Columbia River Crossing

Columbia River Crossing would have replaced the obsolete six-lane interstate 5 bridge with a new 12-lane bridge and light-rail extension over the Columbia River. That project, 10 years in planning, is now officially dead. Here’s a Bloomberg story on our (non-happening) bridge.

The interstate 5 bridge is actually two bridges in one. The bridge opened to traffic in 1917 as a single bridge carrying two-way traffic. A second, twin bridge opened in 1958 with each bridge carrying one-way traffic.

Today the bridge is congested, routinely backing up traffic for miles. More than 125,000 vehicles cross the I-5/Columbia River bridge, daily. Portland-Vancouver drivers can anticipate almost 10 hours of congested travel a day by 2020, compared to a total of four hours of congested travel today. Because the Port of Portland lost their container shipping business on Terminal 6, additional truck traffic is also expected.

The bridge opens for vessel traffic 20 to 30 times per month.

CRC planners initially drew up a fixed span with just 95 feet of clearance over the Columbia River. That height was rejected by the U.S. Coast Guard and others as inadequate for the navigation and economic needs of river users. Here’s the Coast Guard Statement of Facts.

The project was subsequently redesigned to a height of 116 feet, and riverfront companies harmed by a 116-foot span made mitigation deals with the CRC.

The fact is, most of the I-5 congestion is on the Oregon side. Washington didn’t want to pay for it. A lack of empathy on both sides made cooperation difficult.

CRC detractors said the light rail component should be removed. CRC supporters said the $850 million in federal transit funding was a necessary component. Here is the TriMet #6 Stop on Hayden Island and the C-Tran #4 Stop on Hayden Island.

Portlanders say many ‘Couverites use Oregon roads and parks, then drive home to their Clark County homes, paying no Oregon taxes or Washington state income tax. Clark County’s population nearly doubled from 238,000 in 1990 to more than 400,000 today.

The project was considered dead after Washington lawmakers failed to fund their $450 million share of the $3.4B project in June, 2013, but became undead when it was resuscitated under an Oregon-financed initiative, supported by Governor Kitzaber.

Under the revised Oregon-led finance plan the project budget was estimated to be approximately $2.71 billion. A summary of project revenues is provided (above). Tolls were supposed to cover the $1.9 billion Oregon would have to borrow to build the project — a risk the state would have to bear alone.

But it was largely all for naught. Or so it would seem.

Columbia River Crossing died a quiet death when, in March, 2014, the Oregon Legislature took no action to keep it going. CRC obituraries are available from the Vancouver Columbian and the Portland Oregonian. The Columbia River Crossing project after more than a decade of work and nearly $190 million in planning, was officially declared dead by the Oregon Department of Transportation in March, 2014.

The Oregon Department of Transportation in 2014 closed the I-5 bridge project’s offices, issued cease-work orders to its many contractors and shut the project down entirely by May 31, 2014.

The Bi-State Bridge Coalition met for the first time in June, 2014, soon after the final collapse of the Columbia River Crossing. The group is led by Clark County Republicans who played a central role in killing off the CRC.

Lots of alternatives have been promoted. “The Common Sense Alternative to the CRC” says it would would achieve the stated goals of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) freeway and bridge project, but for less money.

An opinion by riverwatcher Sam Churchill:

In the 2+ years I’ve been watching river traffic (daily), I don’t recall seeing ANY tugs using bridge lifts for a straight shot through to the railroad bridge.

Instead, nearly all barge traffic I’ve seen uses the dreaded “S” curve — where Columbia River vessels come downstream under the center span of the I-5 bridge. Vessel traffic then veers north to pass through the opening of the BNSF bridge swing span.

When the river current is high, barges need a straight shot between the two bridges to maintain directional control over their cargo. That much is (apparently) true.

But the number of bridge lifts attributed to barges that need a “straight shot” due to high current appears to be mis-characterized by Jim Howell’s video of “The Common Sense Alternative to the CRC“. Perhaps the estimation of “bridge lifts” required by barges was grossly exaggerated in an attempt to promote a rail-centric approach.

According to their video, the “Common Sense” plan would eliminate “95% of the bridge lifts between the I-5 bridge and the BNSF railroad bridge”. That “fact” is hard to believe. Here is my rebuttal:

1. “Bridge lifts” happen 5 – 10 times weekly and are preceded by a loud klaxon horn. I don’t recall EVER seeing barges using the fast, straight shot that requires a bridge lift. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I have never seen it.
2. ALL of the hundreds of bridge lifts that I’ve seen are only for clearance of tall barge equipment like cranes, dredges, or tall sailing masts that could NOT clear the high span in the middle of the bridge, as well as routine bridge maintenance, perhaps once a week.
3. The idea that 95% of the bridge lifts could be eliminated is flat wrong. Nearly ALL the bridge lifts are caused by high cargo that won’t fit under the bridge. NOT routine barge traffic.

Building a 2nd lift span on the railroad bridge might be safer and more convenient for barge traffic that currently uses the “S” curve (about 95% of current barge traffic) but it would make NO practical difference in the current number of bridge lifts.

The video by George Crandall and Jim Howell does not square with my daily observations, living equidistant between the two bridges.

Washington state Rep. Liz Pike wants to bring lawmakers on both sides of the Columbia River back to the table to come up with a new plan for an I-5 bridge, reports ThinkOutLoud.

Pike is hoping to form a “Bistate Bridge Coalition,” to look into the possibility of a new bridge, starting from scratch.

“Let’s start at the beginning and have no preconceived notion of what this is going to look like,” Pike told the Vancouver Columbian.

One option could incorporate other ideas such as renovating the rail bridge downstream from the I-5 bridge to reduce congestion on I-5, and the possibility of a west side bypass bridge. Pike’s approach is similar the the “Common Sense Alternative” proposal (above), without the light rail component.

Pike sees the new project as one that could incorporate other ideas such as renovating the rail bridge downstream from the I-5 bridge to reduce congestion on I-5, and the possibility of a west side bypass bridge.

Another (new) proposal for an East County Bridge is championed by Clark County Commissioner Dave Madore, an outspoken opponent of the Columbia River Crossing.

At an estimated $860 million, Madore says a third bridge is a common sense approach to relieving congestion. A fatal CRC flaw, in Madore’s view, was the project’s inclusion of light rail.

His bridge would would connect with SR-14 in Washington, but on the Oregon side it would connect to nothing. It would be located about a mile EAST of the 205 bridge. It would have little impact on current I-5 congestion.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt called it a “bogus bridge”. It’s hard to see how Madore’s bridge will be God’s gift to East County.

The Planning and Sustainability Commission chose the environment over jobs, reports the Portland Tribune. The 2035 Comprehensive Plan Update incorporates The Transportation System Plan (TSP), a 20 year plan to guide transportation investments in Portland.

Portland’s 20-year comprehensive plan map shows it is betting everything on being able to make car-lite transportation dramatically more attractive than it is now.

Portland’s Transportation System Plan (TSP) is aligned with Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan. Anyone interested in making a useful contribution to transportation issues might be well advised to read these comprehensive documents.

According to Vintage Portland, a wonderful archive of Portland photos and history, the Interstate Bridge, opened in 1917 as a single bridge with two-way traffic.

This 1917 view of the I-5 bridge includes the old passenger ferry. It’s shot from the Vancouver terminus. When the 1958 span was constructed, the bridge was modified to include an arch in the center span to allow most barge traffic to pass under without requiring a lift.

Columbia River Crossing Links:

Portland’s 10 bridges spanning the Willamette River carry 540,000 vehicles per day between them.

  • Sellwood 30,000
  • Ross Island 55,000
  • Marquam 138,000
  • Hawthorne 30,000
  • Morrison 50,000
  • Burnside 40,000
  • Steel 25,000
  • Broadway 30,000
  • Fremont 118,000
  • St Johns 23,000

Current Columbia River bridge traffic (per day):

One alternative that no organization or research group seems to have looked at is rubber-tired people movers that connect the Expo Center to Vancouver. Self-driving people movers are light, fast and cheap. The don’t require a driver or an expensive bridge. They can off-load congestion – providing a light rail alternative without a light rail bridge.

Here’s my proposal for “a bridge to the future”.

As population grows, mass transit makes sense, especially for dense urban areas. Autonomous vehicles may successfully address the “last mile” problem in the next decade.

Vancouver BC prioritized the movement of people over cars, and it got more people and fewer cars.

Shared (autonomous) cars connecting mass transit seem inevitable.


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