Still structurally sound. (wikimedia)

WSDOT, ODOT, and their lead contractor David Evans & Associates (DEA) have waged a deliberate misinformation campaign since 2007 to frame the Columbia River Crossing Mega-Highway Project as imperative. It’s not.

Let’s look at each of the major points. By the end of this series, I hope you’ll agree that the CRC Mega-Highway is a giant mess, a waste of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on almost any other project. Part 1 is here.

1. The CRC Mega-Highway is a 5-mile long freeway expansion project with 7 substantial interchange modifications.

The CRC Mega-Highway expands the existing I-5 freeway from its current 6 lanes to a total of 22 lanes at its widest. The expansion starts in Vancouver, Washington, 2.5 miles north of the Columbia River and extends more than a mile south of Hayden Island and the river into Portland. There are also seven substantial interchange modifications — representing 41 percent of the project costs — in order to make it easier for single-occupancy cars to get from suburban and rural homes onto and off the freeway. And yes, the current I-5 bridges that cross the Columbia River (and once carried streetcars) get demolished and replaced by a lower, bulkier mega-highway.

WSDOT, ODOT, and DEA would have you believe that it’s only a bridge replacement project. They went so far as to rename the project the “I-5 Bridge Replacement Project” in legislation recently passed by the Oregon legislature. As you saw in the contractor-created GIF yesterday: that’s misleading. More after the jump.

2. The CRC Mega-Highway will be expensive.

Since David Evans & Associates (DEA) was awarded the lead contract to plan and advocate for the CRC Mega-Highway, DEA has pushed their initial contract from $20 million to now $105 million.

Meanwhile, DEA estimates that the total cost of the CRC Mega-Highway will be $3.1 to $3.6 billion, with a stated 60-90 percent confidence that those numbers are accurate. $3.6 billion is a lot, enough to fund the SR520, SR167, and SR509 shortfalls in the Puget Sound and fix Metro’s deficit for about four years. Nevertheless, given that DEA is trying to sell this project to the Oregon and Washington legislatures as well as the federal government, and given their history of inflating their own initial contract, it’d be wise to minimize our confidence that the CRC project costs would be anywhere near $3.6 billion.

On the revenue side, tolling is supposed to cover 30-40% of the project costs. But no investment grade analysis of the CRC tolling projections has been completed yet, making these just pie-in-the-sky numbers. If the CRC’s traffic projections never materialize, the projected toll revenues will never materialize. This is happening right now to a private tollway project in California, and a similar problem faces the highway 99 tunnel.

Unrealistic projections are a feature of most megaprojects, and some are worthwhile even when they overrun. But when the I-5 bridges are structurally sound and meet future traffic needs, why spend more than $3 billion on a project that would take money from projects we want?

3. The CRC Mega-Highway diverts money from the projects we want.

These isn’t just a rhetorical question. Just a couple weeks ago, the Oregon legislature actually took money from transit, bike, and pedestrian projects in order to fund their state’s share of bond repayments, and they only have a plan to pay for the first three years of repayment obligations.

The Oregon legislature passed HB2800, moving revenue from their Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to pay for the first three years of repayment obligations. Much of the STIP is dedicated to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure. In addition, as part of a negotiated vote, a liberal urban legislator raided the state’s Federal Flux Funds account, also for pedestrians, bicycles, and transit.The Oregon legislature hasn’t determined how it could fund its repayment obligations past 2016. ODOT has said that unless the legislature approves new revenue, it will continue to take money from the STIP. This sets up a dynamic in three years where only pedestrian, bicycle, and transit advocates are calling for a statewide transportation revenue package and automobile and freight interests are fighting it.

Washington legislators and business & labor interests are now talking about doing something similar through the state transportation budget.

Here in the Puget Sound, that money could solve some or all of the immediate transportation shortfalls we have, and get a start on addressing the next wave. I’m sure that Clark County and other parts of the state have similar lists. Not all of the ideas are ones transit advocates should support, but there is more than enough maintenance and upkeep on this list statewide to keep WSDOT busy for a long time.

4. The I-5 bridges are already built to last.

The I-5 bridges across the Columbia River still have another 50 years of life in them, according to ODOT’s documents. Many other critical bridges would fall in an earthquake or other natural disaster long before the I-5 bridges.

WSDOT rates the I-5 bridges as in “fair” condition, which means that the bridge performs fairly in terms of both structural soundness and mobility. In contrast, thousands of other bridges across Washington State are rated as either “poor” or “functionally obsolete.”

On another rating scale that only considers structural soundness, WSDOT lists 366 bridges as “structurally deficient.”  These are bridges with significant problems that put them at dire risk in the next earthquake, landslide, or other natural disaster. While many of these structurally deficient bridges are major freeways in the Central Puget Sound, the I-5 bridge isn’t on that list.

So before we demolish two good bridges, let’s fix the 366 bridges that will fall down first.

But WSDOT, ODOT, and DEA sound a misleading refrain: the I-5 bridges are old. The age of a bridge may be interesting trivia, but the current age of a bridge has little to nothing to do with how much longer the bridge will stand.

According to the CRC project’s own study, we could retrofit the I-5 bridges to stand the test of time – a whopping 2,500 years – at cost of a mere $193 million.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is 21 years older than the I-5 bridges and is in a more earthquake-prone region. And yet no one is advocating for the demolition and replacement of the Golden Gate Bridge with a 22-lane mega-highway. So why would we?

5. There is, and will be, less traffic/congestion across the I-5 bridges.

Since 2000, traffic across the I-5 bridges has stalled out – with annual traffic increases of only 0.5 to 1.0 percent.  And this isn’t just because the economy has been lackluster. This is now a well-documented regional and national trend of declining traffic that has to do with people’s choices to drive less, live closer to work and valued destinations, shop via the internet, and spend more money on computers and cell phones than car payments, licensing, and gas bills.

So, when the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) shows that the number of trips across the bridges will increase by 33.21% from 2005 to 2035, it’s wrong. As Sightline Institute and others have repeatedly called for, WSDOT and ODOT need to revisit their traffic projections and reassess whether mega-highway expansions like the CRC are actually needed to meet demand. (They aren’t.)

6. The CRC Mega-Highway will increase global warming pollution.

Empirical studies demonstrate that building more capacity results in more traffic. It’s a phenomenon often known as “induced demand,” or perhaps more popularly as “build it and they will come.”

The CRC’s EIS found that with the increased traffic, the bridge will increase global warming pollution by 32% over a 2005 baseline. And that’s even accounting for national fuel efficiency improvements, tolling the bridge, and new light rail, bicycle, and pedestrian options.

So when Governor Inslee, WSDOT, or anyone else claims that the CRC Mega-Highway will reduce global warming, their own study says it’s not true.

7. The CRC Mega-Highway will cause sprawl.

Like the I-90 and SR-520 bridges across Lake Washington, the I-5 bridges across the Columbia River run parallel to the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge to their east. And just as tolling 520 has caused people to divert trips from SR-520 to I-90, tolling only the I-5 bridges will cause some people to drive across the I-205 bridge instead.

This traffic diversion will have a long-term impact on how development occurs in Vancouver and Clark County.

Interstate 5 runs nearly straight from Downtown Vancouver toward downtown Portland. Interstate 205 was built as a freight bypass around Vancouver and Portland in 1982. This new interstate, combined with low urban and high rural densities have facilitated an enormous amount of sprawl in east Clark County.

When the CRC’s EIS looked at the potential of the project to result in sprawl, the study simply stated:

“Vancouver and Clark County follow Washington’s Growth Management Act regulations, and any Urban Growth Area expansions are subject to state oversight.”

I don’t think there could be a more disingenuous statement regarding growth management in Clark County. First off, no state agency approves urban growth area (UGA) expansions. Secondly, it’s not UGAs that control sprawl, it’s the allowed densities inside and outside of the UGA that matter.

Over the last two decades, despite the fact that Clark County’s UGA has more than adequate capacity to meet its growth projections, more development has occurred outside the Clark County urban growth area (UGA) than within it.  And that’s not changing. Clark County’s comprehensive plan continues to project that more growth will happen in the rural area than within its UGA.

What’s going to happen when people who live in Downtown Vancouver are tolled for going to Portland while people who live in East Clark County aren’t?

I think it’s pretty clear. More people will be building and buying houses in East Clark County than Downtown Vancouver. More rural, agricultural, and forest land will be chewed up by cheap subdivisions.

8. There are easy ways to improve traffic here.

There are two low cost fixes that would substantially improve traffic: fixing a different bridge, and variable tolling.

The “S-Curve” problem on the Columbia from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

In order to allow tall ships (or ships with tall equipment) to pass underneath, the I-5 bridges have vertical lift spans that provide 176-feet of clearance. About 600 times each year these lifts are raised, and a few of those times this is done during or near peak traffic hours.

Ninety percent of these lifts could be eliminated simply by creating a different path for boats to pass.

Downriver is a BNSF rail bridge with a swing-span that aligns with the I-5 lift-span. But most boats can pass under the I-5 bridge at a different high point toward the middle of the river. Unfortunately, these boats traveling downstream can have difficulty making an “S-curve” turn in-between the I-5 bridge and the rail bridge in fast moving water.

For approximately $100 million, a lift-span could be added to the rail bridge to allow boats to move in the middle of the river in a straight line, eliminating all but 50 lifts each year.

The second solution is to apply a variable toll to both the I-5 and I-205 bridges.

Besides some traffic diversion to I-90, the variable toll on SR-520 has caused people to choose different times of day to drive across Lake Washington. As a result, total traffic volumes are higher than expected but revenue is lower than anticipated because so many people are choosing lower-cost hours.

SR-520 shows that variable tolling works – we can efficiently manage congestion by making people think about travel as not just as time in a car, but money in the bank.

Variable tolls on both the I-5 and I-205 bridges could smooth peak congestion and keep people and goods moving.

I hope it’s pretty clear: the CRC is a risky waste that crowds out more important things. Based on Part 1 and the lessons from Oregon, the CRC going to be awfully hard to stop. In Part 3, I’ll try to paint a path forward.

64 Replies to “CRC: The Misunderstood Mega-Project, Part 2 of 3”

  1. As to:

    This sets up a dynamic in three years where only pedestrian, bicycle, and transit advocates are calling for a statewide transportation revenue package and automobile and freight interests are fighting it.

    We’re screwed every which way from Sunday at that rate. The latter of which has a ton of dough and has a lot of knee-jerk anti-tax voters. The former is sadly more progressive than bipartisan.

    The CRC must go.

  2. There are so many reasons to oppose this mess. Environmental, fiscal. etc, thank you for laying the facts out like this. The freeway expansion will only save commenters one minute in commuting time and tolls will cost Vancouver commuters, on average, $1,000 a year. Building bigger highways is backward thinking. This boondoggle just makes no sense, until you look a little more closely to see who is making money from the thing. The power behind the CRC boondoggle is frightening.

    1. As an Oregonian, I completely agree. It is frightening.

      Even more frightening is that I voted for Kitzhaber, who was previously vehemently against the CRC. Talk about a nasty surprise this year.

  3. Great summary of the SNAFU that is the Columbia River Crossing.

    You left out one of my favorite parts of the project. The flow of traffic across the Columbia River is overwhelmingly Washington residents commuting to and from jobs in Oregon in single occupancy vehicles. In order to induce them to use the project’s light rail stub, CRC proposes to build 3 giant parking structures in downtown Vancouver, with 3,000 parking spaces, at a cost of more than $150 million. And the plan is to have the garages be free to use. (That’s $50,000 a space).

    It’s difficult to say what’s the worst feature of this plan. That the only way to get Clark County residents to use transit is to build them parking spaces that cost about double the value of the typical car they drive, or that the City of Vancouver’s ambition for its downtown is to be an all-day subsidized car storage area for suburban commuters headed to jobs in another state.

    1. They’d need to charge ~$12/day to park there just to pay off the construction bonds for the garage. I’m betting the rate will be somewhat less than that; ~$12 less in fact.

    2. Two Eastgate Park & Ride sized parking structures, along with associated traffic impacts, will definitely not help Vancouver’s flickering downtown… One need look no further than Tacoma for what a “free” parking project like this will look like. (That said, you need to add almost 2 Mercer Island Park & Rides to Tacoma to get to 3,000 stalls).

  4. That’s a great point PDX_Citizen. Also not discussed is how the CRC is pushed as a jobs project, but the EIS says the CRC will create only 1,700 jobs related to construction, wgich is 20 times less than the national average for highway construction projects.

    1. It will only create 1,700 temporary construction jobs and will kill over 900 permanent jobs on Hayden Island. Not to mention the jobs lost at the businesses that will have to shut down on the WA side since the bridge part of the project won’t be tall enough for it to ship it’s products.

  5. So where does this particular point of view leave Clark county in their quest (or lack thereof?) for a TriMet connection? Is there an alternate solution?

    Is it just this incarnation of this project that is particularly heinous? Is a more modest expansion appropriate? Is this a case of a solution created to fix a non-existent problem?

    Can the bridge be tolled now a-la-520 to raise revenue for the wonderful projects that have had their funding diverted?

    Are there official avenues available to stop or modify the project on either side of the state line? Referenda, initiatives, legislative or executive orders, etc.

    1. That’s easy! The Feds have funded the light rail and it’s on a separate bridge. We could just build it.

      1. The Feds have funded LR on the CRC, they have not agreed to fund LR on a separate bridge.

        Lets stick to the facts.

      2. That was what I had last heard, that the rail build-out was part of this bridge. I’m all for a separate bridge, but I can’t necessarily argue with the tough reality that if this monster is built, then light rail needs to be part of it.

      3. @Lazarus: Various renderings have shown light rail both on the new highway bridge and on it’s own separate path. FTA has not agreed to anything, but WSDOT/ODOT/DEA expect that they can get $850 million in New Starts grants, and the cost of the light rail bridge is roughtly $850-920 million.

      4. Ben,

        Unless and until Portland/Tri-Met/Oregon are committed to building a tunnel under the Willamette for the east/west line (and preferably all the way through downtown Portland), the Steel Bridge will be a severe bottleneck to having LRT to Vancouver be successful. It simply won’t have the capacity to carry anywhere enough people to make it worthwhile to spend nearly a Billion dollars.

        It might make downtown Vancouver a nice place to live, but it’s a lot of money that could be better used improving transit in Seattle and Portland where it will be used.

      5. Anandakos,

        Now that really made me laugh. What you are saying in effect is that LR to Vancouver will be so successful that it will cause capacity problems elsewhere in the system and therefore won’t be successful at all! Ah, what a great problem to have!

        Na, your logic is totally flawed. While having 4 lines cross the Steel Bridge is definitely a flaw in the Max system, it is hardly reason not to extend LR to Vancouver. And roughly half the system is on the east side of the Steel Bridge anyhow – are you saying that all Vancouverites want to do is to go to downtown Portland? I hardly doubt that is a true statement.

        Na, build LR to Vancouver and build it now – Vancouver sorely needs it and it certainly will improve the city.

      6. Lazarus,

        I didn’t say that the Yellow Line would be so successful it would clog the Steel Bridge. I said “the Steel Bridge is almost clogged now, and by the time the CRC is completed it will be very close to clogged, so the Yellow Line will get at most three more tph in the peaks, which is only 1200 pph in the peak direction (assuming 200 people per LR vehicle)”.

        I said it in more words before so it wasn’t a run-on sentence like this one above. I also said “The development along Interstate Avenue is going to take one of those trains. There are three new “carless” buildings recently finished, and there’s no place to work along Interstate Avenue. So one of those three trains is going to be needed just for them. Net of two new trains per hour for Vancouver riders.” Or roughly that.

        What cannot be denied is that eight hundred people in the peak hour peak direction is a long way from the standards for light rail development, even in flat greenfield areas where it’s cheap. Add in crossing a BIG river and it’s just silly.

        Now if Portland re-routes the east-west line off the Steel then it might make some sense, assuming downtown Vancouver gentrifies.

        And to main point about me thinking Vancouver people only wanting to go to downtown Portland, that’s silly too. I know that Vantuckians go to other destinations in Oregon. But they drive, because, except for three buses to the Lloyd District and two to OHSU, there is not other transit service. One has to transfer to Max.

        Now I did that for three years in my most recent contract at Nike — not every day, but three or four days out of five. It’s really not that much longer to ride the C-Tran 199 express from Salmon Creek to downtown Portland and jump on the Max. It took 40 to 70 minutes to drive in the morning, depending on congestion and the bus/train would take 60 to 90. Most of the delays were in North Portland, but sometimes the Sunset or I-405 would be a mess also.

        But coming home in the evening if I was being cheap was totally different, and somewhat more like the experience of LRT to downtown Vancouver. If I used an Express ticket it would typically be a bit longer than the morning, but if I was too late for the expresses I’d have to take the Blue to the Yellow to the C-Tran 4 to the C-Tran 37 and it would take a minimum of two hours. Since 4 normally waits for the Max, the biggest time loss in that transfer is the loop through Jantzen Beach. The 44 takes about 8 minutes from Delta Park to downtown Vancouver; the 4 takes 14 to 20 minutes, depending on the on-ramp line-ups.

        If the Max went to Vancouver that would remove the need for the 4, so take out fifteen minutes. You’re still left with an hour and forty five minutes to get to 99th Street TC from West Beaverton, and it isn’t going to get any better than that without a tunnel through downtown Portland. And even then it will improve maybe twelve minutes.

        Unless you force C-Tran to abandon the express buses, Max will never carry many more than the people who walk to board or take a close in local bus to downtown Vancouver. The garages are going to be mostly empty. Maybe the one for SR 14 folks will be better used, because they have to take two vehicles from the 164th St P&R: the shuttle to the Max and then the Red Line.

        But all this is a lot of gamble that people will make a significant shift in their habits.

      7. Ananda, it sounds like we should build a bypass of the yellow line later to get people from Vancouver to Portland faster!

    2. Since I-5 is an Interstate Highway, unless Congress modifies the public law, it cannot be tolled simply for capacity management. It can only be tolled in order to add new capacity or replace an outdated bridge, both of which the proposed bridge does.

      So the new bridge can be tolled; the existing ones cannot.

      And neither, probably, can I-90. If Washington implements it, someone on Mercer Island (perhaps the city) will sue and win.

      1. The new CRC can certainly be tolled, and Federal law is unclear about whether or not the parallel I-205 bridge can then subsequently be tolled. One thing is clear however, both bridges should be tolled (just like I-90 and SR-520 should both be tolled).

        It’s the wave of the future — “free” freeways are dead.

      2. Not true. The Feds OK’d tolls on the I-90 floating bridge specifically for TDM under the federal Value Pricing Pilot Program.

      3. Of course the new CRC can be tolled: the law permits tolls for additional lanes or replacement facilities. You advocated demand management tolling on the existing bridges — both of which are Interstate facilities — with no additional capacity. That is illegal. Period.

        Bernie says that WSDOT has a waiver for I-90 based on some Federal pilot program. I’m sure he’s correct, so I guess the Mercer Islanders are stuck with tolls. But that’s a pilot program and Oregon isn’t currently in the list of states with a “slot”. Since Oregon owns the Glenn Jackson, it will have to grab that last remaining opportunity to participate.

        Assuming that I-90 has the OK with the Feds (Washington got in the program for the SR 167 HOT lanes), it will be the very first project which does not add some capacity. So with Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan in the bean counter chairs in Washington, don’t look for the FHWA to be approving “socialist tax increases” on the long-suffering Amurrican taxpayer.

      4. Under the Value Pricing Pilot Program each state can have multiple projects. Washington’s “slot” was for authority to toll I-90 and I-5 in Seattle. Specifically I believe it was for the I-5 Express lanes. I didn’t realize that it also came with “free money” from our rich Uncle Sam. I don’t know if WA could ask to expand it’s scope to the CRC or if OR would have a chance at grapping their own piece of the US Mint pie. There’s certainly no law against asking for TDM tolling outside of the pilot program; there’s just no pot of money appropriated to help implement it.

        Since Oregon owns the Glenn Jackson

        So who “owns” the I-5 bridges? Is it shared ownership between ODOT and WSDOT?

      5. Bernie,

        Yes, there is a Federal law against adding tolls to existing Interstate facilities unless capacity is added or a facility is completely replaced with the same capacity.

        The new CRC is replacing an existing facility and adding an HOV lane in each direction (plus scads of slip ramps and whatnot), so it qualifies on both accounts.

        However, there is no intent to add capacity to the Glenn Jackson, so it can’t be tolled.

        I’m not certain you noticed that one of the criteria for “pilot” tolling projects is that there be no high-volume free alternative route. I think that’s the provision by which I-90 is to be a “pilot” program. The only alternative is also tolled.

        See this link:

        Here’s a relevant quotation, in case the link doesn’t work:

        Current law only allows states to toll new lanes on interstates….The argument against interstate tolling is best summed up by former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., who told a colleague in 2007, “They’re taking existing capacity, built with federal highway trust funds, and charging you twice for it by putting a toll on it.”

      6. Anandakos,

        As we know there are Federal laws against marijuana sale. WA and CO passed initiatives in conflict with federal law and it appears the feds are going to bow to states rights in this case. The Value Pricing Program gives wiggle room to the FHWA to do what they please. Lord knows the EPA has a record of doing what it, or it’s current administrative lackeys want it to do. The authority granted to WA, to me anyway, clearly makes a mockery of the VPP as stated. Our legislature has made it abundantly clear with the appropriate wink and nod that tolling I-90 is all about raising money to fund 520 and has little to nothing to do with traffic management which is easily achieved by just raising or lowering the toll at any time of day on 520. I don’t think tolling 205 has any bearing. Stated goals of the VPP are to increase transit use and TDM can be simply shifting trips to off peak hours. Both have happened with 520 tolls.

        I’ve learned much from this discussion. I may be totally wrong in my views but I am at least much better informed.

      7. Anandakos, this is really concern trolling. Tolling for demand management is something the feds are open to.

      8. Anandakos: I’m pretty sure seismic improvement of the bridge would qualify for tolling. This is not mere maintenance; it is new build.

    3. Many Portlanders are for simply closing the existing bridge and allowing Vancouver residents to swim across to their jobs. ;)

  6. This was posted on the part 1 article by Bernie:

    Northbound bridge:

    Southbound bridge:

    Seismic deficiency is only one consideration when dealing with bridges. Both bridges are rated below what the I-35W Mississippi River bridge was when it fell. The southbound bridge may have another 50 years in it if we’re lucky and throw tons of money at it, but the northbound is going to fail, and it’s a matter of how soon.

    Again, I am not for the CRC in it’s current, behemoth form, but I do believe the I-5 bridge needs to be replaced and soon to prevent loss of life and a major hit to our economy.

    1. Fair point regarding the Minneapolis bridge, but Washington State has 366 structurally deficient bridges and the I-5 Columbia bridges aren’t on that list, plus it’s in better shape than literally thousands of other bridges across the state. And almost all of Portland’s Willamette bridges are rated worse than the I-5 bridges for seismic vulnerability.

      With so many of these more vulnerable bridges in economically important areas, why replace the I-5 bridges first? ODOT says that the I-5 bridges have another 55 years of life in them, so time’s on our side to fix higher priority bridges first.

    2. If we throw tons of money at it? That’s a laughable statement, in the context of this discussion. ODOT’s own documents state that these bridges can be seismically retrofitted for under $200 million. They’ve already spent $150 million on planning for the CRC. $200 million is peanuts compared to the total CRC project budget.

      1. An earthquake isn’t what’s going to cause the bridge to collapse, the issue is “bridge foundations determined to be unstable.” Scour is the leading cause of bridge failure, not earthquakes. WSDOT didn’t bother to check the foundations until the 2010 inspection! The CRC isn’t on the WSDOT vulnerable bridges list because they consider Clark County as seismic zone B(pg 3) and at lower risk than the Puget Sound. UBC maps disagree placing all of western Washington in zone 3. The FEMA maps are more detailed with the central Sound being D2 and the CRC being in zone D1.

      2. I guess I can’t stop myself from getting pedantic about the seismic design values.

        The seismic design categories from the outdated UBC and the current FEMA maps are specifically for buildings, not bridges. There’s also no direct comparison between “B” “3” and “D” in those differing systems.

    3. Thanks for the links to the uglybridge website — information that I didn’t know existed. Looking at the difference between the 2000 and 2010 inspections, I have to wonder whether any political considerations affected the 2010 ratings. The difference is incredible — by which I mean, “possibly not credible.” How does a bridge go from a sufficiency rating of 60.4 to 18.3 in a decade, and go from “let’s add more lanes to the existing structure” to “we should demolish it”?

      1. From the 2000 inspection, “Bridge over “tidal” waters that has not been evaluated for scour, but considered low risk.” From the 2010 inspection, “Scour condition: Bridge is scour critical; bridge foundations determined to be unstable.” Oops, someone made a really bad guess! FWIW, SR-520 went from 41 to 9 in that same time period.

    4. Also note that designing for a ground acceleration that has an (average) return period of 2500 years is not the same as saying the bridge will stand for 2500 years.

      The 2500-year event has about a 2% chance of happening in the next 50 years, and the design criteria are there to limit the probability of collapse over that interval.

    5. It would be worth noting that the I-35W bridge in Mpls was rated structurally deficient, meaning that either the deck, superstructure or substructure were rated poor. That’s not the case for CRC. Also, the I-35W bridge was fracture-critical, which the I-5 bridge is also not.

      To say that these bridges are the same or even similar is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

  7. “…get demolished and replaced by a lower, bulkier mega-highway.”

    That’s the funny thing about it. The CRC as designed would actually be both higher and shorter at the same time: it is higher than the highest fixed point on the I-5 bridge (meaning more of a hill for people biking or walking), and yet it is much shorter than the I-5 bridge when in the lift-open position (by 62ft) so it would block more river traffic.

    The other thing that should be noted: the downtown Vancouver – Portland transit time would increase by about 20 minutes (express bus vs. non-express light rail). I take public transit all the time and think that if we’re spending nearly $1B on the transit part, we should make it better *in every way* than the existing transit, and that includes transit time.

    1. Peter, I think you mean “lower” not “shorter”. In reference to a bridge, “long” and “short” refer to its lineal length (e.g. the distance landing to landing). “Higher” and “Lower” refer the height above water or ground of the span and/or supports.

    2. Wait, you mean the express buses that mostly run southbound in the AM and northbound in the PM?

      Their system has very, very low ridership. In fact, the entire C-TRAN system has the same ridership that is expected of the MAX Vancouver extension! That says a lot.

  8. Probably the main part they are playing the most is the grade separation so that all boats can pass under the bridge. Given a $193 million retrofit will keep the bridge running and I-205 down to the South. I think other investments would fix the problem better.

    1) At $3.6 billion, that would be enough to fund a Seattle-Portland HSR line wouldn’t it? No more need for expanding I-5? Plus change leftover for some retrofitting work and repairing other bridges?
    2) Why not build a 10 lane and a 4 lane bridge? A 4 lane for Hayden Island with direct ramps from I-5 would probably solve the merging issues by giving them a dedicated bridge from the Portland side.
    3) Would we really want to extend SR 509 to I-5? That is just going to create more traffic jams at that choke point already. Federal Way-Tacoma on a Thursday night is already congested. Extending SR 167 to I-5 will have the same effect. Improving the PNWRC for HSR and faster Sounder service would be a higher priority IMO.

    1. $3.6 billion, that would be enough to fund a Seattle-Portland HSR line wouldn’t it?

      Not even close. Link from Seattle to Overlake is costing $3 billion. Figure between $9 to $16 billion SEA to PDX for 140mph rail like CA was dreaming about. But nobody would be willing to pay the ticket price that you’d have to charge (way more than air fare) just to save 90 minutes. For a fraction of that amount you could get to 110mph though.

      1. 110 the top speed in the Cascades planning docs. 110 MPH corridors offer much better ROI than faster corridors. Though Northern to Southern California is one of the best corridors in the country (Other than the NEC) for 140mph+ rail.

      2. Bernie, CA is building 220mph rail, not 140. And why would you say “dreaming” when construction on the first segment starts in a couple of months?

        And yes, 110mph is feasible in a few places with $3.6 billion. You’d take half an hour off SEA-PDX. It’d be below 3h with that much more investment.

    2. “Probably the main part they are playing the most is the grade separation so that all boats can pass under the bridge. ”

      Horrifyingly, the current worthless CRC plans propose to build a bridge that is lower than the Coast Guard requires.

      Worthless, utterly worthless. I wouldn’t hire David Evans & Associates to dig a ditch.

    3. FYI, the Jantzen Beach mall is worth about $50 million. Why are we spending $3.6 billion to improve an I-5 freeway connection to the island?

      Answer: so Clark County residents can have a convenient place to do their duty-free shopping. Remember, Oregon has no sales tax!

  9. It’s interesting to read Seattle perspectives on a Portland area project, however, you left one error in that I caught. The existing spans are not 21 years younger than the Golden Gate Bridge. One complete span, the SB one, dates to 1958, as does some of the NB bridge’s approaches and hump. The main lift span on the NB side, however, dates to 1917, 20 years *older* than the Golden Gate.

  10. Ben,

    Your article is EXTREMELY misleading. For one, Oregon owns the border bridges. Please refer to the June 2012 WSDOT Gray Noteboot (see page 12).

    In the past, WSDOT usually constructs the bridge and ODOT gets ownership of the bridge. WSDOT in some cases ends up, with some funding from ODOT, establishing contracts to repair bridge decks (Biggs Bridgs on US 97), steel bridge painting (to avoid oxidation…SR 433 Longview to St Helens), yet regular maintenance is performed generally by ODOT.

    But let me address your Misunderstood “Misunderstandings:”

    1) Where are you getting the 22 lanes? I don’t recall ever seeing a design or channelization plan of the project consisting of 22 lanes across.
    CRC Bridge Proposal 2013
    Are you counting lanes on frontage roads on Jantzen Beach that function as a circulator? The original plan, years ago had 16 lanes (total) crossing the bridge, most of the lanes were auxiliary lanes that would drop at interchanges near the bridge. These interchanges wouldn’t promote sprawl. If anything. These interchanges were in need of improvements. Many have short ramp acceleration and deceleration length. Sprawl promotion is the new SR 502 interchange, the improvements of the SR 501 interchange in Ridgefield. THAT’s promoting sprawl.

    2) As I tell people in the Seattle area, you are a fool to think that Sprawl doesn’t already occur with the existing growth management practices in both Oregon and Washington with regards to the Portland-Vancouver Metro. People commute from Woodland, Kalama, Washougal, Camas, Battle Ground, and even Longview-Kelso to PDX for work. Why? The same reason why folks commute from Stanwood to Seattle. …the “cost of living.” (My idea of “cost of living” means I don’t want to “live” in my car.)

    3) Funding… Of course it is “pie in the sky.” It’s called design-build. There is a risk associated with the work because there are unknowns with the project.

    4) With regards to “functionally obsolete” to “structurally deficient.” As I stated earlier, the border bridges are excluded from the Bridge Report. They are owned by the State of Oregon. Please state from where in WSDOT you obtained your information with regards to these bridges not being “structurally deficient.”

    The Ship Canal Bridge and most bridges on the urban freeways are functionally obsolete. Your article is once again misleading readers into thinking that all functionally obsolete bridges are also structurally deficient. “Structurally deficient” bridge reports are posted by WSDOT. While the list posted is dated from late 2011, I’d expect that the trunnions on the I-5 bridges are showing signs of wear. In fact, the Columbian posted an article stating that they are 54 years old.

    Columbian Article

    “Structurally Deficient” bridges include the Viaduct and SR 520! …the Magnolia Bridge is another that comes to mind.

    5) Finally, the bridge clearance debacle. What I have yet to hear anyone bring up is the close proximity of the bridge to Pearson Field. Because Pearson Field is a historical airport, and FAA has maximum height requirements of construction near airports, the structure can only be a certain height. This has put the engineers on the bridge between a rock and a hard place.

    While I understand many of you don’t want to have a new freeway bridge, the fact is this. The bridge sits on timber piles. The bridge supports, aren’t very deep and scour from the Columbia River are likely to cause failure should river sediments shift in an earthquake. While I understand the determination from many of y’all on here to slam David Evans and Assoc, the governments of both WA and OR, Traffic Engineers, Traffic Planners, etc, the problem is, the bridges need replacement, I think many of y’all need to support the bridge replacement and push for the support of transit crossing the bridge. The current bridge design has 10 lanes….not 22 as claimed in the article.
    CRC Bridge Proposal 2013

    1. 1) If circulators are needed because the bridge induces so much traffic, yeah, that counts as part of the project.

      2) Sprawl is induced by freeways. That’s not exactly news. Fewer freeways mean less sprawl. Don’t try to turn it into an absolute “sprawl or no sprawl”, that’s disingenuous.

      3) Again, “risk or no risk” is disingenuous. There’s much more risk than we should take on with the funding sources available.

      4) That’s interesting. Are they on Oregon’s list of structurally deficient bridges? Portland’s bridges, as I understand it, mostly rate lower than this one.

      5) That doesn’t make sense. They screwed up. They’re going back and redoing it. That’s a problem.

      1. No, they are not structurally deficient, according to Oregon’s Bridge Condition Report.

        And for those citing the CRC itself as a source of information:

        It feels as if the CRC backers are asking: Would it be good to have something new here?

        But the real question should be: Given our limited resources, is this mega-project the best way to invest them? And the answer to that question is clearly no.

      2. 1 & part of 2) Ben, your rationalization of those lanes DOES NOT PASS THE SMELL TEST! A circular is needed on the island currently because of the geography of the island! The bridge itself will have 10 lanes (5 northbound/ 5 southbound.) One of the northbound auxiliary lanes comes on at Jantzen and drops at SR 14 in Washington and the other drops at SR 500. Southbound, the auxiliary lanes drop at Jantzen and Marine (if I recall from plans) Three lanes will match the recently added southbound lane added from Marine drive southward. How this promotes sprawl…

        2 continued) Sprawl has already occurred here, but it’s induced by demand. Social engineering is not and SHALL NOT be the roll of government and forcing it can create sprawl as well. For example, you cannot move mainline freight from ports directly to a grocery store loading bay. In some cases, you can get them darn close to a distribution center, but even then, you need FREEWAYS to disseminate those goods. Forcing semis to use city streets will increase pollution with stop and go traffic from signalized intersections. Why do you think companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook reside outside of CBDs? They can easily expand without the costs of expensive real estate. Overtime, the locales, where they reside, become overvalued.

        3) So what funding sources do you suggest we use? Increasing any taxes (car tabs or sales tax) in Clark County will do little as residents will find ways to sidestep the new taxes, as they did in years past. Remember, residents easily registered cars in Oregon. Plus, living so close to Oregon, and with big retail off of I-205 and at Jantzen Beach, Clark County residents can simply bypass the sales tax increase. A property tax will push residents or prospective residents further north into Southern Cowlitz County. …wait…didn’t you just say freeways only cause sprawl? This is a by-product.

        Agencies have done a very poor job of relaying the differences between conventional design-bid-build and design-build projects.

        4) WRONG AGAIN, BEN 2012 Oregon Bridge Report!
        Look on the bottom of page 37, the interstate bridge (NB), built in 1916, received a sufficiency rating of 18.5. It received the rating because of vertical clearance and low service life according to ODOT who performed the inspection. The lowest bridge in Portland received a 40.9.
        2012 Portland Bridge Report!

        5) The FAA regulations with Pearson Field (and PDX to some extent) and the Vertical Clearance over the Columbia have always been a Tug-O-War. It doesn’t remedy the fact that the bridges need to be replaced. However, you’re not willing to accept the fact that just like the AWV deep bore tunnel that was selected on the fly, a change in design direction can be made. They went back to the drawing board for the deep bore tunnel. Originally, it was replace like-in-kind or cut-and-cover!

      3. Charlotte:
        (1) You are making the assumption that Hayden Island needs an Interstate exit. It does not.

        It would be a lot cheaper to build a bridge from Hayden Island to the mainland than to build the umpty-gazillion lanes proposed to give Hayden Island its own Interstate exit.

        It would also make traffic along I-5 faster.

    2. The majority of the people of Vancouver/Clark County do not want this I-5 Bridge Replacement Project. The People of Vancouver/Clark County have voted that they do not want the financially challenged Oregon entity – TriMet with their MAX Light Rail. Low income families cannot afford $2,000 to $4,000 in annualized tolls. These 45,000 Low Income commuters might well just have to pack up and leave SW Washington and move to Oregon. This will kill Vancouver/Clark County businesses, governments, schools, families and create devastating levels of contraction.

      If there were accumulative benefits of greater value, where the CRC solved or eliminated congestion and the cost benefit analysis could stand up to investment grade review, which it cannot there might be reason to continue.

    3. Your “#1” is incorrect; they dropped the underslung 2-deck design long ago because it cleared the river by only 95 feet. Now its just a wide ribbon of concrete, with a possible separate bridge for the MAX (you can find conflicting drawings of it on the CRC website).

  11. This whole project sounds like a repeat of the Roads and Transit vote that failed back a few years ago in WA State. Hard core transit and no build supporters don’t like it because of the expansion of lanes even though it also expands transit at the same time. One more house built in Battle Ground will be evidence of induced demand and sprawl and be the end of civilization as we know it.

    Hard core anti transit and anti tax folks don’t like it because light rail is included in the package and there will be tolls to pay for it, oh the horrors.(sarcasm)

    As per usual , what needs to be done lies somewhere in the middle of these two perspectives.

    At least we have a civil debate on this website unlike so many others.:)

  12. Many people in the Puget Sound areas just cannot appreciate how trapped we are dealing with the I-5 corridor. The problem is not the I-5 bridges, it is the totality of the I-5 Corridor. It is broken beyond the ability to fund solutions that might fix it. In 1998 the Washington Legislative Transportation Committees and Oregon’s House Transportation Committee met and agreed that solution was the development of a new corridor. Basically everyone knew where it should go. The Port of Portland made a presentation to the Oregon Metro Regional Transportation Planning Group as we prepared the 2020 TSP telling us that we needed this Port of Portland connection to the River Gate Port area with the Vancouver Port Area. This would be where the BNSF Rail Road Bridge is. This 1908 swing RR Bridge has only two tracks across it and this bridge represents the most significant Rail Transit Choke maybe in all of America. I just needs to be replaced for so many reasons needing to be a BLOG effort in its self. But key is that in replacing it we have the exact place to put a Multi-Mode Bridge and corridor into Portland. Just follow the main RR Tracks and we have this perfect multi-mode corridor that is critically needed. With that 3rd Bridge and corridor, the I-5 Bridge no-long is a problem. Incremental fixes happen, and we do not break the bank.

    1. The corrupt people who proposed the “Columbia River Crossing” refused to even talk about repairing or replacing the BNSF Rail bridge.

      It is, as you say, the most significant rail choke point in the Pacific Northwest.

      (There are some worse ones in Chicago and the Southeast FWIW.)

      I emailed the CRC people specifically, several years back, to say that their analyses were fatally flawed because they failed to consider alterations to the BNSF Rail bridge.

      The response? “That’s out of scope”.

      In other words, “Yes, altering the BNSF rail bridge is the right thing to do, but we don’t want to do it, and we’re corrupt, so we’re ignoring it and pretending it’s not an option.”

      That made it clear that the CRC project is run by corrupt people who belong in prison, rather than receiving government funds.

  13. Thank you for an excellent piece. It shines light on the dark truth that these mega projects are all wastes. If any of my fellow Republicans were truly conservative, we would call bullshit on this road orgy the state is going on and instead focus on rail and other investments that make business sense.

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