Seattleites, urbanists, and environmentalists: While we’ve been focused on saving Metro service, expanding rail, and working toward dense growth – we’ve lost sight of part of the bigger picture.

By forgetting about a megaproject from another region, we’ve put in jeopardy funding for what we want built.  The biggest threat to funding many of our priorities is the Columbia River Crossing Project (CRC), 160 miles to the south.

The CRC Mega-Highway is a five-mile long highway expansion project of I-5 with seven significant interchange modifications between Portland and Vancouver. In places, the highway will become 22 lanes wide.

Like nearly all mega-highway projects, the CRC Mega-Highway will increase global warming pollution and exacerbate sprawl. But perhaps even worse, the CRC will put taxpayers at tremendous financial risk, spend billions of dollars, and divert money from better projects.

And like most mega-projects, the history of the CRC has been that of an alliance of politics, business, and labor moving forward, never solving significant problems, claiming that we’ve come too far not to keep pushing on, and that some federal dollars are at risk.

In fact, when the Oregon legislature voted to approve $450 million as their state’s share to the project, almost none of the legislators had seen renderings of what the CRC Mega-Project would look like, despite more than eight years of planning efforts.

Has Governor Inslee seen this bridge? (ODOT/CRC via Willamette Week)

The driving force behind the CRC Mega-Project has been one company: David Evans & Associates (DEA), which is headquartered in Portland and has nine other offices in the Pacific Northwest. As the lead contractor to engineer and construct the mega-highway, DEA has done some pretty incredible things to keep the project going and the money coming in.

In 2005, WSDOT initially anticipated that a contract for conduct master-planning the project would cost $20 million. As reported in Willamette Week 2 years ago, DEA was the only applicant for the master planning contract and the contract escalated to $50 million. Then only 3 years later, DEA said they couldn’t finish the statement of work without another $45 million escalation. Then, once again in 2011 the cost grew once again to $105 million. That’s contact cost escalation of 525%.

DEA hasn’t been excited to share how it’s spending the $105 million. When a forensic accounting firm filed a public disclosure request, DEA filed a lawsuit against WSDOT and the accounting firm to block the disclosure.

In 2009, DEA hired McCaig Communications, a consulting firm of Oregon political insider Patricia McCaig, at a rate of $90 per hour.

Together, DEA and McCaig have spent more than $103,000 on campaign contributions since 2006, not counting indirect contributions through employees, like-minded businesses, trade associations, or friends. By herself, Patricia McCaig contributed $14,000 to Governor Kitzhaber’s 2010 election campaign while also serving as a campaign consultant.

Once elected, Governor Kitzhaber made building the CRC Mega-Highway a top priority and brought on McCaig as part of his administration. And yet her paycheck still came from DEA. In total, McCaig has made $417,000 while serving under the Kitzhaber Administration.

When the Oregon legislature voted two weeks ago to direct money from pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects to the CRC to cover Oregon’s share for the CRC’s anticipated bond repayment obligations, every legislator supported by DEA and Patricia McCaig voted in favor. Even the liberal urban legislators.

But while the legislators knew that contributions were coming in the door, they didn’t know that much about the CRC Mega-Highway. Despite more than 8 years of CRC planning, most Oregon legislators hadn’t even seen a rendering of what the CRC mega-highway will look like.

In part 2, I’ll show the misinformation campaign from DEA, WSDOT, and ODOT that’s forced this project forward.

110 Replies to “The CRC Mega-Highway Project, Part 1 of 3”

  1. “Like nearly all mega-highway projects, the CRC Mega-Highway will increase global warming pollution and exacerbate sprawl.”

    This seems to be the exact opposite argument that is being used by Vancouver residents who say that as a result of tolls on CRC nobody will be using the new bridge and people will no longer be able to afford to live in Vancouver and work in Portland.

    The bridge obviously needs to be upgraded or replaced and a bunch of cars sitting idle in traffic burning fossil fuels is hardly a good thing for global warming.

    Ironically it looks like the proposal to add light rail is what will end up killing the project, not the 12 highway lanes. So by joining the anti-rail contingent in opposing CRC we will likely end up replacing the current design with a bridge designed for cars only…with 12 lanes of traffic.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    1. It’s not that obvious that the bridge needs replacement. It’s not even on the list of vulnerable structures.

      The light rail is nearly entirely federally funded. We could build it without the rest, without any more local funding.

      1. While I’m not usually in favor of large projects like, I am on board with the I-5 bridge replacement. I-5 is THE spinal cord of Western Washington. The Interstate Bridge, while not on the list of vulnerable structures is 96 (NB) and 55 (SB) years old and require constant maintenance. Not to mention the lengthy delays that @Southeasterner mentioned.

        If and when those bridges go, whether due to age, barge accident, earthquake or Godzilla, our economy will take a huge hit, during an already down time, which will take a long time to recover from. I think the (unfortunately) high costs to replace it now will save Washington and Oregon many times that in the future.

      2. What if we renamed I-205 as I-5. Would that put your fears to rest?

        Based on your concerns, it sounds like you are more of a CSA supporter than a CRC supporter:

        This would cost less and give us more crossing options. Seems like a good option if you are concerned about losing the current spans to a disaster.

      3. RapidRider: more traffic flows over the I205 bridge a few miles east than the I5 bridge; I think the difference is about 17,000 more cars a day.

      4. “It’s not that obvious that the bridge needs replacement”

        Ben please read my comment a bit more carefully:

        “The bridge obviously needs to be upgraded or replaced”

        I’m not opposed to upgrading the existing bridge.

      5. Southeasterner – why is this bridge more important to upgrade than the other bridges that are at higher risk of failure?

      6. @Chris If you’ve ever tried to get from downtown Portland to I-205, you’ll understand why that could never be the main artery of the Pacific Northwest, unless you are going from Washington to California and don’t care about Portland.

        I had never heard of the CSA before, but after watching the video, it made me scratch my head. He advocates building not one, but TWO new bridges over one of the largest and busiest rivers in the country, PLUS upgrading three existing, ancient bridges and he thinks it will be half the cost of a single bridge? His costs are on the cheap side, even if you just consider the construction costs of the bridges alone. He’s clearly not taking into account any road connections or logistical considerations on either side, any environmental impacts or unforeseen costs, which the CRC does, although I’m skeptical of that price tag too.

        I’m not saying the CRC is ideal, but we are stuck with I-5 as our lifeline and unfortunately we need to maintain that lifeline or be prepared to face the consequences.

      7. “Southeasterner – why is this bridge more important to upgrade than the other bridges that are at higher risk of failure?”

        Ben, I don’t. I would support upgrading most of them…although it would be great if you could provide a link or other information on how CRC compares to other aging bridges in WA/OR.

      8. Rapidrider,

        Look more closely at the CRC budget documents. The actual bridge portion of the project is only 1/4 of the cost. Half of the money is going to freeway expansion and interchange rebuilds along the 6 mile project corridor. This is not a bridge replacement project, and that is why we could be building multiple new bridges for less than the current budget.

        You also seem to be concerned with blocking river traffic. The CRC, as planned, has not been approved by the US Coast Guard, because it will block river traffic. They backed themselves into a corner by insisting on a bridge without spans, but still including an interchange on Hayden Island. If they closed the interchange on Hayden Island and built a local access bridge, they could increase river clearance on a new bridge, or re purpose the existing bridges as the CSA proposes.

      9. I-5 over COLUMBIA R INTERSTATE Structure 0005216A0000000:

        Year built: 1958
        Historic significance: Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places
        Bridge is scour critical; bridge foundations determined to be unstable.
        Sufficiency rating: 49.1

        I-5 over COLUMBIA R INTERSTATE Structure 000000PR0000000:

        Year built: 1916
        Year reconstructed: 1959
        Historic significance: Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places
        Bridge is scour critical; bridge foundations determined to be unstable.
        Sufficiency rating: 18.3

        You can play beat that bridge using this Washington Coverage Map

      10. It’s not even on the list of vulnerable structures.

        That’s because WSDOT prioritized seismic considerations above all and for some reason treats Clark County as “moderate” rather than “high” even though UBC maps place all of western Washington and Oregon in Seismic Zone 3. Scouring is the most common cause of bridge collapse in Washington and the I-5 CRC is scour critical. The only major bridge I could find with a worse Sufficiency rating than the 1916 span is the not sunk yet portion of SR-520 (Sufficiency rating: 9.0). It’s obvious that something needs to be done and retrofit solutions on bridges that are this old and have been evaluated as Functionally obsolete sounds a lot like throwing good money after bad. But FWIW I do believe the proposed “Mega-Highway” is overkill.

      11. The old bridge is built in sand and not bedrock, a good earthquake could bring the whole thing down at any time. I hope you are on it and not me when it happens!!!!!

      12. “He advocates building not one, but TWO new bridges over one of the largest and busiest rivers in the country, PLUS upgrading three existing, ancient bridges and he thinks it will be half the cost of a single bridge?”

        It will be. The key is that all of the bridges have lighter weight loads. The old bridges don’t need significant pier work.

        One megabridge requires humungous support structures. Several smaller bridges, not so much. Compare the cost of one giant freeway bridge to the cost of, say, ten small city-street bridges.

      13. As others noted, the main cost of the CRC is in all of the bridges involved in the interchanges, widened highway, etc. The actual main span isn’t bad.

        Remove the Hayden Island interchange and build a local bridge for Hayden Island and you start to get CRC prices which look more like the Common Sense Alternative.

        Worth noting: the BNSF bridge needs to be improved regardless. It is the main north-south freight artery for the entire Pacific Northwest, and if it ever gets closed, it will cause massive economic disruption. The I-5 bridge could be torn down without bothering freight traffic significantly; the BNSF bridge is crucial.

    2. @Southeasterner- correct on many points, but I doubt any new bridge will be built without LR in the package. Yes, there are some vocal anti-LR forces in Vancouver. The proposed CRC should be rejected by the US Coast Guard if they follow federal law (impairs waterway navigation), and do not bow to political pressure.

      The “Common Sense Alternative” and “Common Sense Alternative II” both include LR to, but not necessarily beyond, downtown Vancouver. This could address concerns of many Vancouverites who don’t want to pay to “operate” LR in WA.

      LR in the official CRC proposal is VERY poorly designed, with very steep grades and poor sight lines. Those aspects increase operations, labor and maintenance costs of LR, and result in longer trip times and lower ridership. As a strong LR proponent, I DON’T want a poorly designed LR on the CRC to be used as an excuse to kill future LR projects!

      Road congestion: adding road capacity to solve congestion has never worked. Rather than using congestion as an excuse to build road capacity, we need to focus on creating incentives (like traffic congestion) to encourage people to use transit.

      1. Dan, thank you for the clarification. It seems all is not lost on LR if the current CRC falls through.

        Also agreed on the congestion. My only point is a bunch of cars sitting in traffic is hardly eco-friendly.

      2. “a bunch of cars sitting in traffic is hardly eco-friendly” That’s a road-builders bullet point, and I recommend not listening to it. Building more road capacity doesn’t actually reduce the number of cars sitting in traffic, whether it’s the CRC or any other road project. If this truely is the last bottleneck (it isn’t), then you induce demand (studies say generally within a decade) until cars are sitting in traffic again. Except now there are more of them.

      3. “That’s a road-builders bullet point”

        No, it’s just a fact. You can interpret it as we need more roads, more efficient vehicles, or you can interpret it as we need more road alternatives such as a MAX line/express buses/BRT. However, giving people or groups “ownership” of bullet-points is extremely counterproductive.

      4. Folks,

        LRT to downtown Vantucky will not carry many people because the Steel Bridge is fairly near capacity, and the Yellow Line will get only about 1/3 of any capacity growth that it can carry.

        Right now the Yellow Line in the peaks consists of four trains per hour all of which are pretty darn full at Interstate/Rose Quarter. It won’t be long before Tri-Met will need to add another train to the line during the peaks and drop the headways to twelve minutes, or five trains per hour.

        Blue Line trains are always crowded crossing the river in the peaks, and Reds and Greens are comfortably full. If the economy improves in the Portland Metro area, eventually there will have to be more Blue Line trains, or maybe there will be more Greens added. The Red line has two single track sections between Gateway and PDX and has never been a big hit north of Gateway, so I don’t expect it to get any additional trains for decades.

        The problem is that because the Steel has a 5 MPH limit over the lift span, junctions at each end of the span, and a busy street intersection through which the east end junction is threaded, theoretical capacity in one direction is only 30 trains per hour — one every two minutes. As we all know, “theoretical capacity” is rarely achieved in surface transit, because the individual vehicles arrive rather more randomly than the models predict. Let’s be prudent and say “a train every two and a half minutes in each direction” to be safe, or 24 total trains.

        Right now there are seven blue, four red, four green and four yellow line trains in the peak direction, totaling 19. That gives a potential expansion of five trains in the peak direction, and they’re certainly not all going to be reserved for the Yellow Line. Let’s say that it gets three of them (including the one that’s likely to come soon). That is 1200 passengers per hour in the peak direction assuming pretty nasty loads of 200 per LRT vehicle. Since North Portland alone is pressing up against the fifth train all its lonesome and has lots of new construction along the line, by the time that the bridge is completed Clark County will really get only 800 people per hour in the peak direction.

        Because the LRT won’t serve pretty much anything except downtown, 800 people per hour will probably handle the additional load. And there’s no doubt that having the across the river would help gentrify and revitalize downtown Vantucky. But serving 800 people per hour for an estimated cost of $825 million seems a bit pricey to me.

      5. “You can interpret it as we need more roads, more efficient vehicles, or you can interpret it as we need more road alternatives such as a MAX line/express buses/BRT.”

        I don’t think you understand my point. All of these things will contribute to sprawl.

      6. And how would you like to live on an island and have no freeway access. If they don’t do the interchange on Hayden Island you people from Washington won’t have anywhere to shop tax free….

      7. Southeasterner: gasoline cars are equally eco-unfriendly whether they sit in traffic or move.

        Meanwhile, electric cars are quite eco-friendly if sitting in traffic. They don’t idle, you see.

      8. “And how would you like to live on an island and have no freeway access.”
        Direct freeway access is not a human right. I live in a city where the nearest freeway is 60 miles away, and it’s just fine, thank you.

        Hayden Island needs bridge access. Probably the more bridges the better!

        But freeway access? What is that for, other than wasting an enormous amount of the very limited land on the island with onramps and offramps?

      9. Anandakos: MAX is going to need a third Willamette River bridge crossing sooner or later, probably in the vicinity of the Broadway Bridge. That solves all the problems you are worried bout.

      10. Each MAX train can carry closer to ~500 people, not 200. And many of the people commuting in from Vancouver are NOT going downtown, but to North Portland businesses, which can be easily transferred from many of the bus/MAX stations along Interstate. Last I read, around 2/3 of Clark County > Portland commuters do not work in downtown. Some even commute out to Hillsboro to work at Intel!

      1. John Bailo wrote: “In ten years we’ll have fuel cell cars.”

        Energy waste and pollution are not the only serious problems with auto transport. One of the biggest problem is that in terms of landuse, they are extremely inefficient. This problem creates a wide range of other problems. While greater energy efficiency needs to be a goal in auto transport, it is not a “solution” to the “SOV problem.”

        Autos are also inefficient in terms of traffic control and LEA services. They are inefficient in terms of health care related to trauma and stress. They rob people of productive time. The auto-based system tends to isolate persons who are not able to drive (for a variety of reasons) and this results in a wide range of social and health care costs. Public transportation does not, or need not, create these problems on society.

    3. We in Portland/Vancouver want a new bridge and more north south capacity just not what is being proposed on the very broken I-5 corridor. We want to replace the very broken BNSF RR Bridge with a Multi-Mode bridge that quadruples all rail capacity (heavy rail, passenger rail, commuter rail) gives us the freight mobility increases (Port of Portland to Port of Vancouver, interconnection for truck freight) and yes creates new alternate way cars and buses can get into and out of Portland without strangling the very limited capacity of the 2-lane I-5 corridor through Portland. We see traffic backing up all the way from these Portland Choke Points, that would never be fixed with this bridge project that obligates the next 20-years of federal funding for this one project and virtually kills everything else.

  2. Thass nasty.

    How much are those tolls likely to be? If they’re $4-$5 like Tacoma Narrows, people will complain but they’ll pay up.

  3. One of these days I would love to see a major project that puts transit ahead of moving multi-ton single occupancy vehicles.

    1. … or even giving priority to allowing localities to fund their own transit. There must be a bunch o’ legislators who would like to see Seattle burned to the ground. It’s not just Republicans, given the failure of local transit funding options in the House.

    2. Well, Portland IS working on our 4th light rail MAX expansion. That must count for something, I hope.

  4. I went to the CRC website to find out more about this “mega” project. (BTW, props to whoever whoever made the color contrast of the before and after freeway rendering so extreme. Dramatically lightening the new roads makes the project seem more shocking big than it really is). Anyway, their website said this, “Six primary problems will be addressed with the CRC project: crashes, congestion, freight immobility, limited transit options, poor bicycle and pedestrian connections, and earthquake risk.” Seems reasonable to me. With a project like this, I think it’s important to ask what’s the total cost of the project and how many people use that highway every day? It would also interesting to contrast that with, say, Central Link, and ask what was the total cost of that project and how many people use it ever day? Could someone do a little research and put up those two project numbers for me?

    1. The renderings are straight from the CRC group. I would be surprised if they lightened the “after” image to make it look bigger. And I’m not really sure if it matters. I think the 22 lane width makes it look shockingly big, not lighting affects. What about going from dead brown grass to bright green grass? Seems like they are trying to make the existing conditions look worse…

    2. The premise the highway mega-project will address these problems – or is the best way to address these problems – is false.

      – Crashes. This is not a high-crash area, according to ODOT’s Safety Division Director. Targeted safety corridors are much cheaper, if it were a priority, which it is not.

      – Congestion. All the science shows you can’t build your way out of congestion; the CRC’s own models show congestion just moves two miles south. The CRC Independent Review Panel said the value of the project was questionable unless we had billions of dollars more to expand other highways. We don’t; our DOTs are broke, revenues are falling and costs increasing.

      – Freight immobility. See congestion. Also, 85% of freight moves at non-peak hours. It’s generally not time-sensitive freight in the project area.

      – Limited transit options. Light rail from downtown to downtown will on average take much longer than the express buses.

      – Poor bike and pedestrian connections. No bike/ped group in the region supports the mega-project. The replacement project creates a steep, difficult, longer connection – and a bike/ped path under the new bridge, which many potential users imagine could feel dark and dangerous.

      – Earthquake risks. It’s not the highest problem for seismic risks, but even so, we could seismically reinforce the bridge for 5% of the project cost (about as much as they plan to spend tearing down the existing bridge, which ODOT says has 55 years of life left in it).

      1. Would the proposed CRC be a safer bridge? Check out the long, very high, steep on-ramps and exit ramps. Imagine long haul trucks and vehicle hauling trailers negotiating these steep, curving ramps, casting shadows over businesses below. Engaging their noisy brakes as they descend, or grunting as they attempt to ascend the steep grade. Imagine wet or icy weather. The proposed CRC design is inherently unsafe, especially in adverse weather or seismic events … and continues to force local traffic onto the interstate. Mixing local and interstate traffic in itself is very poor and inherently unsafe traffic planning. There is SO much wrong with this project!

        Most of the “safety” problems on the existing bridges result from traffic turbulence by closely spaced on/off ramps, very short merge lanes and frequent bridge openings. SOLVE the problem by fixing the railroad bridge (this would eliminates 90% of bridge lifts). Use the old I-5 bridges for local traffic and LR. Build a new, smaller scale, lower freeway bridge (72′ clearance to match current bridges) with drawspan (not lift or swing span).

    3. Central Link I believe cost $2.9 Billion and goes 15.6 miles. Capacity is tricky to estimate, since headways and maximum car-lengths change with extensions. 16,000 p/h/d would be at least as accurate as inaccurate. The CRC goes about 5 miles, costs at least $3.1 billion (I’ve heard estimates as high as $10 billion) and it looks could possibly bottleneck at five lanes per direction. Assuming 2000 vehicles per lane per hour, and an average passenger load of 1.6 per vehicle, that would also be 16,000 p/h/d max capacity.

      The real question is why you are comparing an over-land light rail line to a multi-use bridge.

      1. Because the light rail line doesn’t create greenhouse gas emissions and the bridge does.

      2. Sorry? I think you might have misread my post, Ben. That last sentence was pondering the wisdom (or lack thereof) of comparing completely dissimilar projects.

      3. Another interesting comparison would be how much land was required for LRT versus the amount of land needed to build the CRC highway, interchanges and parking for all the additional vehicles at final destinations? Land publicly held, is not on the tax rolls and not available for generating economic activity. Parking lots in themselves don’t generate an economic good (access maybe, if no alternative travel mode existed). The more dense and active surrounding land is, the higher the opportunity cost is of converting it to public right-of-way or parking.

    4. You want fewer crashes? Slow down traffic.

      You want reliable freight mobility? Build ubiquitous HOV lanes and let licensed freight vehicles use them.

      Want better transit, bike, and pedestrian facilities? Build those! That certainly doesn’t require expanded general-purpose interchanges if it’s done in a remotely reasonable way.

      This isn’t rocket science, it’s basic policy. Solve the problems you want to solve, don’t get convinced you have to do something impossible (building your way out of congestion) to do it.

      Expanding the capacity of freeways and especially interchanges feeds into a cycle of road expansion, as the larger interchange is capable of dumping bigger traffic loads quickly onto local roads, which then need to be expanded to meet local mobility needs. It’s a fool’s errand.

    5. Sam,

      For yet another time we need to remind you that downtown Seattle cannot continue to grow without a steel wheel transit spine. There is no more room for more buses and there is for G*& D#$@ sure no more room for more cars. Maybe the region doesn’t need LRT from Everett to Tacoma and all the way to Redmond, but it sure needs it from the KC/SnoCo line to Midway.

      Maybe it would have been smarter to do the line to Northgate before the airport route (“Central Link”), but what’s done is done. Once the stretch to Northgate is open there will be quite a bit more traffic on the south end, because people who today take the 48 along 23rd Avenue from the Rainier Valley will get on Link and swoosh to the U.

      Every new section of Link that’s completed will increase the number of origin-destination pairs significantly. The network, even if it’s just one line that “Links” multiple activity centers.

      If Seattle were Ft. Worth (Tarrant County has about the same population as does King County) it could probably make it with just buses. But it’s not Ft. Worth; it’s squeezed between two large bodies of water and has some pretty significant landforms and a big stonking lake just north of its CBD which limit the available rights of way for auto facilities.

      The same is true of Portland, because the population of Multnomah and Washington Counties combined is only 5/8 of the King or Tarrant County populations. The water boundaries aren’t large deep glacier carved canyons, but instead a fifty foot deep river a half a mile wide and a smaller one with a deep valley.

    6. Sam asks question about how the Six Primary Problems will be addressed with the proposed CRC Project.
      1. Crashes: 90% of crashes could be eliminated by complying with Federal Freeway Design Code and that would eliminate on – off ramps and exists immediately before and after the I-5 interstate bridges. This is part of the new CRC interchanges and can – should happen anyway. You do not need a new bridge to fix this current design problem.
      2. Congestion: The CRC Bridge replacement does not eliminate congestion, the I-5 corridor will still be a 2 and 3-lanes of capacity into and through Portland. The only solution that solves the problems of congestion is new additional bridges and north-south corridors and capacity getting built. With all funding going to this one project nothing else could happen for the next 20-years.
      3. Freight Immobility – Mobility: This CRC Project has little or NO-Net Effect on Freight Mobility. It brings nothing new to the table. the I-205 corridor is now handling the majority of the through Interstate Freight Traffic through the Portland/Vancouver Region. Solution is to widen I-205 and to build a new Port to Port freight Corridor along side the BNSF Tracks in a dedicated freight corridor that take 90% of the trucks out of the I-5 corridor in core Portland/Vancouver.
      4.Limited Transit Options: Vancouver – Clark County Washington residents have voted on many occasions that they do not want TriMet Light Rail. They want Bus Rapid Transit and like their C-Tran. This issue has NO-Standing or benefit to Clark County Residents from what they say at the ballot box.
      5. Poor Bicycle Options: What is currently available is OK, not great. It might be a problem to less then 99.9999% of the people who use the bridge daily. Are the other 99.9999% of the people (approximately 60-thousand daily commuters, 70% of which are categorized as part of the working poor) going to be required to fund at $2,000 to $4,000 in tolls in annualized cost to provide these improvements to the biking community.
      6. Earthquake Risk: These I-5 bridges are the very solid and surveyed to be considered the least at risk of the key corridor Bridges. If someone is truly worried they can be upgraded for pennies on a dollar. What we need is a new bridges and corridors that gives us options.

      1. As far as #4, Bus Rapid Transit ain’t going to help I-5 traffic when there are no BRT corridors in Portland. So the bus would go straight into a traffic jam. At least with a MAX extension, it can serve all of the North Portland stops and avoid traffic congestion on the freeway.

        This is Vancouver’s opportunity to buy into one of the largest LRT systems in the country for next to nothing.

    7. The CRC will not help freight.

      Does it have any truck-only lanes? NO.
      Does most of the freight across the Columbia move by rail? YES.
      Does the CRC help the rail service across the BNSF bridge, which badly needs improvements? NO.

  5. This is–truly fabulous work. I am excited to read Parts 2 & 3, and suspect that you will get a lot of attention from this post. Congratulations!

  6. Great posting, Ben, keep up the good work! That rendering is just terrific.

    The CRC mega-mess seems to be one of those that separate leaders who talk about addressing climate change from those who really understand it and really mean it. A bit similar in that way to the Keystone XL pipeline on the national scene.

  7. CRC supporters are suffering from cognitive dissonance if they think a cringe-worthy rebranding attempt will make the public forget the facts. Temporary short-term job gains will be nullified by the demolishing of some 70 businesses on Hayden Island to make room for the 600 foot wide, 22 lane interchange. Adding more lanes will not relieve traffic, it will incentivize more congestion, more pollution, and more carbon emissions that will worsen our climate crisis. Tolling will fall far short of providing the cash needed to pay off the project, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab while the rest of our state’s roads continue to deteriorate. The price tag of $4.2 billion has been projected to balloon to as much as $10 billion dollars by the end of construction. The number of falsehoods and outright lies being sold to the public could fill a phone book.

  8. So far overbuilt it’s not even funny. I could get on board with a replacement bridge and definitely with a light-rail crossing. But there is absolutely no use for a 12-lane structure when the freeway is 6 lanes 2 miles on either side of the project. Make it 8 lanes (one pair of HOV lanes) and call it good. Any more is pure government waste.

  9. Southeasterner, Rapid Rider and Sam all just parrot standard CRC PR talking points.

    CRC has constructed a tissue of lies to justify this giant freeway widening project:

    Bridge lifts: could be virtually eliminated by installing a new lift span in the down-stream railroad bridge that aligned with the high clearance part of the highway bridge (already approved by the Coast Guard).

    Seismic: CRC’s own analysis shows the existing bridges could be brought up to the 2,500 year no-collapse standard for about the same cost as demolishing them.

    ODOT and WSDOT have studiously avoided quick, cheap fixes that would dramatically improve travel on I-5: i.e. building an arterial bridge to connect Hayden Island to the Oregon mainland (currently all trips to and from the Island have to use the freeway), and better ramp management (i.e. closing a substandard Northbound ramp during peak hours). These steps would also reduce the fender bender accident rate on I-5.

    The $160 million that has been spent so far has chiefly generated a campaign of disinformation. Don’t be conned by the CRC website: read the award-winning analysis published by Willamette Week on this boondoggle project:…/article-17566-a_bridge_too_false.html

    1. What part of my “upgraded or replaced” comment did you not understand?

      Obviously the first as you appear to be in agreement that the bridge could be upgraded.

      It would be great if we could actually have a real debate on these issues instead of being automatically dumped into “with us” or “against us” camps. Believe it or not some people don’t form set opinions until they have a better grasp of all the facts.

      1. What justification do you have for the bridge even needing an upgrade? There’s far more dangerous stuff that’s unfunded. Funding this lower priority work first puts people at risk.

      2. @Ben

        Not trying to be snarky, but genuinely trying to inform myself about this issue. What other joint ODOT/WSDOT crossings are at even greater risk of structural failure compared to the I-5 bridge?

  10. 1) The existing bridges can be made safe for pennies on the dollar.
    See page 8, the December 2006 Draft Technical Report: Panel Assessment of Interstate Bridges Seismic Vulnerabilities on the CRC web page. Project engineers state, “It is possible to retrofit the existing structures. The level of seismicity are relatively low compared to other regions on the West Coast where retrofit of major bridges has been undertaken.” In the opinion of the expert panel the raw construction cost to retrofit would be between $88 and $190 million. Adding design, permitting, right of way, construction inspection and management, agency oversight and contingency would bump the cost to between $125 and $265 million.
    2) Including debt service and toll collection cost the CRC will require over $5 BILLION of state and local money. It’s a great investment!

  11. Do we have a list of WA politicians that have voted for this or are in favor of it? This would absoutely put them on my black list.

    1. What if they only voted to give Vancouver a local funding option to tax themselves to pay for the bridge oversizing? Would they still be on your black list?

  12. Also, I’d like to say that I am glad this blog is finally giving more coverage to this issue. It is up to you, the residents of Washington, to kill this thing now. The Oregon legislature has passed a bill that is essentially a blank check for this project. If Washington does not support it, it will not happen. You are our only hope!

    1. Chris,
      Washington is well practiced in using the Force to stop transport projects, but lately there has been a disturbance in the Force and we have been distracted from your cause due to the impending attack of the new Death Star Boring Machine now on its way from the Empire of the Rising Sun.

  13. Bottom line, we don’t need a single lane mile of additional SOV highways anywhere in the state. SR 520 is bad enough in what its footprint will do to the stretch from I-5 to the lake, but at least it’s somewhat justifiable in that the only wholly new lanes are for transit and HOV. The CRC is just a monstrosity.

    I’d support a toll to upgrade the current bridge, unless a bridge of the same capacity (or same capacity plus transit-exclusive lanes) can be built for about the same amount of money. It would be nice to have light rail to Portland on a grade-separated route, but do it on a rightly-scaled bridge, not something so overbuilt.

    1. It’s been a few years since I lived in Portland. Car/truck traffic there always seemed worse to me there than it ever does here in Seattle. But I liked it because it always meant to me that Portland put public transit ahead of building new roads. Through my 35+ years of living in this region, I’ve seen Interstate 5 upgraded in Vancouver(the road widening and new/upgraded interchanges) at least three times and now they want another upgrade? As a Washington taxpayer, I say HELL NO. I like what I read above, about how Portland should build it’s own ramps to Hayden Island and Jantzen Beach. If we are able to build MAX to Vancouver without having to depend on building a new Interstate 5, then that would be the best to do.

      1. The common sense alternative really is common sense.
        (1) Lift span on the BNSF bridge, for shipping.
        (2) Improve speeds on the BNSF bridge, for cross-Columbia freight.
        (3) Local arterial bridge to Hayden Island, replacing the freeway approaches.
        (4) Seismic retrofit of the existing I-5 bridge.

  14. I’m a strong opponent of the CRC project. But, you approach to battling it is a fool’s errand. Does anyone really believe that DEA and one lobbyist influenced the Oregon vote in favor of funding the project? The final vote was 45-11. DEA only contributed to the campaigns of a few. As an insider I know that most of the accusations against DEA are misled.

    Indeed, the project has kept many Oregonians and Washingtonians employed for several years. Most of these jobs are the kind that are highly valued in our communities. And, DEA is not getting rich off of this project. Government contracts are based on negotiated profit amounts. Generally, large public works projects yield profits in the 4-6% range. Further, the bulk of the CRC fees are not going to DEA, but to the large number of other consultants working on the project.

    What is to blame for this project is the intransigent cultural belief that a society needs mega-projects to continue the false promise of economic growth. Even in a progressive bastion like Portland, most people tend to agree that economic growth at all costs is the least damaging option available. This misguided project is simply a vehicle to help public officials and their consituents feel like they are doing the right thing (e.g. supplying jobs, easing the flow of products, improving safety).

    Singling out DEA as the mastermind of the CRC is to miss the point all together. DEA is a for-profit business that is just doing what all businesses do to keep people employed. Like all of the other players in the project, CRC’s consultants are part and parcel to the broader culture that believes these types of projects are best for the common good. This is a misguided belief. And it is that that you should be challenging.

    1. Actually, no, there were FORTY lobbyists on the payroll. And they’re going to try the same thing in Olympia.

      Willamette Week did an expose in February last year on this crap:$25_billion_bribe.html

      and the crux of the article is that the ENTIRE basis for this rip off is light rail, according to the Oregon Supreme Court. Not congestion. Not safety. Not the bogus earthquake scam.

      But light rail, to help bail out TriMet.

      We do not need, want or can afford this 40 year plus debt of tolls likely to be in the $2000 range, tolls that will slaughter small business that requires this disposable income to survive.

      1. That’s what you might call the excuse. ODOT and the forty lobbyists think that advertising the CRC welfare-for-consultants and welfare-for-contractors as a light rail project will get more votes for it.

        And ODOT and the forty lobbyists may or may not be right. But actual light rail advocates certainly don’t want the CRC.

        It would be far, far cheaper to build a bridge just for light rail. Much lower load requirements, no need for entrance and exit ramps, etc.

      2. ODOT had to claim that it was a light rail project to the Oregon Supreme Court, because without the figleaf of the light rail, the project is ILLEGAL. It violates so many environmental impact laws it’s not funny.

      3. Key line from the article:

        “Metro had used a law originally intended to site light-rail lines to justify the project. (Only 27 percent of the project’s cost—or about $950 million—will go to building the light-rail portion of the CRC.) ”

        The light rail was grabbed by David Evans & Associates and the rest of the “concrete pouring lobby” in order to evade tha laws about building giant highways. They don’t give a damn about the light rail.

  15. I’m still scratching my head to the fact that the local politicians want to kill the bridge to keep light rail off of it. Particularly because the Feds are picking up the tab.

    I also don’t get their arguments that having light-rail will be driving businesses out of downtown Vancouver. In the current state downtown it is a fairly isolated business district. In my opinion having a light-rail connection between downtown Vancouver and Portland would make having a business in downtown Vancouver viable.

    1. You have to remember, the people that live in Clark County live there for a reason. They like being near the job opportunities in Portland, but they reject the Portland culture. They reject mass transit, bicycling, hipsters, etc. So they have an irrational fear and hatred for MAX.

      1. They certainly have one of the highest percentages of drive alone mode in the State. Which makes me think ridership on light rail is going to be less than stellar. Of course if they make the tolls high enough it’ll create a mode shift to P&R. Or with a fancy cheap light rail alternative more people will be enticed to forsake Portland for greener pastures on the Washington side.

      2. Yep; it’s “Loot Rail”. It’s the “Crime Train”. The truth is that the people in Vantucky want one thing and one thing only: for somebody, anybody to build them a nice, shiny, new auto-only bridge for free.

        They don’t want to pay a plugged nickel for it. With the exception of a decent portion of the folks in the 49th LD, Clark County is filled with narcissistic cheapskates.

      3. …except there are practically no jobs in Clark County. Its used as a tax haven for people who are selling large amounts of stocks or other investments; they “move there” for a year and then move back to Portland. I personally no about 5 people who have done that… Also, the cheap price of housing in CC is attractive to lower income folks.

  16. The most interesting thing about the project is the failure to get the height of the bridge part right. Because the planned design is 60 feet shorter than the existing bridge (when open), three upstream companies that need to ship under the bridge will not be able to bid on some of the big projects they go after (apparently a single lift in the middle of the night can let a $500m order pass through).

    Also interesting is that DEA, which was facilitating meetings way back in 2005, told Bob Russell that it would cost less if they focused on the freeway itself rather than looking at a rail bridge fix (which, as it turns out, would have eliminated around 90-95% of the lifts by eliminating the ‘S’ that some ships can’t make).

    1. I emailed the CRC people telling them to look at the rail bridge fix.

      They said it was “out of scope”, which isn’t an answer, it’s an admission of corruption.

      David Evans & Associates are scam artists.

  17. Ya, lets fight a(nother) losing fight against a(nother) mega highway project under some mis-guided notation that by stopping spending on highways we automatically somehow increase funding for transit. It’s just not a true proposition – never has been, never will be.

    But want to consolidate support for projects like the CRC and the NSC? All it takes is for Seattle to step into the fray against those projects and the rest of the state will come out in support of them. Such is the reality of Washington politics.

    Transit funding is small in comparison to total highway spending. What we need to focus on is securing a stable and increasing funding pool for transit that is totally independent from highway funding and the roads vs. transit debate.

    Our system of paying for highways is unsustainable as currently constituted. Yes, as that realization sinks in there will be attempts by the road lobby to raid transit funding, but the number one thing we can do to promote transit is to insist that road funding come from road users.

    Increase the gas tax and institute tolls and you’ll see a surge in transit use, and in transit funding.

    1. Well, Portland stopped a freeway back in 1974. Those highway funds earmarked for the Mt. Hood freeway were subsequently diverted and used to pay for the 1st part of Portland’s MAX light rail, which opened in 1986.

      This is kind of a big deal:
      “Since the completion of I-205, no major freeways have been built in the Portland metropolitan area.” (wiki)

      So, yes, it did work. Doubtful we could get that money diverted today, but oh well. At least it won’t cluster**** our traffic and flatten downtown Vancouver and Hayden Island, while putting OR and WA in debt for 30 years!

  18. As someone who has actually driven the bridge multiple times on trips to and from Portland, it does need replacing. There are no HOV Lanes and there are no shoulders. Adding a light rail line at the same time is also a no brainer.

    That being said, the current scope of the project does a seem a bit large on either side. I can understand the Hwy 14 interchange and Hayden Island Redesign due to proximity of the bridge, but can’t for the life of me figure out why 3 interchanges north of Hwy 14 need to be redesigned as well. They seem adequate at the moment.

    It doesn’t need to be killed, just tweaked. The no build crowd is getting almost as bad as the no tax crowd in their ideological purity in regards to projects.

    1. Concur 100%.

      I’d set the new bridge at a 3GP+1HOV type config, set the height at 140 ft to match the next two bridges upstream, insist that LR and ped improvments be included and then get on with it.

      I’d also put early tolls on the bridge now to de-couple the tolling debate from the anti-LR debate, and I’d consider adding tolls to I-205 to reduce diversion (ditto for I-90).

      1. That would be impossible. I-5 is 2 lanes bound N+S when it passes through the central city of Portland. There are NO HOV or HOT lanes in the state of Oregon! And we have no plans on building any!

        If you stuck some HOV lanes on a 22-lane bridge that feeds into a 4 lane freeway, its not going to do anything for traffic, thats for damned sure.



        The CRC bridge can be a maximum height of only 116 ft height due to PDX and Pearson air field’s protected air space. The previously proposed bridge height from last summer was only 95′ above the river, but one of the industrial users sued the feds in 2012 as it would prevent them from using the river for shipping. Only then did the CRC group increase the proposed height to 116′ height, which will STILL impact river shipping.

        This article has an image of what kind of equipment gets shipped and why the proposed bridge will be too low – some of the equipment is 120′ high:

        According to the CRC’s FEIS chapter on aviation & navigation, Pearson Airfield’s protected airspace where the current bridge is so low that the current lift bridge extends 98 feet into it. Those towers are 215′ above the water’s surface. Therefore, they can only build 117 feet above the river, as allowed by the FAA. Which is why the bridge is proposed at 116 feet. So we are in a position where the river users want at least 150′ to 170′ height, and the FAA wants less than 117′. Kind of tough to satisfy both, huh?

      2. It’s a lot easier to change a flight path than the course of the Columbia River. But, has anyone considered a tunnel? We up here in Seattle have a Damn Bored Tunnel machine brand spanking new I’m sure many would like to sell you. We solve our funding gap and you resolve your airspace vs shipping issue. A win win situation.

    2. The existing bridges were built for roads, not freeways, so let’s use them for roads. Close the Hayden Island interchange and use one of the existing spans for local car/truck access. Use to other for light rail or BRT and pedestrian/bike. Build a new span just east of the existing spans with 8 lanes (3 general and 1 HOV each direction). $1 – $1.5 billion, tops. Add tolls on the new span.

    3. No, it DOESN’T need to be replaced, since it doesn’t need the bells and whistles you’re talking about.

      Build additional bridges or no bridges at all. But wasting billions on a bridge that according to the CRC will reduce the commute time ONE MINUTE?

      “Folly” doesn’t begin to cover it.

      The idea that you’re in love with wasting billions on this scam to get loot rail into Vancouver isn’t a matter of “ideological purity.” It’s a matter of self-delusion.

      The people here in Clark County do not want this. [ad hom]

      1. “Loot rail”? People will take your arguments more seriously if you don’t resort to that sort of exaggerated terminology.

      2. Crime is actually more strongly correlated along busy roads than around mass transit. And most criminals use a car to get to and from the crime scene. You may want to reconsider your “loot rail” idea.

      3. Clark County isn’t going to get a choice in the matter. This one is pretty much out of their hands. There will be a new bridge, it will have tolls on it, and there will be Light Rail on it.

        The train has left the station (har har.)

      4. See? Here it is; one of my [ad hom] neighbors is howling about “Loot Rail”. I honestly did not read this post when I wrote a few moments ago.

  19. This is a great post, with many enlightened comments. THANK YOU! The graphic is great, but one thing the graphic cannot adequately convey is how incredibly high up in the air this noisy, polluting, costly, counterproductive concrete monstrosity is. The shadow, and noise, that this project would cast over Hayden Island and parts of downtown Vancouver is enough to send both residents and rats fleeing!

  20. Ben, meet Ann Rivers, the bridge killer. That said, I’m suspicious she’s interested primarily in killing Light Rail, but she seems motivated to kill the whole thing.

    Given our limited resources, implementing congesting tolling and using the funds for maintenance and retrofitting seems like a wise first choice.

  21. I don’t know about the rest of you guys but I’m really worried about the strip malls that will be demolished by this new mega-highway. We need to preserve and protect our strip malls!

    1. Ha! I actually remember the day when a new strip mall was considered to be a sign of “progress” and was considered to be a “modern” inovation. My how things have changed (for the better).

      1. Wow. When was that, the 1950s? Or the 1940s? I think I’m too young to remember that. Strip malls were already considered a bad thing by the 1970s.

  22. As one who knows little about the CRC ‘Project’ I decided to do my civic duty and learn something about it, as it seems the State will be asking me for more taxes to support it someday.
    … Well, having wasted most of the last hour trying to sort through all the hyperbole on all sides of the issues, I can only conclude this is more about spinning or obscuring facts than trying to present a meaningful case for transportation improvements and justification for the current plans and costs.
    1. The official website is poor at best for containing drawings, records, reports, etc, and focuses on selling a concept. This is a JV of both state DOT’s, so shame on both of you. I tried in vain to find the original renderings used as the lead in to this article. Maybe someone can post the link for me, as I gave up.
    2. When the JV was established in 2006, it seemed quite modest as to outcome, but has grown to this behemoth of a project over the years. I say seems, because again, I can’t find the real cost/justification/benefit analysis to make a judgement from.
    3. Even this article is guilty of poor journalism, constantly referring to the project as the ‘CRC Mega Project’. OK, I’ll give Ben a couple of Mega’s for journalistic effect, but it’s not the official name, so let’s be honest about that.
    I hope segments 2 and 3 have some links to actual official documents, instead of a third party article, and look forward to learning something about a project that leaves me short of facts and long on opinions.

  23. The graphic attached to the article is horrifically outdated. It looks like the original design of the bridge five years ago. The current design of the bridge scales back the scope of the number of bridges and footprint of the overall highway. the existing on and off ramps to Jantzen Beach are too short for acceleration and deceleration per AASHTO standards. At a given highway design speed, you need so much length to speed up or slow down. The project would address a wicked ramp near downtown Vancouver, WA just North of the bridge.

    I’m guessing Ben’s subsequent parts to this story may address the congestion to Portland. The projections show that the bridge won’t do anything to alleviate Portland I-5 southbound congestion from US 30 bypass through the Rose Quarter. In fact, it may exasserbate it by pulling the plug on a bottleneck that metered flow on I-5. Northbound traffic will move swiftly out of town.

    Yes, David Evans and Assoc. has its money in the pockets of decision makers. Don’t you think Kiewitt and the many other Civil Engineering Consulting firms do the same thing?

    1. Try looking at how much money Parsons Brinkerhoff has made off of Light Rail in the Puget Sound since 1992, not to mention the other consulting firms. It makes David Evans look like a bit player. Each mode has it’s ‘expert’ go-to-guys. (Yeah, they’re smart, have great tools, and charge a lot for it)

      1. If you get a good project in the end, it’s OK as far as I’m concerned. Parsons Brinkerhoff gave you a decent light rail system.

        If you advise the government to ignore the best and cheapest solution for a major problem, by declaring that the BNSF bridge is “out of scope” — which David Evans and Associates apparently did for the CRC — then you are a PROBLEM COMPANY.

  24. A new transportation artery is needed just west of the existing 1908 circa BNSF freight and Amtrrak bridge. A new multi-modal bridge, 150 ft. above the Columbia River, upper deck with four motorized lanes and lower deck with four heavy tracks for high speed/rapid transit commuter rail and freight rail. Two ways you can reduce congestion, ie,another alternative for North Portland, Ports and west Vancouver residents and workers one mile west of the I-5 Bridge(maintain it) and provide a one stop rapid commuter connection to a new Rose Quarter Station in seven,I repete, seven minutes. The Vancouver Station can act as a park and ride or kiss and ride system with a bus connection as well. The Rose Quarter Station will be intensified as a hub for MAX, Streetcar, bus, bike, river taxi and pedestrians. Wish to learn more? Go to Rudy Niederer (Einstein in HSR engineering) and my Website:

  25. I was against light-rail in 1995 when the idea was first floated in the Oregonian. I remember a few years later I was one of three people who were trying to stop light-rail, Jean Lipton John Spence, and myself. The whole thing went to a vote of the people. We won with 69% voting no on light-rail. I think that I spent 300 dollars on printing cost. Couldn’t do that today. It was money well spent.

  26. Disappointing there are so many “light rail haters.” LR is in Portland today because there was a group of well-informed citizens who worked very hard to get officials to consider light rail in the first place. It was not some big conspiracy from above created by powerful special interests. Tri-Met has not done a particularly good job, but the technology is desirable.

    ENERGY: A flanged steel wheel rolling on a level, steel rail is TEN TIMES more energy efficient than a rubber tire in overcoming rolling friction. That is a principle of physics that cannot be “engineered” out of the equation.

    LANDUSE: A rail right-of-way has about 7-10 times the capacity of a lane of road. Furthermore, road efficiency in terms of landuse is best at about 30-35 mph. At faster speeds, efficiency (capacity) for SOVs goes down.

    SAFETY: Rail systems can be engineered and maintained to be virtually accident free. Look at Japanese Shinkansen safety record since 1964– and elsewhere.

    COST: Cost of building, maintaining and operating road system is actually MUCH HIGHER than a rail system with equivalent capacity in most corridors.

    1. All true.

      If you want to move a lot of people, you want rail. (Same if you want to move a lot of freight.)

      Roads are really only good for very-low-density, rural transportation. Now, roads are fine for that, you wouldn’t want a rail spur to every farm, but it’s stupid to try to use roads for moving lots and lots of people.

  27. FINALLY you guys noticed our corrupt cluster-**** mega project down here!

    One thing you forgot to mention is the $300-$500 million that will have to be spent to buy out industrial manufacturers upriver of the proposed CRC, because they cannot fit their products underneath the low proposed bridge height. The bridge won’t be able to be raised a significant amount because of Pearson and PDX, either.

  28. I’ve been reading this indeed. It does miss much of the point of the issues. This project is being pushed by two express purposes. Real Estate development, and freight interests. The blank check issued to the project design group is a side issue. Oregon Metro has a rather well enforced urban growth boundary. The City of Vancouver has a paper-only growth boundary. This creates a rather interesting dynamic. Real estate developers have acquired much of the rural land in Clark County (Vancouver’s county), with the intention of building extensive tract housing. Unfortunately, they’re unable to move these projects forward at a profit, due to the limited access to employers in Portland. Vancouver’s economy, is based entirely on residential construction, as there are few to no living wage employers there. There are currently two ways to cross the Columbia River. One is a pair of spans (one each direction) dating to 1953, and one is a megabridge system built in 1976 to 1978. Congestion is a very large issue, during commute times. This project, is being sold as a solution. However, it’s actually going to create unforeseen consequences for both communities. In Vancouver, it will place much of downtown Vancouver in darkness. This is why They’re planning an entirely new downtown, built from scratch to the west of the new bridge site

    This project has created a lot of interesting dynamics. The Libertarian-minded, oppose the project’s Light Rail, and bicycle amenities as well as the required tolling to cover some of the costs but are in favor of a 12 to 22 lane project. The Left-minded, are concerned about the massive increase of induced demand pouring into Portland from Vancouver each day. Everyone’s concerned about the projected costs, which may easily reach 10B when completed.

  29. This is the single best article that I’ve seen or read in all the time that this financial sinkhole has been around. It’s so refreshing to see the project referenced as the ‘CRC mega-highway project’ instead of the innocent-sounding ‘bridge-replacement project’. And, it’s about time that someone began shining some light on where all of the consulting money is disappearing to.

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