Last week the staff of the Columbia River Crossing proposed cuts to the project, in the name of reducing its total cost and thereby improving its chances of being built.
The “alternatives” on the table today – 12 lanes or 10 lanes – are always compared by CRC staff and proponents to a “No Build” scenario, in which the region is assumed to do nothing about I-5 congestion.
In the “No Build” of 2030, we have made no transit investments of any significance in the project area, and we have allowed TriMet and C-Tran service across the bridge to slowly deteriorate. Land use and development patterns emerge over the next twenty years as they did over the last. However, new highway lanes, interchanges and ramps are built by 2030, leading to the bridge area. (Download a description of the “no build” scenario here [2.3 MB pdf].) The “No Build” scenario looks, to us, like a worst-case scenario.
This sets up a false choice for the region. Comparing the 10 and 12 lane plans to that incredibly dark (and improbable) “No Build” scenario makes them look like they do no harm.
(For example, 135,000 cars cross the I-5 bridge today; the “No Build” scenario assumes a jaw-dropping 184,000 will cross in 2030. Compared to that, the 178,000 cars crossing in the 12-lane scenario sound like an improvement and a reduction in traffic, even though they actually represent a 33% increase in traffic compared to today. See this data here [102 KB pd].)
A true comparison, offering the region a real set of choices, should be made among strategies that make affordable, incremental and impactful improvements to our transportation system between today and 2030. Making efficient use of our existing infrastructure ought to be a choice presented by the CRC to elected officials, and it is likely to be the most affordable and sustainable choice. We do not have to throw this freeway away and buy a new one.
To that end, the BTA recently joined with four other community organizations to ask for a new alternative plan – “CRC 2.0” – based on the region’s shared environmental, economic and public health goals. A bridge that decreases our greenhouse gas emissions below today’s levels, improves freight mobility, makes driving between Portland and Vancouver quicker and more reliable, and makes biking and walking between the cities safe and appealing can and should be in our future.
Elements proposed to be cut include freight access improvements, one of the seven interchanges, and a new bridge structure over the Portland Harbor and above Hayden Island. No changes have been proposed to the problematic bike path.
CRC staff also recommends that the freeway be striped for 10 travel lanes, instead of 12, but that the bridge be wide enough to stripe 12 lanes in the future. (This is a reminder that the supposedly 12-lane proposal could also be converted into 14 lanes in the future.)
These recommendations will certainly be discussed, and may even be voted upon, at the December 4th Project Sponsors’ Council meeting. (The public is welcome, and the Stop the CRC coalition is organizing an action at the December 4th meeting in Portland. Want to get involved? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)