Don’t Accept CRC’s Wooden Nickel

by lewwaters

Wooden NickelOne time or another we have all heard the old adage, “Don’t take any wooden nickels” meaning to be cautious in one’s dealings. The exact origin of the phrase is debated, but we have come to accept a wooden nickel as indicative of something with little or no intrinsic value.

Such is the case with the Columbia River Crossing light rail project to force taxpayers in Clark County Washington to accept a financially ailing light rail extension from Portland, Oregon a very short distance into our community, even though voters have rejected it and all funding measures considered associated with it.

Since the collapse of the bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, Washington a week ago, proponents of the CRC light rail project have craftily used that collapse to urge swift approval of funding in the Washington State Legislature to ‘get going’ on replacing the aging spans linking Washington State and Oregon, completely ignoring the collapse had nothing to do with the bridge itself and was caused by an over-sized load on a semi-truck striking numerous structural beams holding the bridge section up.

Proponents immediately began throwing out engineering terms, without as clue of their true meaning, knowing each carried an ominous sound to it. Terms like “Functionally Obsolete,” “Sufficiency Rating,” “Fracture Critical” and their all time favorite non-engineering term, “unsafe” in an effort to fearmonger people into accepting Portland’s light rail wooden nickel.

They have been making a lot of noise and exerting extraordinary pressure on the Senate Coalition Majority in Olympia, berating the Senators to throw all caution to the wind and just get going on building a replacement bridge adjacent to the existing spans, committing Clark County middle class taxpayers to an indebtedness exceeding $3.5 Billion.

When proponents do point to a truck causing the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge, they are quick to claim one could easily cause the Interstate Bridge here to collapse, again in their push to hurry and get going on building the new one, not admitting the sole reason is to accommodate light rail.

Ignored by proponents is more truthful claims of Skagit River Bridge Collapse Not an Example of Crumbling Infrastructure where we read from former Washington State Department of Transportation Director Paula Hammond, “I resist the notion that everyone says ‘this is why we need more revenue.’ There’s a lot of reasons we need to invest… this isn’t the example.”

Proponents have been decrying the ‘sufficiency rating’ given the bridge of 47 out of 100, but Ms Hammond says of that rating “that’s not a particularly bad rating, and the bridge wasn’t considered unsafe.”

A check with WSDOT reveals the meaning of the term, “The sufficiency rating doesn’t necessarily indicate a bridge’s ability to carry traffic loads. It helps determine which bridges may need repair or replacement, not potential for collapse.”

But that has not stopped proponents like Jim Moeller, Steve Stuart, Paul Montague, Larry Smith and several more from throwing about the term “unsafe” in relation to the bridges CRC wants to replace for light rail.

While they feign excessive concern over the possibility of a truck damaging the bridge to the point of collapse, which we all have to admit, is very remote, left out of their narratives is the greater probability of such a collapse being caused by impact of water craft which we have seen more often.

Bridge Collapses

This single page taken from a research paper Vessel Crushing and Structural Collapse Relationships for Bridge Design shows but four such collapses caused by contact from waterborne craft and resulting loss of life.

Just this last April, a ship broke loose from its moorings in New Hampshire, causing “severe structural damage” to a bridge it drifted into.

In January 2012, a full section of the Eggners Ferry Bridge in Kentucky completely collapsed after a collision with a Cargo ship navigating through the Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River. While ultimately blamed on crew inattention and clearance light outages on the bridge, another contributing factor was higher than normal water level since the ship have cleared the bridge previously.

Fortunately, the last two collapses saw no injuries or deaths, but that is not always held true. May 1980 saw over 1200 feet of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, Florida completely destroyed and killing 35 people as six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound bus plunged 150 feet into the water below after the freighter Summit Venture collided with the bridge during a storm.

These collapses are relevant as the current bridges offer 178 feet of clearance for river traffic when the lift span is raised. The replacement bridge is designed to have only 116 feet, raised from the initial 95 feet and no lift span. Other bridges upriver on the Columbia River have around 140 feet of clearance.

And that is when the river level is at normal levels, not considering the yearly rise in water level due to the spring run-off from snow melting back in the mountains giving us occasional flooding.

The reason the new bridge proposed is so much lower is strictly due to the insistence of Oregon on light rail being a must. A higher bridge would prevent light rail as it would be unable to climb the grade necessary to raise the bridge to the proper height.

Proponents will claim that most river traffic will easily clear the 116 foot clearance, which is no doubt true. But what of that one vessel that might not? What of the one that gets away from the tug or a crew that misjudges the clearance when the river is running higher than normal?

Or do proponents suggest we just shut down river commerce during those times?

It is pure folly in my estimation to pursue such a low clearance knowing the increased probability of waterborne craft collision, all to force people who have voted down light rail numerous times to accept it.

Proponents are relying on ‘smoke & mirrors’ claims of “easing congestion,” “increasing freight mobility” and “unsafe” bridge currently, but they also cry “no light rail, no bridge” showing that neither safety, congestion or freight are of concern, only light rail that will see u end up with a new bridge, higher expenses and taxes and a bridge with an unsafe river traffic clearance.

Tragically, while we see the states advocating plunging us deep into debt for this light rail project, other bridges throughout the state that really are “structurally deficient” remain in use, unrepaired and not replaced.

An example of such a dangerous and unsafe bridge is the Meridian Street Bridge in Puyallup, Washington, complete with rust holes and creaking structure. While it might be scheduled for replacement sometime starting in 2015, that it is allowed to endanger citizens there while the state siphons many transportation dollars to Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct and millions have spent planning the CRC light rail project with unsafe clearance for shipping, it borders on criminal.

Ramping up the pressure, we have seen many articles from the Lazy C to fearmonger legislators and citizens. But buried in nearly all of them are admissions that the current Interstate Bridge is “completely safe.”

But they do not hesitate to fearmonger the potential, even though highly unlikely of such an oversized load causing a bridge collapse.

They also completely ignore the more likely collapse from a collision of river traffic once the bridge too low is constructed.

The U.S. Coast Guard has not yet issued permit to begin building the unsafe clearance bridge, asking for input from citizens and businesses on navigational hazards currently. They will let their decision be known around September 30. If so inclined, you may submit a comment HERE.

I urge you to comment that we do not need to increase the likelihood of a future collapse due to unsafe river traffic clearance and please deny the permit until the bridge design is of sufficient height to be safe for river traffic.

It is imperative that we contact and support those legislators under extreme pressure to cave in and approve funding of this unsafe clearance bridge. We also need to contact those who have already caved to pressure to back up and rethink their support. They can be contacted HERE

We’re being sold a wooden nickel. Don’t fall for it.

Bridge safety must not be held hostage to light rail.

8 Comments to “Don’t Accept CRC’s Wooden Nickel”

  1. In addition to the well-known policy of the CRC to ignore the people, there’s an equally well-known CRC policy to ignore the facts.

    Appreciated, Lew.

  2. A couple of days ago, a CRC proponent posted on the Clodumbian what I think is one of the more believable explanations of why the powers-that-be in Oregon have such a mania to extend LRT into Vancouver (other than sticking us with their high maintenance and operations costs). According to this poster, LRT basically a Trojan-horse mechanism to propel Oregon’s “progressive” high-density housing & HOV vision forcibly into Vancouver (with the help of Mayor Tim & Co.), and to hell with what we rednecks and hicks actually want.

    Given that many of us choose to live here precisely because that “progressive” vision has NOT taken hold (yet), and given that those who want it are free to choose Portland – which is just a few minutes away – we Clark County residents are absolutely right to resist Oregon’s high-handed attempts at Social Engineering by Proxy, by any legal means necessary.

  3. Here Here!! Tom that is exactly the bottom line on this project. I have been arguing against high density housing and told by Leavitt to forget it and quit talking about it. I reply when you stop the project that provides the grants and low interest loans and property tax abatements to the developers for mixed use/low income/high density housing apartments and light rail I’ll go home.

  4. Excellent research, Lew! A very informative article.

  5. Lew — SUPERB home run.

    May I add one more, significant “safety factor”. In the Coast Guard letter from this last spring (Feb?), they stated that the “turn basin” was being reduced by 18% with the proposed bridge design. What is the exact definition of “the turn basin”? I couldn’t tell you, but suspect it’s the ability of ships & barges to maneuver between the I-5 bridge and the BNSF rail bridge.

    I explain it this way.

    A standard freeway lane is 12 feet wide. If you were to reduce the width by 18%, that would shrink the width by 2 feet 2 inches! So could you safely drive on a freeway lane that is ‘only’ 9 feet 10 inches wide? Yes. BUT, you will likely go slower, and it makes accidents MORE LIKELY!

    We have the engineering capability and building technology to INCREASE the turn basin. Why on earth would the CRC propose a design that would REDUCE the safety of the turn basin?

    It’s one more bit of “stupid” planning from the CRC and their team.

  6. Vancouver Mayor Leavitt has stated at an RTC meeting that he strongly believes higher density housing is important for Vancouver. The reduced turn basin is just one more example of how the CRC has neglected river navigation in bridge design. Incredibly, a panel of world wide bridge experts was convened to design a bridge too low a few years ago, with the CRC provided parameter of a bridge height of just 95′. The panel was called together because the first bridge design was so poor.
    TriMet is counting on being bailed out by Clark County and WA state. TriMet is facing about $2 BILLION in debt and unfunded liabilities as a result of extremely poor management, and wasting funds on aggressive rail extensions in areas better served by more flexible and affordable buses.

  7. As I am sure you can tell by now, John, after addressing this point on the Lazy C, proponents have no compunction ignoring facts and ridiculing them.

  8. Fortunately the CRC is almost Completely DEAD at this moment. HOORAH!

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