The Columbia River Crossing Is (or at Least Should Be) Dead

Taxpayers for Common Sense recently released a report (see page 27) that finds $2 trillion in budget cuts that will allow Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff”–and one of those cuts is the Columbia River Crossing. The agency planning this bridge has managed to spend well over $130 million without accomplishing anything except to design a bridge that the Coast Guard says doesn’t have enough clearance to allow Columbia River ship traffic.

The latest death knell for this porky project was the rejection by Vancouver, Washington voters of a sales tax designed to pay the operating costs of the light-rail line that was supposed to cross the bridge. This has led fiscal conservatives to argue that the current bridge proposal is dead and planners must start over.

The Oregonian editorial board sycophantically responds that the bridge is vital for economic growth and jobs, and the voters didn’t reject the bridge but merely that method of funding it. What a load of crap. Everyone in the Portland area knows that the bridge is totally bloated with pork and light rail.

Even the Oregon Supreme Court (as Antiplanner reader Metrosucks kindly let me know) agrees that the bridge is merely a $2.5 billion bribe to get the city of Vancouver agree to fund light rail. “It was politically impossible for the light rail project to proceed without also building new interstate bridges across the Columbia River,” said the court (see pages 12 and 13 of the Supreme Court opinion).

The truth is that the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing really isn’t necessary, at least not for transportation purposes. There are far more serious bottlenecks in the Portland area, and even if the existing bridge (part of which dates to 1917) were worn out, it could be replaced for less than $1 billion. The rest of the $3.5 billion is for light rail and other projects unrelated to the actual highway crossing of the Columbia River. Let’s hope Congress is smart enough to kill this project completely dead.

Share

About The Antiplanner

The Antiplanner is an economist with forty years of experience critiquing public land, urban, transportation, and other government plans.
Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Columbia River Crossing Is (or at Least Should Be) Dead

  1. bennett says:

    “Let’s hope Congress is smart enough to kill this project completely dead.”

    Don’t hold your breath.

  2. Dan says:

    The gentle fiscal decline and the rush to find things to cut notwithstanding, we’ll see if there are any porcine bridges to nowhere eliminated in these “negotiations”. I suspect they will be cutting gran’s Medicare before projects to enrich the few.

    :o\

    DS

    Dan Reply:

    That’s a grumpy emoticon, not sure how it changed…

  3. C. P. Zilliacus says:

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    The truth is that the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing really isn’t necessary, at least not for transportation purposes. There are far more serious bottlenecks in the Portland area, and even if the existing bridge (part of which dates to 1917) were worn out, it could be replaced for less than $1 billion. The rest of the $3.5 billion is for light rail and other projects unrelated to the actual highway crossing of the Columbia River. Let’s hope Congress is smart enough to kill this project completely dead.

    Other posters here from Portland and environs know much more about this project than I do, so keep that in mind as you read this.

    1. As I understand it, there is a need for more highway capacity crossing the Columbia River.

    2. There is not a need for light rail capacity crossing the Columbia River, though there is (apparently) a need for Tri-Met to find a new state from which it can extract operating and maybe capital subsidies.

    3. Presumably, the need for more highway capacity crossing the Columbia could be financed by the sale of revenue bonds to be repaid from bridge tolls.

    4. As I understand it, the idea of tolling the crossing is not to pay for more highway capacity. Others can suggest where those toll dollars might be destined.

    metrosucks Reply:

    CP, I do know a lot about the area, having lived in the Portland area for 24 years, and driven in Portland for 8 of those years.

    Additional capacity would be nice, but it’s not totally essential. The two biggest traffic snarl-ups are right before the bridge, at Hayden Island, and in the Rose Quarter. They are (sort of) planning to fix the Rose Quarter area, but it is Hayden Island/Jantzen Beach that really needs a fix. Look at an aerial photo of the area. Many ramps and off-ramps clustered together. Reconfiguring those further south would greatly improve matters.

    Frank Reply:

    Reconfiguring would help immensely, as would eliminating the HOV lane on I-5 north, which in a three-lane freeway, only intensifies the bottleneck. HOV lanes in Seattle occur on parts of I-5 with 5+ lanes and there are few HOV lanes in bottlenecks here.

    (Lived in PDX for a decade, although I was intentionally carless the first half of my time there.)

    Scott Reply:

    HOV lanes are awful:
    1. Risky, w/speed differential.
    2. Risky, w/ violators attention not fully on traffic.
    2. Reduces overall/average speed/efficiency.
    3. Abrogates equal protection & such.
    4. Has no basis in Federal or State Constitutions.
    5. Adds extra cost, especially w/separate-lend interchanges.
    6. Has negligible impact on reducing vehicles.
    7. Detracts from law enforcement on important matters.
    8. “Rewards” many drivers whom would already have 1+ other passengers.
    9. Adds drivers w/another passenger, due to faster privileges.
    .
    .
    21.Frustration w/different rules for persons leads to ….

    Frank, specifically on your mention of an HOV in a 3-lane direction — yes — that is extremely ridiculous & uncalled for, severely reducing flow.

    Many of you readers might have driven in that situation — noticing that 80%+ of the vehicles are on 66.67% of the lanes.

    BTW, the farther north that one is, & closer to the winter solstice, there exist better conditions to drive solo in the HOVs. Know what I mean? I’m at 37N latitude; it’s dark enough for about 2 months after 6pm to not see inside. Although, infrared detection or similar can figure the # of bodies.
    Would it be better if cops were more involved to prevent real crime?

    Would it be better if taxes (mostly gasoline & other vehicle related, but some property) were used for & how most 80%+ want to travel? A $0.50/gallon tax, for more lanes/roads is really necessitated too. Tolls have drawbacks, inefficiencies, money drain & such & are partially a double-charging.

    metrosucks Reply:

    True, Scott. Only toll lanes make sense anymore, dynamically tolled to levels determined to keep traffic flowing at a certain speed, ie 167 HOT lanes in Seattle. WSDOT is also building tolled lanes on 1-405.

    kens Reply:

    I live in Clark County, WA, and regularly use the bridges. I do think adding capacity on the bridges is essential, as heavy volumes of traffic merging onto the bridges at either end are the main cause of the frequent back-ups. But the replacement bridges alone account for only about a quarter of the project’s estimated $3.5 billion cost. Light rail is another quarter of the cost, and the balance is for improvements to I-5 (reconfiguring ramps and adding capacity) north and south of the bridges. It looks to me like they could replace the bridges and make the necessary connections to the existing highway for about a billion. I think this would provide most of the project’s congestion relief at about a third of the cost.

    Current plans are for FTA to pay the whole $850m capital cost of the project (Sen. Murray got legislation passed that allows them to consider local funds paid for highway improvements as matching funds for light rail). They are also counting on $400m in Federal highway funds (though I think the specific funding program was eliminated), $450m each from WA and OR (neither of which has yet committed the funds), and the balance of about $1.3 billion from tolls. The Federal and state dollars alone would be enough to pay for replacing the bridge without the need for tolls.

    The local Clark County transit agency already runs several lines of express bus service to downtown Portland and a few other locations. Beefing up this system would provide better service than light rail, at a fraction of the cost, particularly if a few miles of exclusive bus/HOV lanes were added to I-5 (which I think would only cost about $100m, far less than light rail). Of course, this option was never considered in the alternatives studied.

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    I live in Clark County, WA, and regularly use the bridges. I do think adding capacity on the bridges is essential, as heavy volumes of traffic merging onto the bridges at either end are the main cause of the frequent back-ups. But the replacement bridges alone account for only about a quarter of the project’s estimated $3.5 billion cost. Light rail is another quarter of the cost, and the balance is for improvements to I-5 (reconfiguring ramps and adding capacity) north and south of the bridges. It looks to me like they could replace the bridges and make the necessary connections to the existing highway for about a billion. I think this would provide most of the project’s congestion relief at about a third of the cost.

    This reminds me of the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-95 crossing the Potomac River between Alexandria, Virginia and Oxon Hill, Maryland, crossing a sliver of the District of Columbia on the bridge).

    The old bridge, which was opened to traffic in 1961, was an inadequate draw span, only 6 lanes wide (3 in each direction). The replacement span is 12 lanes wide, though only 10 are currently in use. It is still a draw bridge, but much higher than the old bridge. One lane each way are reserved for possible rail transit or bus or HOV or managed lanes. A totally-new bike/pedestrian trail was also built. Studies of the project were started in the early 1990’s (after this had been a notorious chokepoint on the Atlantic Coast since the 1960’s). Only now, after about 20 years, plenty of study, over 10 years of construction and one Sierra Club lawsuit (Sierra won at the U.S. District Court level, but they were reversed and dismissed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia).

    Reconstruction of long segments of the freeway on the Maryland and Virginia approaches was needed to match up to the much wider bridge, including two interchanges on the Maryland side and three on the Virginia side.

    Current plans are for FTA to pay the whole $850m capital cost of the project (Sen. Murray got legislation passed that allows them to consider local funds paid for highway improvements as matching funds for light rail). They are also counting on $400m in Federal highway funds (though I think the specific funding program was eliminated), $450m each from WA and OR (neither of which has yet committed the funds), and the balance of about $1.3 billion from tolls. The Federal and state dollars alone would be enough to pay for replacing the bridge without the need for tolls.

    While I am not at all enthused about light rail at this crossing (I suspect the operating deficits would be even worse than what Tri-Met incurs for its rail system on the Oregon side now), having some treatment to allow transit to run reliably makes plenty of sense.

    The local Clark County transit agency already runs several lines of express bus service to downtown Portland and a few other locations. Beefing up this system would provide better service than light rail, at a fraction of the cost, particularly if a few miles of exclusive bus/HOV lanes were added to I-5 (which I think would only cost about $100m, far less than light rail). Of course, this option was never considered in the alternatives studied.

    Agreed regarding buses. The federal agencies have often demanded that alternatives be added to environmental impact studies on the East Coast, and I wonder why someone from USDOT did not ask that express bus service (instead of light rail or as an alternative to light rail) be studied crossing the Columbia River.

    metrosucks Reply:

    CP,

    believe me, there is NO need for additional transit service on the bridge. Look up C-Tran’s ridership numbers, they don’t justify huge expenditures for additional transit infrastructure. Most travel between Clark County and Portland is by car. Now, if the transit project doesn’t cost very much, I don’t see a problem. Like maybe 50 million for express bus lanes or similar.

    But billions of dollars to extend light rail by 2 miles is criminal and stupid beyond belief. It shows that rail has become a cult religion in Portland, to be expanded at any cost, no matter what.

    metrosucks Reply:

    Ken,

    bear in mind that the project was so bloated and loaded with pork to add something for everyone, and make everyone happy as a pig in you know what, while Portland sneaked in light rail unnoticed. Personally, I think this is literally a criminal act, to spend billions of dollars for the sake of extending the light rail line by 2 miles. But that’s just me.

  4. Scott says:

    Off topic, but for the holiday, here are some resources on the real story & principles behind it.
    Basically, collectivism was tried & failed. Individual initiative w/its incentive & self-interest, along w/private property rights succeeded.
    Thanksgiving Hoax
    Pilgrims’ started w/communal property rights: their Lesson
    Thanksgiving: collective sharing failed big
    At 1st Thanksgiving communal  living lead to death
    A "liberal" explains the socialist utopia to an alien (sarcastic story illustrating how ridiculous the lefty views are)

    The latter article only slightly touches on Thanksgiving, & is from the People’s Cube website, which is entertaining & informative. The 2nd word is partly in reference to the notion of a lefty Rubik’s Cube, being red on all sides, so that there is no challenge in rearranging, no accomplishment to be achieved, results are already there & equality. For too long (starting w/Woodrow Wilson), there has been legislation by envy & jealousy, along with disregarding the Constitution. The US republic has been transformed into a mobocracy, with many people voting themselves others’ money – theft by gov.
    more…

    Scott Reply:

    …cont…
    The People’s Cube has several analytical, satirical articles added each week & little sarcastic comments about current events. For example: Ohio elections: Obama promotes Somali pirate participation with promise of pre-paid propaganda parrot with each swiped ballot.

    The website is created by Oleg Atbashian – from the USSR (Ukraine). He certainly knows from experience about the many negatives of big government. He’s also written the book called Shakedown Socialism.

    Would the early European settlers have done better with zoning & blight rail? Actually, survival would have been impossible if there were many of the current burdensome regulations (relative to much less technology – many regs would not apply). For example, there are now many regs on farming that would have severely curtailed output, including disallowing children to work on the family farm. It’s only been 2-3 centuries since 90%+ of people were involved in agriculture, due to capitalism, which evolved from mercantilism.

    Additionally, there was not even potential then to collect enough revenue to support a big gov, even if taxes were only 20% of the GDP equivalent, rather than the current gov spending (all levels) of ~$6.4 trillion being about 40% of the ~$16T GDP.

    BTW, GDP was not measureable then, for several reasons. Without even touching on monetary units, there was a lot of barter, & much of the production was for families’ own consumption. Know the fable about a gentleman marrying his housekeeper, effectively lowering the GDP?
    Underlying principle: Passing through the marketplace.

    Limited Government – wanted by the ideologies of those being conservative, libertarian, TEA party (backronym: Taxed Enough Already) or of the Austrian School – would have gov spending at 20-30% of GDP, neither at zero nor as anarchy. Whereas, a counter-argument often given, has several flaws/fallacies: being a binary false choice in misrepresenting the limited gov position & supposing that the only alternative to big gov is there being no gov or that anarchy is the goal.

    Trivia on money: There was scant inflation during all of the 1800s. The Federal Reserve was created in 1913 & since then, the dollar has inflated about 2,000%. In other words, today’s dollar will buy what a nickel would then. Yep, the feds know what’s best for us & sure can operate things well; the USPS is fine. Haheehaw! :-)

  5. C. P. Zilliacus says:

    Limited Government – wanted by the ideologies of those being conservative, libertarian, TEA party (backronym: Taxed Enough Already) or of the Austrian School – would have gov spending at 20-30% of GDP, neither at zero nor as anarchy. Whereas, a counter-argument often given, has several flaws/fallacies: being a binary false choice in misrepresenting the limited gov position & supposing that the only alternative to big gov is there being no gov or that anarchy is the goal.

    I do not doubt the sincerity of most persons who advocate for limited government here, since I have had the honor of meeting several of them – and many of the government activities that get criticized by the Antiplanner are not especially good use of taxpayer dollars.

    However, I do doubt the sincerity of more than a few older people (as in old enough to be drawing Social Security and being on Medicare) who claim to be adherents of the so-called “Tea Party.” Especially those that want to “keep the federal government away from my Medicare” and loudly object to any notion of limiting Social Security payments.

    Scott Reply:

    C.P.Zilliacus,
    (1st response: #6 below, inadvertently posted as “new comment,” rather than “reply.”)

    Are there proposed cuts to retirement payments which you have in mind?
    As far as I know, that has not been the case, in either Paul Ryan’s proposed budget or other Repub’ plans, notwithstanding a higher retirement age, despite contrary claims & accusations, such as a depiction of an old lady over the cliff & Paul Grayson’s twisted crying.

    Although, COLA adjustments have been quietly suspended by the BO Admin, & Obamacare has plans to cut Medicare payments [by ~$800 billion, across a decade] to doctors, as well as ration care (ie waiting & outright denial).

    Actually, what the hell are you thinking about on retirement payouts?
    If you had a 401K or some type of savings account, would you expect your money to be returned? Or do you think it would be just for the repayments to be lowered due to whatever?

  6. Scott says:

    Yes, it’s true that many who claim to be for limited gov are hypocritical or otherwise favor programs that benefit themselves.
    However, SS & Medicare have been paid into for years by those whom are retired.

Leave a Reply