Alive Again?

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.

Share

7 thoughts on “Alive Again?

  1. English Major

    Aloysius9999,

    Are you from the Portland/Vancouver area? If not, you can be an honorary Northwesterner
    because you hit the nail on the head. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber put someone in charge
    of the bridge project (Patrica McCaig) who also gets 300k a year as an employee of David Evans and Associates, the consulting firm that raked in millions from the CRC. David Evans and Associates gets rich whether or not the projects get built. McCaig is under investigation for ethics violations (failing to register as a lobbyist for David Evans while on the public payroll).

    Are they going through mental contortions? There you err, kind sir. McCaig et al have no ethics and are too busy milking the taxpayers to even try and justify their actions.

  2. Frank

    “planners have already spent $170 million planning the bridge”

    $170 million on a PLAN?!

    Can someone please give a specific breakdown on what the $170 MILLION went for? (To put it in perspective, $170 million is enough to OPERATE Crater Lake National Park for 34 years!)

    Also, when adjusted for inflation, what were the costs to plan the current I-5 bridge?

    Thanks in advance.

  3. JOHN1000

    Rather than spending billions in the future to justify spending $170 million in the past, why not go after the people who took (stole) the $170 million in the first place?

    It would make more sense financially and, hopefully, would discourage others from seeking to steal public money in the future. Which, to be succinct, is the sole purpose for most of these projects.

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    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.

    I suspect that this would not gain approval of the U.S. Department of Transportation – at least not the part about deleting reconstruction of interchanges on the Washington side.

    As for the existing bridge falling down, how good is it in terms of seismic risk? From what I have read elsewhere, the Pacific Northwest lives under the threat of severe quakes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

    From the Wikipedia article hyperlinked above:

    The Cascadia subduction zone can produce very large earthquakes (“megathrust earthquakes“), magnitude 9.0 or greater, if rupture occurs over its whole area.

    All of this leads to a modest proposal – why not just delete the rail project entirely? As best as I can tell, this project is about opening up a new “market” (and that is probably a poor choice of words, even in quotes) for Tri-Met transit operating subsidies on the north side of the Columbia River.

    It’s clearly not what the Portland railfans want, but has there been an alternatives analysis of what the traffic impact of a new (and wider) Columbia River crossing without rail might be?

  5. ll

    I live down the road from this debacle (the Peninsula). My father and brother have recently moved from the Portland area to north of Vancouver. Visiting them is often hell.

    A huge problem is that the current bridge is, I believe, a lift bridge. When the Columbia River is high as it was last year the central span is constantly going up and down, backing up traffic for miles.

    Moreover, if you are not across the river by 2 o’clock i the afternoon (north bound) you’re screwed no matter the river level. Congestion is terrible. This may in part be due to the prohibitive cost of living in Portland and Multnomah County for working families who reside in Clark County.

    The intensity of hate for the automobile/bus and the worship of the bicycle/train is mad. Adults smirk at the saps who remain here. The only part of Portland that has streets resounding with the sound of children is New Columbia Villa which is basically subsidized housing for the the poor/colored (people of color?). White people here have dogs. Lots of dogs. Go to Clackamas, Columbia, or Washington Counties and you will find working class families of all colors.

    Our water and sewer bills are insane. As with the CRC this is because we refused to take the adult approach and plan for upgrading or replacing infrastructure. We have spent millions on some of the silliest stuff possible, but none for serious infrastructure measures. We act as if we had been ambushed by the predictable.

    For too many years we’ve been a one party city and county. Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, after being blocked (by statutory rape) from national politics, turned his rotten efforts on my native state. He was followed by Vera Katz (drunken vanity), Sam Adams. (caught in the city hall toilet drunkenly fingering a boy he was mentoring). The squalor here is ongoing. Financially responsible adults and families are regarded as anathema here.

Leave a Reply