As we embark on a new year, many of us are assessing the past and planning for the future. I myself have been thinking about what 2010 will bring for perhaps the most significant project planned for our region: the Columbia River Crossing (CRC).
In 2009, the CRC moved closer than ever to becoming reality. But after years of negotiations and compromises, the project has taken a form that would be ecologically and fiscally catastrophic for the region.
The current project proposal calls for a new, wider bridge across the Columbia that would increase the crossing’s capacity by 35 to 50 percent. That increase in traffic would have a number of negative impacts, including:
- More low-density, auto-dependent development in Clark County
- Longer delays on Portland’s portion of I-5, as well as more traffic and unhealthy exhaust on streets in North and Northeast Portland (because the freeway system in Oregon would not be able to accommodate the crossing’s increased traffic)
- Increased political pressure on Oregon to throw uncounted billions of dollars into widening the rest of Portland-area freeway system from six lanes to eight or more – through neighborhoods, along the Willamette's east bank, and at other “choke points” like the Sunset Tunnel.
- A more hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians around the crossing (because of massive expansions of interchanges and I-5 from Marine Drive to SR 500)
- Increases in greenhouse gases from vehicles, rather than the reduction we urgently need to make.
The project is absolutely unaffordable: neither congressional nor state legislators have indicated willingness to appropriate the $3.6 billion to $4.2 billion sought for it, and borrowing such huge sums would impair the region’s ability to make other needed transportation improvements for years to come.
Redirecting this proposal toward a more sustainable alternative is a major motivation for my seeking this office. I have recommended—and will continue to recommend—a “restart” of the CRC process, with new aims of repairing the existing bridge as inexpensively as possible, adding non-highway transportation choices to the crossing, and achieving regional greenhouse gas reduction goals. Specific ideas I have include:
- Addressing safety issues with the current I-5 bridge by retaining and seismically strengthening it—at about 10% the cost of the current proposal
- Achieving efficient traffic flow during peak traffic periods by using variable-rate congestion pricing (tolls that go up during rush hour) on the existing I-5 and I-205 bridges
- Using tolling revenue to fund frequent, express bus service between Clark County and the TriMet transit system during peak traffic periods—until Clark County elects to participate in extending light rail across the river.
- Building a smaller, more affordable bridge for transit, bike and pedestrian facilities, and for local Hayden Island traffic
I’m certain there are other, great ideas out there, and I’m open to them. Together, we can come up with a project that, unlike the one now on the table, gracefully balances the region’s transportation needs and overall well-being.