Build That Third Bridge!

by lewwaters

I-5 Bridge 09Access between the States of Washington and Oregon, separated by the Columbia River has long been a problem for commuters. For many decades there was only one bridge for several miles in each direction, down the I-5 corridor.

After much fighting between the states, Oregon trying to drag their feet, a second bridge was opened a few miles east of I-5 in 1983, the Glen Jackson or if you prefer, the I-205 Bridge.

That lessened a little congestion down I-5, but as we saw this week with the collision of a Semi-Truck driving the wrong way over the I-205 Bridge, essentially shutting it down, people were once again stuck in traffic on both arterials and access roads as many tried to avoid the mess on the I-205 Bridge and others sat for hours, unable to escape the back-up.

Oregon, Portland more specifically is afflicted with what many still call a “Tom McCall Attitude,” where the notion of “Oregon for Oregonians all others go home” grew back during McCall’s time as governor back in the 1970’s. We saw it during construction of the I-205 Bridge where Oregon drug their feet and we see it today where Oregon refuses to cooperate on providing more crossings between the two states in this supposedly major metropolitan area of Portland / Vancouver, even though they see a need for 9 crossings across the Willamette River in the downtown region of Portland.

Today we see it as Portland nixed any idea of additional bridges, sticking solely to replacing the aging but fully functional I-5 Bridge spans in order to force Vancouver into accepting their financially light rail line a short distance into Vancouver.

In spite of all the comments coming out of the Columbia River Crossing, charged with designing and coordinating light rail being pushed into Vancouver against voter’s wishes, not being a viable solution, the early days of the CRC did receive recommendations of just that, additional crossings if any substantive lessening of congestion would be seen.

A January 27, 2000 report relying on consultants from David Evans and Associates, the company so far that has received the bulk of the $170 Million spent to date, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., The Duffey Co. and Jeanne Lawson Associates contained, “The magnitude of the problem requires new freight and passenger capacity across the Columbia River.”

The report also says, “The complexity of the problem requires that the new capacity be multi-faceted” listing underneath, “It should include highway, transit, rail and demand management, while also supporting the vitality of the river-based economy.”

Currently, the project is stuck in limbo as the design required to carry light rail severely restricts “the river-based economy” by dropping current bridge clearance from 178 feet, when the lift section is up, down to 116 feet, increasing the bridge height for river clearance being too steep a grade for light rail to traverse.

The report also includes, “The region’s decision-makers should begin now to pursue a phased approach to addressing freight and passenger mobility in the I-5 Trade Corridor” and after identifying a couple bottlenecks says, “Providing new highway and transit capacity across the Columbia River and the I-5 corridor.”

A June 2002 report included as an option “New Freeway Parallel to Existing Freeway,” described as, “Construct a parallel freeway with limited ramp connects (at SR 14 and SR 500 only) to bypass weaving and congestion problem, Columbia Boulevard to SR 500.”

A provided image shows this early recommendation as adjacent to the current I-5 Bridge and much higher.

CRC 3rd Bridge Parallel

Also identified is correcting the bottleneck at Portland’s Rose Quarter to a 3 lane freeway, both directions, something currently not proposed until sometime around 2030 and currently strongly opposed by the Portland Activist group, Access Right of Way (AROW). The problem they see is the potential correcting of the freeway bottleneck there contains “too few bike/ped improvements in the process.”

The report says of the Parallel Freeway option at section 9.1.2, “this option has several benefits to the regional transportation system including relieving traffic on I-5, providing an additional connection between Oregon and Washington, relieving the St. Johns neighborhood of through truck traffic, and providing an efficient south-north arterial for (a) freight movement between key industrial areas in the Portland / Vancouver area and (b) other traffic in North Portland.”

It does go on to say traffic impacts to Vancouver neighborhood would be significant and property would be affected and need mitigated, but another proposal put forth much later called for a similar parallel freeway to divert truck traffic destined for the Ports further west, providing Port traffic direct access.

We also see an April 2003 report from ODOT with David Evans Associates as consultants recommending, “Add a new supplemental or replacement bridge across the Columbia River with up to two auxiliary or arterial lanes in each direction…” and “Add auxiliary lanes between interchanges in I-5 and modify the interchanges to increase safety and capacity and discourage the use of I-5 for local trips.”

Light rail provisions were also included, but how is it possible to “discourage using I-5 for local trips” when I-5 is to remain the sole crossing across the river, besides the I-205 Bridge?

That can only be done by constructing a third bridge to use for local traffic to Portland or Hayden Island.

As we now know, though, all such options were discarded in favor of a light rail carrier into Vancouver across I-5, revealed through an Oregon Supreme Court ruling in early 2012 reported by the Willamette Week article The $2.5 Billion Bribe.

We read the admission there from Portland’s Metro, “The massive Interstate 5 bridge and freeway project is a ‘political necessity’ to persuade Clark County residents to accept something they previously didn’t want—a MAX light-rail line from Portland to Vancouver.”

Common sense has been thrown out the window solely to focus on light rail and light rail only into Vancouver, even though selling points used by proponents call for congestion relief, freight mobility and more. Light rail will not relieve any of that, only more bridges will.

These reports I listed are 10 years old and older and show from the beginning how Vancouver residents were being bamboozled and misled by proponents from both sides of the river in order to coerce taxpayers to buy into and support a massive, multi-Billion project that will not alleviate a single traffic problem and will only push Portland’s financially troubled light rail, and its $1.6 Billion in unfunded liabilities off onto Clark County citizens.

All of the talk about how this is a major project affecting the entire West coast is meaningless since primarily I-5 commuters, who must work in Portland since there is so little effort to attract diverse jobs into our community will be who pays for it for generations, the final bill approaching $10 Billion once interest on bonds sold is factored in.

We can and must do better. Job creation in our community and real solutions to the traffic flow problems between the states is what is needed, not light rail.

As we saw Monday morning, when that semi-truck going the wrong way across the I-205 bridge and collided with a passenger car head-on, having only 2 crossings between the states in what they tell us is a ‘major metropolitan area’ is pure folly.

Our elected officials need to hear we are dissatisfied with current plans and demand more bridges before even thinking about replacing the still functional I-5 spans and dragging light rail into our community.

We need to tell them, Build That Third Bridge, now.

5 Responses to “Build That Third Bridge!”

  1. 2008 Corridors Visioning Study by RTC recommended 4 potential new crossings:

    Click to access VisioningCorridors.pdf

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  2. This perspective assumes the economy will stay as is, and there will be no technological developments. Central control of fast, autonomous vehicles is already proven. Moving people in smaller electric vehicles bumper-to-bumper at 80MPH is do-able. I suspect that today’s designs may very well be not needed soon. Let’s get out of the 19th century and get into the 21st. Leave one lane for the fossil burners and see what can be done with what is left. Unlock the patent office and watch out.

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