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Columbia River Crossing

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"Columbia River Crossing" is the name given to the process of planning for an improved bridge connection across the Columbia River along the Interstate 5 corridor, replacing or supplementing the Interstate Bridge.

The project, estimated as of November 2009 to cost between $2.6 billion and $3.6 billion, would extend the Yellow Line to Vancouver as far as Clark College, hang a bicycle and pedestrian path beneath the northbound traffic lanes and build 8 to 12 lanes for auto traffic across the river, including three "through lanes" in each direction and one to three "auxiliary lanes" in each direction for traffic getting on or off the highway inside the "project area," which stretches from Columbia Boulevard in Portland to state Highway 500 in Vancouver.


Benefits of the project

Light rail to Vancouver

The Yellow Line was originally conceived as a connection to Vancouver, but was built only as far as the Expo Center MAX station after Clark County voters rejected a ballot measure to help pay for the extension.

In Clark County, where conservatives often oppose the introduction of light rail, an enlarged CRC is seen as a possible compromise between the pro-transit left, which is based in west and central Vancouver, and the anti-congestion right, which is based in unincorporated Clark County.

Plans for the CRC have long assumed that federal New Starts grants would cover the full light rail construction cost.

Bicycle improvements

Bicycling from Vancouver to Portland is complicated and could be improved.

Reduced auto congestion

According to the 2010 INRIX scorecard of congested corridors, the 10.1 mile northbound stretch of I-5 just south of the current Interstate Bridge is by far the most congested auto corridor in the Portland metro area, and the 21st most congested nationally.

Though at its peak congestion, Friday afternoon from 4 to 5 p.m., the stretch remains less congested than many other bottlenecks around the country -- it ranked only 39th by that measure -- the relatively long duration of the daily congestion period bumped the corridor up the rankings.

Without widening the highway as proposed, the Columbia River Crossing staff projects (see page 3-28) that this off-peak congestion would get worse, with 15 total hours of weekday congestion (counting both northbound and southbound hours), compared to 3.5 to 5.5 total hours of congestion with the locally preferred alternative.

Arguments against the project

Projections are based on outdated traffic patterns

CRC traffic
Projected traffic (red) and actual traffic (black) over the Interstate Bridge, 2000-2010. Graph by Impresa Consulting for Plaid Pantry.

As reported by Willamette Week and originally detailed by economist Joe Cortright, planners' assumptions about future auto traffic have been based on trends that existed in the 1990s, but had reversed even before the 2007 gas price spike and the 2008 recession.

From 1994 to 1999, data tracked by the Regional Transportation Council show that average daily auto traffic over the I-5 bridge grew by an average 2.3% annually. However, that growth slowed to 0.6% from 1999 to 2004, then reversed to -0.8 percent from 2004 to 2009.

The projections on which the CRC is based assumed average growth of 1.5% over the 2004-2009 period.

In his analysis commissioned by CRC opponent Plaid Pantry, Cortright wrote (page 10) that the outdated traffic projections "appear to rely on a Metro regional transportation model that was calibrated based on the household travel survey conducted in 1994."

Reduced congestion would be temporary

Opponents of the new bridge often argue that although widening the highway would temporarily reduce travel time, this would only encourage more commuting between Clark County and Portland until the highway would became congested again, requiring further expansion elsewhere on the corridor and, eventually, of the same area.

Other problems could be solved more cheaply

See alternatives, below, for a discussion of possible ways to reduce bridge lifts, shore up its seismic footing and extend rail transit to Vancouver.

Projected cost

Projected building costs

Much of the cost of the project comes from enlargements of six freeway interchanges in the project area. The following cost estimates are from November 2009:

$118 million planning cost

As of February 2011, planning for the bridge (including responses to ongoing criticism from opponents of the project) has cost $118 million, according to figures requested and reported by the Portland Mercury.

Among the private companies receiving money for CRC planning contracts were:


Common Sense Alternative

The "CSA" is a name given by George Crandall to an alternative way to achieve the project's goals with tactics, including adding commuter rail and a mid-stream lift span to the BNSF railroad bridge just downstream of the Interstate Bridge.

Video discussion of alternatives to the CRC

An October 2010 video by Portland videographer Spencer Boomhower, entitled "The Columbia River Crossing: A Boatload of Questions," looks closely at the projected costs of rebuilding the bridge and nearby interchanges and suggests alternatives.

Among other things, the video argues that:

  • One of the project's main goals -- eliminating lifts on the Interstate Bridge, a major source of auto and freight delays -- could be achieved in 91 percent of cases by adding a central lift span to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridge just downstream.
  • The Interstate Bridge could be earthquake-proofed with a seismic upgrade costing only $88 million to $190 million, or 2 to 7 percent of the project's estimated cost.
  • Eliminating the big-box stores of the Jantzen Beach Supercenter and a planned 300-acre port facility would remove some of the need for 17 lanes of traffic planned over Hayden Island.

Boomhower followed up with a second video specifically about the so-called Common Sense Alternative.

Public opinion

February 2011 poll

In a February 2011 poll conducted by the pro-CRC Portland Business Alliance and Portland General Electric, 67 percent of registered voters in Multnomah County, Washington County, Clackamas County or Marion County said they supported "construction of a replacement highway and transit bridge across the Columbia River."

  • strongly favor: 34%
  • somewhat favor: 33%
  • somewhat oppose: 15%
  • strongly oppose: 10%
  • don’t know: 8%

The poll didn't specify levels of support in each county. A blog post in The Oregonian noted that the survey didn't include Clark County residents, the bridge's most frequent users.

Final impact statement

The CRC's final environmental impact statement was published in October 2011.

External links

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