Columbia River Crossroads: info on the Columbia River Crossing
A 10 lane bridge, while still too big, would be preferable to the current 12 lane concept, and there are signs that a smaller bridge might become the new concept
One of the things that jumped out at me from the fact sheets I got at the recent Columbia River Crossing "open house", (last Wednesday), was a projection from a sheet titled, "Traffic Effects of 8, 10 and 12 Lane Scenarios." This sheet compares the "local streets impacted by I-5 backups" in a 10 lane and 12 lane bridge scenario. In the 12 lane scenario, of course, there are no local streets impacted by an I-5 backup, either in Portland or Vancouver.
But in the 10 lane scenario, there are six streets or highways that are impacted. All but one of them are in Vancouver. So this really is a Clark County thing. The new bridge must be as large as possible so drivers from the northernmost reaches of Clark County, and probably beyond, can get to Portland in time for...whatever.
Another info sheet I got was from a man representing AORTA (Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates) which advocates for a greener, more rail and pedestrian/bicycle friendly solution to the bridge question. What jumped out at me from this sheet was the comparison between what the proposed CRC I-5 mega-bridge will look like, and AORTA's projection of what a greener, smaller bridge would look like, (presumably it would be a third bridge built next to the current I-5 bridge, because AORTA doesn't support tearing down either span of the current I-5 bridge).
AORTA's projection, which I believe is a simulated image, shows a world-class bridge, something akin to the Golden Gate Bridge, close to the water. The CRC's projection of a future bridge looks like the ideal setting for an LA-style high-speed chase. AORTA recommends improving the rail infrastructure, building a new multi-modal bridge, (for a new MAX line, bicyclists and pedestrians), and upgrading the existing I-5 bridge. All of which makes perfect sense, and could be done, and would solve most of the I-5 bridge bottleneck issues for the foreseeable future, (50, 60 years?)
Clark County is, and has been, apparently, the driving force behind the 12 lane mega-bridge concept. So it's fitting that it was in Vancouver, on March 6th, that the fate of the CRC project was sealed, (apparently): a 12 lane monstrosity, connecting the port of Vancouver with Jantzen Beach.
In late February, the Portland city council voted 4-1 to more or less support the 12-lane option. It seems that Randy Leonard played a pivotal role in this final outcome: until sometime in the recent past, Leonard was not a 12 lane bridge supporter. But by the time the city council voted on the matter, Leonard was in support of the 12 lane concept. As Willamette Week put it on Feb. 11th: "Leonard says his position on the bridge has evolved as he learns more from project staff." Adams, presumably, sensed his lack of support on the city council, and voted in favor of the 12 lane concept in late February. What could have been a 3-2 vote against the 12 lane concept, ended up a 4-1 vote in favor of 12 lanes, with only Amanda Fritz voting against the concept.
So with the city council backing the 12 lane concept, it was only Metro, among the many agencies tasked with developing and managing the project, that was not in support of 12 lanes. Metro and the City Council together, presumably, would have had the muscle to block the 12 lane vision, but not one of them alone. Clark County wins--or rather, the Clark County "contingent" wins. (Who is the Clark County "contingent"? City commissioner Steve Stuart?)
There are some glimmers of hope, however--some signs that the new bridge may not be a full 12 lanes after all. Even a 10-lane bridge would be better--while still too big, that would knock maybe a 1/2 billion off the total price tag? From looking over the fact sheets, and the CRC website, the reason for the extra lanes is so that drivers have their very own exit and entrance lanes--no need to merge into or out of traffic, because you'll have your VERY OWN LANE which will take you directly off or onto the freeway. This would be the solution to tricky exits like the downtown Vancouver exit northbound off the I-5 bridge, or the Marine Drive exit southbound after the I-5 bridge. If these exits are that bad, they should just be phased out.
The glimmers of hope are, for one thing, the fact that it's nearly impossible to find any mention of the 12 lane concept on the CRC website. I looked at the site for a couple hours, and I don't think I saw any mention of exactly how many lanes the proposed bridge would be. Are they a little shy about advertising this too much? I wonder why;
Also, in April, Rep. Brian Baird, who represents SW Washington, called into question the financing of the CRC project. He suggested that the project might need to limit the number of lanes, thereby making the project more affordable.
It may not be too late to change the 12 lane plan. A 10 lane bridge might mean that Clark County residents will have to depend on mass transit a little more, or make other arrangements to get to Portland. Ultimately, then, everyone benefits.
Maybe we should remind our governors in WA and OR that $4 billion or more is too much for a bridge. Brian Baird has taken the right stance on the CRC, but what about Oregon's congressmen and women? I'm sure Defazio and Wyden have some questions about the project. Pressure from Congress might persuade the CRC task force to build a smaller bridge.
Bike Portland has covered the CRC debate extensively:
CRC website--see if you can find the words: "12 lane bridge"
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