A Bridge Too Low!

by lewwaters


By Professor Robert Dean

Tap! Tap!

E. Lynch: The fifth inaugural meeting of Identity Vancouver is now in session. Tonight we will try to rescue the CRC light rail project from the scrap heap. As you may know, we spent $160 million of public money designing a bridge that does not meet Coast Guard standards for shipping clearance.

M. Boldt: Also, it’s too low.

S. Stuart: Too low! How could that be? Tim, you’re an engineer, how could they build it too low?

T. Leavitt: Not sure. I checked and re-checked the data and I can’t find anything wrong. According to my calculations, if we build the bridge 95 feet up from the water 95% of the skiffs and dinghies that currently use the river will fit under it – that’s two sigma! I don’t know what the Coast Guard is all balled up about.

E. Lynch: Well they are!! And if we don’t do something about it soon we’ll miss out on making a killing buying up all the distressed real estate in Downtown Vancouver during the 6.3 years of construction.

J. Nutter: And the construction contracts.

T. Schauer: And the government no bid A & E contracts.

T. Leavitt: And light rail – we were counting on extending it throughout Clark County. Talk about a gravy train! All those contracts we got from Metro would be chicken feed by comparison.

S. Stuart: So what happened?

T. Leavitt: Let’s call Nancy at the CRC and find out.

Ring! Ring!

N. Boyd: Hello! Columbia River Crossing Director, Nancy Boyd, here.

T. Leavitt: Nancy! Tim!

N. Boyd: Tim?

T. Leavitt: Timothy D. Leavitt, Mayor of Vancouver, Washington and Senior Engineer at PBS Engineering + Environmental.

N. Boyd: Oh, right! Tim! Listen, Tim, about that benefit /cost analysis you asked for years ago, I would have done it but it might have spurred too much public opposition against the project.

T. Leavitt: That’s alright, Nancy, I think you’re right. We only asked for it to cover our, uh, to cover our…

N. Boyd: Thanks for understanding, Tim.

T. Leavitt: The reason I called was to find out why we spent all those years and hundreds of millions of dollars designing a bridge that is too low:

N. Boyd: (silence)

T. Leavitt: Too low.

N. Boyd: That’s cruel, Tim.

T. Leavitt: Sorry.

N. Boyd: It wasn’t me! Those decisions were made before I got here.

T. Leavitt: Oh! Sure! No! Hey! I didn’t mean…

N. Boyd: Here! I’ll let you talk to the contractors who did the studies.

Ring! Ring!

Parsons Brinkerhoff: Hello! PB Engineering!

T. Leavitt: Oh shit! Click!

S. Stuart: What was that about?

T. Leavitt: What? Oh! Nothing!

E. Lynch: So what did Nancy have to say?

T. Leavitt: She was no help whatsoever.

S. Stuart: Well, As I understand it, they got some outfit to do the study that had already been fined $407 million by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for cost overruns on the Boston Big Dig .

T. Leavitt: But we…

L. Smith: Weren’t they the same outfit that left a $500 million hole in expected toll revenues because of low-balling diversions and over-estimating traffic projections on the CRC project?

S. Stuart: I think you’re right, Larry, or maybe a firm that works closely with them on many mega projects. But what can we do about it now? We’re too far in the tank to climb out at this late date.

M. Boldt: How about we say, “I was for the CRC before I was against it.”

T. Leavitt: That only works if you get elected before you switch.

S. Stuart: No, let’s continue with what we’ve been doing – pretend we’ve got everything under control and demonize the opposition. Is the Columbian still on board?

J. Laird: Got your back, Steve.

S. Stuart: Then, when it all hits the fan – blame the Coast Guard.

J. Laird: I’ll check who’s heading them up – hopefully a Bush appointee.

E. Lynch: Great! Meeting adjoined.


10 Comments to “A Bridge Too Low!”

  1. Professor, the CRC sent out this update on March 7, 2012,
    “We have been working with the U.S. Coast Guard since 2005 to improve the river crossing and river navigation. Current plans call for about 95 feet above the Columbia River datum, which provides between 75 and 95 feet of navigational clearance depending on water level.”
    On Monday, I attended a meeting where they clarified the 95′ clearance between the water and the bridge is based on river levels at the end of summer. We have a lot of rainy seasons, and sometimes the Columbia overflows down by the I-5 bridge, especially in the spring. So river clearance could be lower than 95′ for a lot of the year it seems. And they put light rail on a second deck, under the main deck, making the clearance problem worse.

    Even 95′ is too low for a lot of barges and some marine contractors. Would it be wise to eliminate light rail, and gain more clearance for river traffic?
    Light rail is estimated to cost up to $1.2 Billion, and will require bridge tolls and higher sales tax in Clark County.

  2. Back-to-school, if you remember your geographical sense, the reason WHY the Columbia River is that high in the spring? The Columbia River Dams are opening up their flood gates to get excess water out before they become inundated with spring snow melt. Yes, it is not just the Washington – Oregon and Idaho rivers guys. You have to remember there is a HUGE reservoir system that fills the main river up in Southeast British Columbia and guess where all of that flows?
    Yep, right at the Columbia River – Interstate 5 Bridge. Was it not in the last few years in the spring time that the river near there was at flood stage in the spring? I mean 25 to 30 feet mark, way above a decent water flow. hmmm.. Anyone know this research?
    Oh, Robert Dean. 🙂 I LOVED your passages. Where do you get the perspired inspiration? ;-P

  3. Ok, Folks. If you weren’t able to attend the LOVELY Columbia River Crossing Oversight Committee meeting headed by Mike Hewitt and Mary Margaret Haugen (Mrs. FerryBoat for those not in the know…)
    You can watch it in its entirety. I DO want to warn you, the two combined files are near 600 megs, so if you have a slower DSL connection, it may take some time to download.
    Part 1: http://www.cityofvancouver.us/cvtv/cvtvarchive2/Community_Events/2012_Events/Columbia_River_Crossing_Oversight_Subcommittee_Meeting_Part-1_8-20-12.wmv

    Part2: http://www.cityofvancouver.us/cvtv/cvtvarchive2/Community_Events/2012_Events/Columbia_River_Crossing_Oversight_Subcommittee_Meeting_Part-2_8-20-12.wmv

    I better get my popcorn out! 🙂 I was there when this action happened. And my hats off to the regular hounds of whinersville who promptly were able to attend.

  4. This should be a script for a Gilbert and Sullivan musical

  5. http://www.pbsenv.com/services/geotechnical-engineering/trimet-various-on-call-services/

    Thanks to Josephine and Dan for alerting me to this important link. Lew, maybe you could hyperlink it in to “All those contracts we got from Metro”.

  6. Back to School: Thanks for watch-dogging them.

    Click to access CIM_16590_5C.pdf

    The Coast Guard commandant cannot make deals with the CRC or anyone else. By law, she also cannot suggest acceptable designs for the bridge beforehand (before the application that CRC just recently made). It is incumbent on the CRC to design the bridge (or drawbridge replacement) to accommodate the “largest vessel expected to use the waterway.” They did not use the appropriate design vessel – they chose a statistical measure that allowed “most” of the vessels to pass under their bridge. Their application is doomed.

    If they remove light rail they gain another 20 feet or so to a clearance of 135 feet, good enough for Thompson Fabricating who says they need 125 feet. “Right now, the fully lifted I-5 bridge allows about 179 feet of clearance. The Glenn Jackson has 144 feet of headroom.” Even at 135 feet I can’t see the Coast Guard surrendering that extra 9 feet that the Glenn Jackson affords for future needs or high water levels.

    If they remove light rail they’re sunk because punching light rail up I-5 was the whole purpose of the CRC in the first place.

  7. Jeremy: The Coast Guard letter to the CRC explains the significance of various water levels

    Click to access CRC_Signed_Boat_Survey_Response_Letter_Feb_23_2012.pdf

  8. Jeremy: Sorry, it’s the Corps of Engineers letter to the CRC explaining their needs to allow their dredging vessel to do its work.

  9. Professor,

    Thank you for the clarification. A good portion of the meeting was dedicated to bus vs. light rail, and how they came up with the light rail. It was stated that OR insists on light rail. A big portion of Clark County will vote on light rail this November.
    A single deck bridge wide enough for a lane for transit could be considered. In Minneapolis, a new bridge was built with extra room for for future transit needs. The debate on whether that might be bus or light rail didn’t hold up the bridge design or completion. Transit trips across the I-5 bridge are relatively few today, and could continue to be served by buses. Minnesota’s I-35W bridge was completed in September 2008, three months ahead of schedule, at a cost of $234 million.

  10. Back-to-school, If you are referring to the August 20th, 2012 CRC Oversight Committee meeting, I was there and can concur that this was the 1st 90 minutes or so. But the last 2.5 hours was dedicated to funding, the thompson mess… And I can tell you, Ann Rivers and several other state legislators were pounding this really into the ground.

    Guess who was fighting for the status quo, Jim Moeller… Go Figure.

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