Columbia River Crossing : Alternatives from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

Sound familiar? While I know that most of us at the blog literally spend all of our waking hours reading and writing about transportation there are only so many multi-billion dollar projects one can keep track of. So in that sprit here is very well produced and interesting video about the Columbia River Crossing. I can’t vouch for some of the statements but it certainly sounds like a Viaduct/SR-520/I-90 Express Lanes hybrid to me. Watch this video for a more general introduction.

I can vouch for this video that Nick Falbo also made about induced and latent demand and the affects of significant network changes on travel behavior.

H/T to bikeportland for linking to the videos.

24 Replies to “Columbia River Crossing in Brief”

  1. I hope that Clark County votes for light rail someday soon. The only thing more frustrating than the reluctance of Puget Sound to vote for rail has been the reluctance of Clark County when they have Portland’s extensive network just across the river.

  2. Thanks for this, Adam. This decision will rival in importance some of those we maker here in the next couple of years. And the WA DOT will be involved here, too.

  3. Its pretty likely if this project goes forward light rail coems to downtown Vancouver and a few miles beyond. That said, there is a great deal of opposition to this project in the Portland/Vancouver area, myself included as it would be $4.2 billion project that replaces the 2 existing bridges which have no reason to be replaced. The only problems with them are a very occassional bridge opening and narrow shoulders. Instead the plans call for tearing down the perfectly good bridges and replacing them with a 12 lane behemoth, double the width from existing 6 lanes. Yeah I’d like to see light rail get to downtown Vancouver but not if it requires this overscaled overbudgeted project.

    The best alternative is a new parallel local traffic bridge that connects the street grid in Vancouver to Hayden island/Jantzen Beach to North Portland and the Expo center, with light rail tracks and pedestrian and bicycle path. The reason traffic is so bad around this crossing is that all traffic must use this I-5 bridge to get between the 3 independent street grids of Vancouver, Hayden Island and North Portland.

    1. Definitely a large price tag and some comparisons to the Alaskan Way Viaduct/520 arguments are very valid.

      Light rail in Vancouver is a tricky proposition. I think that light rail would have support if the vote were limited to the city limits. The problem, however, is that Vancouver is an extremely sprawling bedroom community with few business centers or residential areas of density. Downtown Vancouver has some employment, but it’s mostly people from Vancouver, and a light rail line to Portland would not serve them well. Downtown Vancouver is attempting to add more residential, but the density is not high yet, and I have to wonder how many of these people are commuting to Portland. The existing MAX lines serve major employment centers – Downtown Portland, Beaverton/Hillsboro, Lloyd District, etc. Vancouver does not really have any areas similar to these, so any light rail line would have to serve primarily commuters. The problem is, the commuters are all either in North Vancouver (Salmon Creek area near I-5/205 jct) or east of I-205. Light rail to downtown Vancouver would not serve this population well. With that, I’m not sure the line would get the ridership to justify the expense, and I say this as a massive proponent of the MAX system. I think that the best way to serve Clark County with rapid transit is a combination of 1) an extension of the MAX red line to Vancouver Mall via I-205, and 2) a commuter rail line between the Salmon Creek area and Portland Union Station.

      For the reasons mentioned above, I’m not sure a local bridge between downtown Vancouver and Jantzen Beach would be the answer as the traffic is much more regional in nature. I-5 through this area is similar to Hwy 520 in Seattle – narrow, outdated, short merges, and extremely overwhelmed by traffic. I think that a replacement is in order.

      Vancouver is an extremely poorly planned and sprawling city. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is ready for a significant light rail in the center or a local-access option. I would tend to support the bridge project, but with a caveat that Clark County start adhering to some serious land-management policies.

      1. There’s no such thing as “ready for”. If you build the light rail right away, especially if it’s the only line, you can use that as a catalyst for development.

      2. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly and often what you just wrote is so conveniently forgotten, Ben. MAX will make Vancouver “happen”!

      3. So which routing would you propose? I think Vancouver is ready for light rail, but I don’t see any specific corridors where it pans out.

        If it goes North, say along Hwy 99, it will be too slow to attract commuters.

        If it goes East, it will again be a slow and lengthy detour for most commuters.

        Vancouver does not have the employment base or density of say, Bellevue or Tacoma. Think more like Federal Way, Auburn, or Puyallup.

      4. there had been talk of a loop with the yellow line heading north from expo center across the columbia river to downtown vancouver then north in a corridor parallel to I-5 to SR 500, east along SR 500 to the vancouver mall (at I-205/SR 500), then south along I-205 and back across the columbia river linking into the red line and possibly terminating at portland airport.

      5. I’d say extend Yellow, do the downtown streetcar work, and then watch downtown solidify as an employment center for a few years – maybe even a decade. Then see where it makes sense to send it.

      6. I would tend to support the bridge project, but with a caveat that Clark County start adhering to some serious land-management policies.

        which is hard to do when its in another state. its hard for people in one jurisdiction to impose rules on another jurisdiction. and it certainly doesnt go over well with people in that jurisdiction. its also hard to create demand with a new bridge and then try to blunt the demand created with rules. its sort of like trying to design something to oppose gravity.

        for regional connections i think LRT has to eventually get to downtown vancouver but i could really care less whether it is expanded beyond there within vancouver area. downtown vancouver is a good place to terminate a rail line as it is a designated “regional center”, a true downtown and the heart of the C-tran local system, plus distance-wise its not that far away from the yellow line expo center terminus. i think portlanders going to vancouver would use MAX then c-tran local buses whereas vancouverites going to portland would use the c-tran express buses.

    2. I suspect you are right poncho in that a local traffic bridge between Vancouver, Hayden Island, and North Portland would get rid of a lot of the current traffic on I-5. At the very least it would allow the elimination of a bunch of entrances and exits which are part of the reason the new bridge is 12 lanes and a significant cause of congestion on the current bridge.

      I don’t know the current condition of the two existing bridges or if they could be updated to modern standards as well as withstand an earthquake. However even if the current bridges need to be replaced keeping capacity roughly the same will be cheaper and avoid all of the problems doubling the number of lanes will lead to.

      1. I disagree with this. As someone who has lived in Vancouver, I can tell you that the majority of traffic headed to Jantzen Beach is not from the downtown Vancouver area. It is people from the Hazel Dell neighborhood further north, or the neighborhoods along Mill Plain Blvd. east of I-5. You might get some traffic off I-5, but not enough to make a difference.

        Not sure with North Portland… that may work.

    3. I’ve driven on those two bridges many times and they are a congestion chokepoint. One way ODOT & WSDOT could reduce the number of lanes on the new bridge is to take out the Hayden Island interchange, therefore taking out some of the auxilary lanes that are making the proposed bridge so wide. Then build a local connection to Hayden Island via Marine Drive.

      As for light rail, route it along Highway 99 towards Salmon Creek. Could be a commuter-magnet and stimulate redevelopment.

    4. So another problem with the current bridges is that the opening for water traffic is off-center from the opening for water traffic of the BNSF bridge (carrying Amtrak Cascades).

      Of course, the *sane* solution for this is to rebuild the BNSF bridge (which badly needs improvement) to move its opening section in line with the existing road bridge and increase speed and capacity. Relatively cheap and big bang for the buck. It also deals with the long-distance freight traffic (a major excuse for the Columbia River Crossing) by making it feasible to put more trucks onto the rails.

      But the environmental analysis for the Columbia River Crossing pointedly ignored this possibility, claiming that it was “out of scope” — while using the out-of-line river passage as a strong argument for a new road bridge.

      This indicates that the Columbia River Crossing project is simply not being designed in good faith. The environmental analyses are fundamentally dishonest.

      Realigning the BNSF bridge, and building a local-traffic-and-light-rail bridge, would deal with all the actual problems apart from the shoulder width (not a serious problem) and cost a fraction of the proposed cost of the proposed project.

  4. Voters from Vancouver WA rejected a connection to Portland’s MAX by a 70% no vote last decade. They tend to be a pretty conservative part of the state so I’m not sure they’d be any more likely to approve it this time around.

    1. vancouver is a self selected anti-tax conservative crowd… you can live in washington state with no state income taxes (right?) and shop in oregon with no sales tax. it also explains why traffic is so bad getting to jantzen beach since its all the vancouverites that shop across state lines. apparently the latest poll numbers have LRT in the majority of support in vancouver, but dont fool yourselves, LRT is a very divisive issue in the portland area. just wait until it gets in the middle of a campaign season when LRT is on the ballot.

  5. Instead of adding a new lift span on the old rail bridge, just upgrade the whole segment since I believe trains can only go 10 mph over the old bridge. I’d replace the whole thing and make it as high at the I-205 corridor at the peak point to allow for more reliable cascades service and freight can move without interruptions.

    1. I believe the speed on the rail bridges over the Columbia/Willamette is 30 MPH, and don’t hold your breath on replacing them. They have been around for over 100 years and I suspect they will be around for at least another 50 more.

      1. They could be rebuilt, with a relocated lift span, on the same piers with higher speed limits, and probably even wider track spacing. At low level. For relatively little expense compared to the Columbia River Crossing. Traffic, both rail and ship, is not so frequent as to require a high bridge, and there are sufficient staging areas for trains waiting during a bridge opening.

        Light rail would run frequently enough to need a high bridge, but then it can climb steeper grades.

    2. I think the climb to that height would be difficult, especially on the Portland side.

  6. Folks,

    Everyone here needs to put this in the context of the Regional Transit Council’s decision to forego LRT as the trunk system for Clark County and instead use “BRT-hybrid”. That is their definition of a BRT system that uses dedicated bus lanes where only limited capital expenditure is necessary and mixed traffic operation where a dedicated lane would have to be constructed.

    Once that decision has been made it makes no sense whatsoever to pay the extra $600 million that adding the LRT guideway to the I-5 bridge would require. To bring the Max into

    You would be appalled at the racism and hatred of the anti-LRT posters on local websites. They think everyone on the Yellow Line is a drug dealer, a stinking wino, or a sexual predator. So Poncho is right; most Vancouver riders headed to Portland will continue to ride the C-Tran express buses.

    Today there is fifteen minute service between downtown Vancouver and the Delta Park Max station on the #4 Fourth Plain bus from 5:45 AM until about 11:30 PM weekdays. There are rarely more than twenty people on the bus, although occasionally it does reach 30. That’s fewer than 100 people per hour on average or about 1600 per day in each direction at the very outside. If you were carving out some lanes for a semi-dedicated streetcar right of way, 3200 riders per day might be justifiable. But it is not and never will be justifiable for a bridge expansion of the magnitude proposed.

    However, I don’t believe that the video presents a realistic solution, because of truck traffic. The existing bridge is too narrow, has too many lifts, and is approached on the north by dangerous and congesting curves. Some of the ideas on this thread are excellent; in particular the observation that a six-lane each way design is over-kill since just south of the Portland Slough the Big New Bridge is going to run smack into three lane I-5.

    Unless Oregon widens I-5 between Marine Drive and the I-405 split, there is no reason to provide more than three “through” lanes of traffic on the bridge.

    However, it does makes sense to have a lane in each direction between downtown Vancouver and Hayden Island, since quite a few trips originate or terminate in those activity centers. I believe that if such lanes had continuations as bus only HOV lanes that merged using flyovers into the mixed traffic HOV lanes to the south and direct bus only ramps into downtown Vancouver at the north end, the buses and Hayden Island traffic could share quite nicely across the bridge.

    There is not a full lane of traffic bound to and from the Island, and I doubt there ever will be. It is pretty much fully developed east of the railroad tracks, and there is strong agitation to keep the west end as the last large cottonwood habitat in the Portland area. There will not be a great expansion of employment on the Island, and if Oregon adds a sales tax as is increasingly likely, there will not be so many Vancouverites shopping on the island. Therefore the bridge should be developed to match the capacity of the freeways feeding it. I-5 has three lanes to the north of the bridge and SR14 connects using one lane. I-5 to the south of Victory Boulevard (the Delta Park ramps) will be three lanes in each direction, with one Peak Hour/Peak Direction Only HOV lane in each direction.

    So the upshot is that a four lane each direction bridge should be adequate: two full-time general traffic lanes in each direction, a Peak period/peak direction general traffic HOV lane that is general traffic other times in each direction, and the downtown to Hayden Island lane with the bus priorities at each end in each direction.

    Of course that solution is not “on the ballot”, but perhaps the economic downturn will cause the elected leaders to come to their senses and build a bridge that expresses the decisions of the cities at either end of it.

  7. I am not for a new bridge or light rail. It is another government sponsored boondoglle. Fix the current structure!
    The rail will only go as far as downtown Vancouver. The county will not agree to rail.
    There are plans for 2,900 total car spaces to take the predicted amount of riders to Portland. 2,900 cars into downtown? I believe there are just over 12,000 riders who go to Portland. Where will the other cars park?
    Car lots will cost you to park.
    Busses ARE cheaper than rail and the bridge that is planned will have no vertical lift to worry about. No waiting or tripper busses. it costs C-Tran $.14 per rider, per mile via bus.
    No to prepetual tolls. I think the local governemts want some of the money for their pet projects.
    No to tolling segements of the Interstate other than the bridge.
    Tolls and car space fees will only make commuters unable to afford to go to work.
    Special walkways and bikeways just for them? Kiosks and security every 10 feet?
    There is no mention that bikes and walkers will pay toll.
    Yes, realign the railbridge and do upgrading the current I 5 bridge.
    Time to fire those arragant people who want to spend billions of dollars for extravagant extras. Look what the governemt is trying to do to us with Obama-care.

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