail route from Vancouver to Union Station has a nearly 90 degree N-S to E-W turn on the Oregon side. Does that work with either "fast" or "high-speed" rail?

      "Yes. Even 'High-speed' rail trains in Europe slow down when they enter existing conventional passenger rail tracks in urban areas."

      d) Is Union Station a realistic destination for commuter rail for where Vancouver based travelers want to go or come from to get to & from work? It seems to require a subsequent bus or Max transfer, & possibly several, given the poor articulation of Union Station with the Max Red & Blue lines. Tri-Met service cuts don't help matters. Union Station might make sense as a stop for "fast" or "high-speed" inter-city rail, but for commuting purposes it seems as if you might ideally want light rail that went to the Rose Quarter, allowing transfer to all of the other Max lines.

      "I agree, the Rose Quarter is a more appropriate station site for both intercity and commuter rail service and should be considered in Metro’s long range planning. Nevertheless, Union Station can initially suffice for both intercity and commuter service - but to attract high ridership, TriMet and C-Tran would have to provide frequent transit connections at both stations."

      In sum, is the treatment of all "passenger rail" here as mutually compatible and an effective commuting choice realistic?

      "Yes."

Video

connect with blueoregon