Thursday, January 5, 2012

Columbia River Crossing Mega Highway Project

Notes (and my opinions) from a presentation made by Mara Gross of the Coalition for a Livable Future.

The CRC is the most expensive project ($3.6 BILLION!) in our region's history and can literally reshape the region, especially the northern area. However, the current plans will not lead to a safe, more active, healthy climate and will be budget-unfriendly to other projects.

The plan is to expand the I-5 freeway between Portland and Vancouver, adding more interchanges, light rail and bike/ped access. The plan fosters low density sprawl development, making walking and biking in the area difficult. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) dropped out of the planning process because they weren't being heard - human access will be far from ideal (below vehicular bridge, hard to get to/from, polluted, loud).

The current bridge is structurally sound. The assumption is that improvements are needed because rush hour traffic is a nightmare. In reality this is mostly due to too many interchanges. Traffic has flattened over the last decade, but the assumption is that traffic will increase, which will be true if an expanded freeway is built. Adding light rail (1/4 of the cost of the whole project!) and improving bike/ped access are included, but seemingly as leverage to win popularity and approval.

The decision makers are the Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation, but it's a federal project. Metro (our regional government) and the City of Portland recently gave their official approval on the plan.

Here's a great quote from the federally-required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): "Because the CRC project is currently in the conceptual design phase, it is not possible to draw conclusions about the reasonableness of all potential measures to minimize harm." Wow. They forgot to mention that the new freeway would run through and over quiet and quaint downtown Vancouver and really screw up the livability there with traffic, pollution, noise and poor air quality.

Funding will come from tolls, federal government, Oregon and Washington. The tolls would use congestion pricing, meaning it costs more to cross during busy times, balancing traffic by discouraging driving at peak times. Each state will pay $450M, probably from gas taxes. Income from this tax has been decreasing due to less driving and better fuel efficiency, so the tax would need to be raised. Also, the State Treasurer believes the budget forecast is off by 1/2 a billion. That's $500 million!

Who stands to gain from the project? Consultants have already gained $150 million in fees, even though there hasn't been any actual physical work. The freight business thinks they can gain on the logic that bigger roads = more big trucks. Construction labor thinks they can gain, but the project is not sustainable in the sense of creating long-term jobs.

This project is nowhere near a "done deal". We have the power to fight it, each one of us. We can do that by keeping the CRC controversial, which makes government officials less likely to support it, especially as it becomes clear how risky the funding is and that it will more likely hurt our economy than help it.

We can create an opening for a better plan. Like designing the project in stages instead of spending so much at once. Keeping the local bridge to Hayden Island instead of building a $500 million interchange there. Leaving the current bridge as local and building a new I-5 bridge over Hayden Island. Adding a congestion-based toll now to thin traffic and raise funds for a different version of the project.

How do we fight this?
- Keep the CRC in casual conversation.
- Approach from the angle of funding and losing money for other projects instead of from an environmental or bicycle-friendly agenda.
- If you see a blog post about it, submit a comment (here's your chance!)
- Write a couple of sentences to the OpEd at the Oregonian (
- Contact to receive a transportation newsletter and action alerts to write legislation.
- If you live in an effected neighborhood, get involved with your neighborhood association.
- Inform any clubs or organizations you're involved with about the project.
- Join Bike. Walk. Vote. to get politicians to hear your voice (check out their facebook page for more details)
- Let's use the Portland mayoral race to expose the issue. Go to Portland to hear KBOO archived shows interviewing mayoral candidates from a transportation standpoint.
- Attend the Portland mayoral forum on transportation at PSU on February 6th at 7pm! Imagine a bike pile out front and our voices being heard inside!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

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