CRC Compromise?

Paul Gronke

I think it's important to give credit where credit is due. While I have differed with Mayor Sam Adams on many issues, I think he deserves kudos for hammering out a potential compromise, along with Metro President David Bragdon, on the contentious Columbia River Crossing (hats off to Chris Smith for posting this on his blog).

Up to now, I've been pretty frustrated with the debate over the CRC. It seems as if the only two positions were completely in favor of the "mega" bridge, and thus in favor of all sort of evil things like sprawl and pollution, or you thought we could continue to survive with a Model-T vintage bridge, and you were anti-growth, anti-car, and anti-development.

I've long wondered why there weren't more progressives in favor of some sort of new bridge since the CRC is a vital link in the whole West Coast transportation corridor, and in my mind, inextricably linked to the economic future of the region.

I've long wondered why there weren't more conservatives in favor of some modifications to the mega-bridge on the grounds of cost and supportive of tolling since tolling uses the best kind of economic incentives to encourage smart behavior.

Finally, I've long suspected many local politicians, including the Mayor, of complaining about process suggesting new plans simply as a way of dragging their feet, hoping the CRC will die a death of a thousand cuts.

I've struggled with my own position on the bridge. All good-thinking Reed professors, close-in city residents, cyclists, and of course Blue Oregon participants are supposed to be against the bridge, right? So why did I find myself so conflicted?

That's why I find this recent press release so encouraging. To me, at least, it captures the best of both political sides. It provides an affordable price point. It protects Hayden Island. It limits automobile access initially, but allows for a growth path in the future. Most of all, the shared guidelines do not presume one set of actors have a monopoly on the truth, but that everyone has a reasonable stake in this bridge.

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    I think somewhere, perhaps by mistake, you drank some of the "some sort of a new bridge since the CRC is a vital link in the whole West Coast transportation corridor" cool-aid. The CRC is not critical to the whole West Coast transportation corridor. Lanes could be added to the I-205 at less costs. A new bridge is not needed. The existing structure can be repaired and upgraded at far less costs. We have less costly alternatives left and right. The CRC is largely a costly boondoggle that over the long term, contrary to much commentary, will suck the economic vitality out of the region. We just will not have the funds to do the other things we need to do to be competitive in a global economy.

    For example, if we are concerned about our economic future, we would not be talking about spending multi-billions on one bridge, while spending zero dollars to send high school students to China. We are not thinking clearly about our economic future, and we have our spending priorities wrong.

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      I-205 is impractical for much of the ground transport needs of port terminal activity.

      There are no realistic upgrade options that brings light rail, walking, biking and accommodation of already overburdened motor vehicle traffic capacity for the existing bridge.

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        I am sympathetic to the needs of an expanding Port of Portland operation. I think Oregon's best opportunities for economic growth are to increase our exports. Foreign markets are where the most rapid growth is taking place. That's why I mentioned sending students to China. But I don't see the CRC as the only, or best, or even a cost effective way to increase the Port's transportation access.

        Light rail across the Columbia, while something I think would be nice, is way, way down my list of funding priorities.

        Same for upgrading walking and biking options. I'm not for spending millions on upgrading the bridge for bicyclists and walkers while we're laying off teachers, much less not sending students to China. Such would not be sensible, thoughtful priorities to me.

        I think tolls could reduce some of the traffic congestion, and, if not, I'd support more alternative bridge crossings. Expanding the I-205 bridge is one (mentioned before to refute the notion that congestion on the existing I-5 bridge might be impeding traffic flow on the "West Coast transportation corridor").

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          If you want to increase exports, we have to move the products. Port of Portland will never, ever compete with Long Beach, Los Angeles, or Seattle/Tacoma.

          That means if you really want us to trade with China, we are looking at shipping containers, mainly on trucks, and moving up and down I-5. Sounds like you're in favor of a new bridge.

          I don't think increasing language training in Mandarin and exposure to China is in any way in competition with the transportation infrastructure dollars dedicated to the CRC. You are setting up a false dichotomy.

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            The Port of Portland can and should grow. The up side of west coast foreign trade could easily exceed existing west coast port capacities. Oregon should also look at where else we can add capacity (Coos Bay and Astoria, for examples, see here)

            To the extent that Oregon needs to ship abroad from ports outside of Oregon, we should first use rail (cheaper, less carbon emissions). Rail can be accessed many places.

            The through north/south corridor for trucks does not need to run through downtown Portland and the I-5 bridge.

            All public funding is in competition with one another. It's our political system that creates the categories and sets the priorities. We are already funding transportation projects beyond the highway fund while laying off teachers. Those are not my priorities and I don't want them to continue. And, while I voted for measures 66 and 67, I may vote against future Oregon revenue raising proposals if the CRC uses more state funds or a high school study abroad program is not given a funding basis.

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              Dave I guess we could massively upgrade the railbed from Vancouver BC to LAX which I understand is in pretty bad shape, or make a whole new railbed.

              But would that really cost less than the 3.2 billion for the CRC?

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        Who says the light rail, bike and pedestrian facilities need to be on the existing bridge?

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    You say it's "an affordable price point." How much money does that mean? Virtually all of the cost projections - as the independent panel recent noted - are built on quicksand.

    Efforts to lower the official price tag have generally just postponed some parts of the project that make it function better. It's like selling you a house for a certain price and then telling you you'll have to pay for the sewer connection and bathroom later. But hey! The house is now affordable!

    The fundamental problem is that we're not comparing the bridge boondoggle to what else we could do with similar resources (money, political capital) in the region.

    I've never heard anyone make the case that spending $3,000 million to $4,200 million on the megabridge is the best way to create jobs and improve freight movement, etc. There are a host of better, smarter ways to invest those resources - even if we spend $1,000 million on upgrading the corridor.

    If we're mainly concerned with the movement of the 2-5% of the traffic on the bridge that's frieght, let's not spend all of our regional transportation funds subsidizing Clark County sprawl and global warming.

    All sorts of solutions have been proposed that don't require us to spend billions to build an ugly 22-lane-wide concrete slab to replace a bridge with usable life. We're better and smarter, as a region, than the polluting Megabridge.

    OK, sorry a bit for the rant.

    But I really don't see how their condition (3)(g) is possible... "ensure a viable financial plan that does not cannibalize funding for other local projects."

    Building the CRC means not building lots and lots and lots of other things. It's opportunity cost. And advocates of the project pretend it doesn't exist.

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      Clark County "sprawl" is a clear outgrowth of our "smart" growth policies. In an all too common Portland centric way, you ignore the contribution that Clark County, and its commuters, make to our REGIONAL economic quality of life--and how Clark County's sprawl is the political pressure release valve that makes your vision of Portland urbanism possible.

      You want to toll 'em, then toll 'em. You want to solve global warming, then let's get folks into electric cars and stop the automobiles idling and traveling at 20 mph on I-5.

      But if and until we provide high quality schools and affordable housing nearby the Hillsboro and Beaverton areas, we are going to rely on commuters from Clark County.

      I can't comment on whether the dollars that would be spent on CRC could be repurposed. I know there are limits to our flexibility with highway funds. So i don't know what the "lots and lots of other things" are that you are referring to.

      Back to the intent of the posting--both Bragdon and Adams, who have long argued against a "mega" bridge, believe that an 8 lane option is a good resolution. Not sure why you remain so adamantly opposed.

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        Simply put, the proposed megabridge would still be a megabridge. It's not eight lanes, it's ten, temporarily striped for eight. That means it's still 67% larger than the current bridge.

        But the Mega was never just about the width - it's about the cost. The new proposal costs 98% as much as the old plan. While saving $50 million is a first step, the new plan still makes it the largest infrastructure project in the region's history. It costs about ten-twenty times as much as a new Sellwood bridge.

        As far as the opportunity cost, it's about the political capital that's spent to get $4,000 million and use it all on one project. Calling in the favors at the state level, the local level, the federal level, and the citizens you're going to toll could have been spent on other things. The specific pots of money aren't as fungible - but the capital used to access those pots is pretty fungible. Hence, I still think there are smarter things to do with that capital than move congestion a few miles south (which is what the bridge is projected to do).

        And I simply disagree with you about your reading of the role of Clark County in the region. Poll after poll of voters across Oregon demonstrate strong support of UGBs and our land use planning system. If they didn't, you'd better believe OIA would be attacking it at the ballot box again.

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          I don't know why you think that getting one bite at a large project is easier politically than a lot of small bites.

          Polling data on Oregonian opinions about the UGB is not relevant to my claim that Clark County has acted as a safety valve that actually supports our desire for density and the UGB, and that Clark County commuters play an important role in maintaining our economic viability.

          The relative size of this project is also a misleading statistic. Infrastructure projects are expensive. New infrastructure projects are more expensive than old ones.

          Portland's "Big Pipe" is at 1.4 million and rising. Will it be worth it? Boston's Big Dig cost 14 billion (and by the way has eased congestion and totally transformed downtown).

          Whatever we do, unless we do nothing, will end up being "the largest infrastructure project in history" because it will cost more than the Big Pipe.

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    First this isn't just a CoP project WA taxpayers have a stake too.

    So it isn't surprising that it may have things for Vancouverites who drive to Portland.

    Yes I know they drive and they don't live close-in east side or raise chickens so they don't count.

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    Has a tunnel ever been considered?

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    Paul, I think you're presenting a false characterization of the criticisms of the bridge plans offered to date. What you're celebrating is just a small first step, and it's only been brought about by the principled and objective critique of the same opponents that you unfairly portray.

    You're not anti-bridge, anti-car nor anti-development simply because you want to see tolling tried first, in order to gauge its impacts. And is it really unreasonable to want to model the greenhouse gas impacts of different options, both in terms of transportation and the land use patterns the infrastructure makes possible?

    In my mind, these are some basic requests, a couple among many, and very reasonable for a project of this size and impact. I also don't understand why you would label critics of the original designs as dismissive of Clark County. Under any scenario, Oregon residents would have to invest a lot of money that could otherwise be available for other projects, and the bridge has the potential to have a major impact on traffic in N/NE Portland.

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      Perhaps I am overreacting to the "Vantucky" comments over at bikeportland, where some posters would seem completely happy if Vancouver just disappeared. I think the "Vantucky" reference is misinformed (I've been to Kentucky, and Vancouver is about as different from Kentucky as Portland is from Houston), elitist, and neglects the role Vancouver plays in our region.

      My stereotyping of the sides, however, is drawn from my own experiences in discussions with colleagues at Reed and in canvassing calls with Bob Stacy and Tom Hughes callers. Don't mean to project those views on everyone.

      I guess I think that this is a much bigger step than you do, however, given the players that have signed on. It seems like the first acknowledgement that all sides are going to have to give way. But I do admit this is from the perspective of someone who thinks a new bridge must be built.

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