The once-dead Columbia River Crossing, a $3.5-billion project to build a $1.0 billion bridge across the river between Portland and Vancouver, may be alive again. After the Washington legislature rejected the idea that Washington state taxpayers should contribute $400 million to the plan, Portland bridge supporters have come up with an idea: Just build the bridge, but nothing north of the bridge in Washington.
The plan basically called for a $1.2 billion bridge, a $1.0 billion low-capacity rail line, and $1.5 billion replacing all highway interchanges for miles north and south of the bridge. Although the new bridge would have more lanes than the current bridge, the highways leading to it from both directions would have no more lanes, so the total capacity would not be significantly increased.
The existing bridge is not in any danger of falling down, but Portland wants to cram low-capacity rail down Vancouver’s throat, and replacing the bridge is an excuse for doing so. To keep the plan alive, advocates suggest deleting all of the highway interchange reconstruction in Washington. If Washington decides to reconstruct those interchanges later, it can come up with the funds later. Of course, the plan still includes low-capacity rail.
The Vancouver Columbian opines that, since planners have already spent $170 million planning the bridge, it must be a worthwhile plan. Nevermind the fact that the bridge they planned is too short to admit existing river traffic and would put at least two shipping companies out of business–a compromise that was probably necessary to accommodate low-capacity rail on the bridge. Nevermind that the low-capacity rail is super low-capacity because Portland’s signaling system will only allow 7.5 two-car trains per hour–meaning about 2,250 people per hour tops, while a decent bus lane occupied by double-decker buses could move more than 48,000 people per hour.
The Columbian‘s editorial opens saying, “The need hasn’t gone away.” By an extraordinary coincidence, this is exactly what Patricia McCaig, the bridge lobbyist who is getting paid out of funds supposedly dedicated to writing an environmental impact statement, and who is under investigation for failing to register as a lobbying, told the Portland Oregonian. It would be “almost irresponsible” to not pursue the project, she added, after spending $170 million planning it.
In poker, this is called throwing good money after bad, which is considered a sign of an irresponsible card player (i.e., an easy mark). Oregon should avoid becoming an easy mark by writing off the $170 million, putting a gag on McCaig, and working on finding the most cost-effective ways of relieving congestion on Interstate 5. Those ways will probably not require a new bridge and certainly will not have anything to do with low-capacity rail transit.