Jeff Manning, The Oregonian:

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Friday it is closing the I-5 bridge project’s offices, issuing cease-work orders to its many contractors and shutting the project down entirely by May 31.

The end comes after more than a decade of work and nearly $190 million worth of planning, engineering, financial and traffic forecasting and other work.

The writing’s been on the wall for a while, but after our Gov. Inslee, to his credit, failed to back it, its days were truly numbered.  If you want to know why the CRC was such a terrible idea, read our coverage in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  If you don’t have time, skip to part 3, which includes some sensible suggestions for what to do now, including tolling the existing bridge, building light rail with federal money, and building a new rail bridge to eliminate 90% of the current drawbridge openings.

I’ve been trying to decide if anything connects the other highway megaprojects in Washington State, like the 520 bridge replacement and the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  Journalists are trained to look for patterns of three, after all.  What I’ve decided is that the connective tissue is complexity.  In an effort to mollify an ever-growing list of stakeholders, planners keep adding features – lanes, off-ramps, lids, walls – until the project gets too expensive and collapses (metaphorically speaking) like a Christmas tree with too many ornaments.

When you’re faced with a wicked problem like a megaproject, you can either keep growing the scope, or you can cut back, simplify, and take it in pieces.  For whatever reason, our political system typically creates a one-way ratchet.  Projects only ever get bigger.  As they drag on, more stakeholders are heard from, or needs change, and so they get even bigger.  Sometimes the resulting monstrosity gets greenlit anyway, like the Big Dig, or Alaskan Way Tunnel, and sometimes they get so big they just get cancelled, like the CRC.

Usually, though, the right answer is to scale back and do something simpler.  That was the right answer for replacing the Viaduct, and it’s the right answer for the Columbia River.

In that respect, Sound Transit’s fixed budget has been a blessing.  The agency is forced to live within a forecasted sales tax budget, so the board and staff are constantly making trade-offs. Take a chance on First Hill or go straight to Husky Stadium? Want to tunnel under Bellevue? It’ll cost you. Global economic recession? Make do with less.  We may or may not agree with these individual decisions, but they’ve kept the project moving forward for nearly 20 years, continually showing successes along the way.

63 Replies to “The Columbia River Crossing is Dead”

  1. It would be fantastic if a robust, high-speed light rail crossing could rise instead. But I recall that Clark County voters rejected the idea of light rail. Do you think they can be convinced?

    1. No, they cannot be convinced. The people in Vancouver city are amenable, but they’re outvoted by the folks outside the city now. And given the development pattern that has been adopted, the balance will only get more right-wing.

      1. They can be?

        That must be why 71 out of 76 of the Vancouver precincts voted “no” on light 4rail last November.

        Mystery solved.

      2. By what margins? If only a few precincts vote for it big and all others vote it down closely… So the totals are really what matter with the votes.

      3. Klingon is crowing about a voter self-pleasuring event known as the “advisory vote” in which the choice was advertised to be the CRC with MAX and Tolls or a big shiny new FREE bridge for cars only. Now what do you think people will vote for when there are no “consequences”?

        Why free stuff, of course.

    2. As someone who lived in Clark County in the past, I have a hard time seeing how light rail could be effective there. While they are attempting to make downtown more dense, it’s not exactly a burgeoning area at the moment. For the vast majority of commuters and residents it wouldn’t add much value. In terms of drawing from a wider area, it’s simply too slow to be a viable alternative to driving or express buses. Clark County commuters aren’t going to want to drive to a P&R, and then take a slow trolley down MLK that stops every couple blocks. It simply doesn’t add anything that the existing express bus network doesn’t offer.

      I support the toll bridge and would support HOV 3+ 24/7 lanes for buses. I just can’t see a viable case for Clark County light rail any time soon. It would be like adding a line from Kent to Puyallup.

      The problem with the project is it unites the “Anti-XXXXX” crowd from many facets. Drivers don’t want to pay tolls. Repubs don’t want to pay for light rail. People who want to rebuild downtown don’t want a huge increase in the scale of the freeway. Not an easy answer or solution. I would vote for a scaled down bridge with protected HOV/HOT lanes and a significant improvement in the BRT service along the corridor.

      1. Completely agree.
        As a public transportation mass transit advocate, this doesn’t solve any problems that exist between Clark County and the Portland metro area. If you go into a room full of Clark County residents and say “NEW BRIDGE!” will you vote for it, guarantee you’ll get a huge majority saying yes. Then of course the details will emerge and as they say the devil is in the details, every individual has their own idea of what NEW BRIDGE means and it’s nothing like what the Czars of Portland dream it to be.
        First off there is absolutely No reason to demolish a perfectly good bridge (read what the ODOT and WADOT State Engineers have to say about the Bridge). If Portland was to demolish a bridge every time it wished to build an upgraded bridge across the Williamette where would Portland be today….. a one bridge city… Are we that crazy that there is not enough room to build another Bridge on the Columbia, or better still a tunnel!
        Anyone who lives in the area realizes that just adding a surface street bridge between Hayden Island and Marine drive would reduce traffic on I-5 greatly, most of the traffic is local and has no wish to be on I-5 as it travels between Hayden Island and Portland. The MAX line between Vancouver and Portland is a joke… A journey time of 80 minutes!! In 1917 the Amtrak commuter train between Vancouver and Union station Portland was 10 minutes! the Commuter bus is 15 minutes. The commuter bus literally goes faster than the MAX is capable of travelling. If you really want people to use mass transit you make it efficient, go check out any successful mass transit system in the WORLD, travel times are an improvement on the time it takes to travel the same journey in a car. You don’t make a successful system by removing bus lines that compete with the MAX forcing people that can’t choose to have to ride it, you just create a third rate system, that the people you want to ride the system avoid. So yes to a third and fourth bridge across the Columbia, both of which are not freeway bridges, take some of the local traffic off of the freeway. Bridges that are not freeway bridges that would be pleasant to cycle and walk across. If you really want to fly the flag of rail based mass transit, add it to the existing Amtrak rail corridor between Union Station, Vancouver and Ridgefield. A dedicated high speed commuter rail separated from the slow freight lines. Maybe even move into the future and follow the lead of other major world class cities and make it driver-less.

      2. 80 minutes? where did that come from. try 45 mins. current yellow line route is 34 and 5 new stations would only add 10 minutes.

      3. Dave,

        Dude, you do not have your dates or times correct. First, there was no Amtrak in 1917. There were “pool” trains operated by NP (the track owner), GN (a tenant all the way to Portland), and UP (a tenant to the junction just south of the bridge). And they were not scheduled to take ten minutes. In those days the NP bridge across the Willamette was a pile trestle with a swing span similar to the current Columbia rail bridge, but less sturdy. Trains didn’t cross it like the Cascades cross the lift span today. Anything taking the UP route has to navigate the 9 or 10 degree curve to the north at the east end of the Steel Bridge and then creep across the Steel. Minimum passage time 30 minutes Vancouver to Portland via the UP.

        MAX to downtown Portland would be slower than the express buses running in non-peak traffic, for sure. But it will not be eighty minutes. It is currently exactly 30 minutes from the Expo Center to Pioneer Courthouse Square. There were to have been two new stations between the “main” downtown Vancouver platform and Expo Center at Hayden Island the Fourth Street in Vancouver and one and a half miles of track. That would have taken about six minutes travel time. So, 36 minutes downtown to downtown; that’s poor off-peak but looking better and better at the peak since Oregon will not be gashing through North Portland to widen I-5 anytime this century, if ever. Right now the 105 is not quite as fast as you claim in the off-peak; it’s scheduled at 20 minutes from Ninth and Washington to the Fifth and Alder stop — closest to PCS — on the late AM runs. But C-Tran has bowed to the inevitable and lately admitted that it can’t make that in the morning peak. It’s officially now 26 minutes and of course it doesn’t make it on time all the time.

        So the difference downtown to downtown is much less than you claim.

        Just to be clear, the only express line that would have been eliminated was the 105 from between the two downtowns. The direct runs to and from the 99th Street TC and Salmon Creek Park’n’Ride would have continued. The garages were designed for people who work along the Interstate Corridor in north Portland (mostly Swan Island but also around Albina/Mississippi and the Rose Quarter). Personally I don’t see much of a market for that, but the planners did.

        And then you go completely bonkers by suggesting commuter heavy rail transit to Ridgefield! (pop. 6000). And, not to be outdone, you top yourself by advocating that it be driverless! Oh, THAT is going to impress Warren Buffett!

        “Sure you can run automated trains on my tracks among my coal and oil trains! What could possibly go wrong?”

        Please come down to Earth. The Yellow Line extension is dead, for a decade at a minimum. If you want the expresses to be successful, and I do, Oregon has to come up with some kind of priority south of the river so that they don’t get caught in what is going to be more and more congestion along I-5 if a new wider bridge is built.

        At this time, I don’t have a suggestion where to provide that; I wish to hell I did.

    3. Everything I hear about transit/urbanism in Vancouver is about going across the river. But what about within Clark County? Are there opportunities for a scaled-back vision of density/walkability/transit/jobs within the county so that people don’t miss the river crossing as much?

    4. I don’t think light rail will ever make it across the river. I’ve lived in Portland for 28 years, and have only witnessed an increase in the political divide between Portland and Vancouver. They are irrationally afraid of “Portland Creep” and “Crime Rail”, and refuse to entertain any data that shows otherwise. They also don’t want to pay their fair share. They can whine all they want about how they pay Oregon income taxes, but the fact is that our state would be better off if the labor market resided in Oregon.

      Vancouver as it exists now is the result of Oregon’s land-use law and subsidized federal interstates. Without the I-5 expansion in the 1950s and the I-205 construction, Vancouver would be half of the size it is today. The congestion on I-5 is purely the fault of those that live in the Vancouver sprawl and work in Oregon. They need to pay for any improvements that are made; yet, they refuse to do so. I’m comfortable letting them sit in traffic until the bridges fall down. The best way to deal with a tantrum-throwing child is to ignore it.

      1. Chris, do you blame people that live in Beaverton/Hillsboro and Clackamas/Oregon City as well for traffic congestion in Oregon? After all, they drive and live there and I-205 and HWY 26/217 are always jammed, yet you don’t appear to single them out. If your intention is to focus on Vancouver due to the nature of the article then I understand, but the glaring traffic concerns I’ve also pointed out can’t be ignored either. Unfortunately the real world doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

        People living in a border state aren’t to blame here. Just because people chose not to live in Oregon doesn’t mean they’ve thrown a wrench in the gears that is Portland/Oregon. Can you imagine if all the Clark County commuters lived in Oregon right now? If you think your traffic headaches are bad now, just imagine how that would look. And if you think the additional property tax revenue would do wonders for Oregon think again. Since you can’t force them into a $1,000/month studio apartment where are they to go? Those people would only add to the sprawling suburbs that Oregon is against.

      2. Yes, I do blame them. Everyone that chooses to drive long distances for work is responsible for traffic congestion. The whole point of urban growth boundaries is to preserve farmland and encourage density. When there is density, congestion increases. You can’t continue to widen the roads, because the land is now worth more, so you have to build alternatives that require less space. This means more cycling, walking, and public transit. You don’t “force” anyone into anything. The market dictates the houses that is built. With higher land values and more transportation options, you don’t see 4 bedroom ranches, you see more multi-story mixed housing. Everything from apodments for students to 2 bedroom apartments for families.

      3. I think you’d see a lot of folks (including Oregonians) leave this region if you had your way. Families can’t live in two bedroom apartments. And since many families have the necessary income to support living in four bedroom homes on a nice plot of land then the market is stable. I don’t doubt that the policy you envision would create the community you also envision, but I do question the reality and not the vision. The reality is that a majority of families, those who make more money than the singles of the population, will not settle for densely populated living (i.e. houses with hardly any square footage or no driveway/garage). Seattle couldn’t keep that up either; see: Belevue, Everett, Renton, etc.

      4. Remember.. The resident of south west Washington that work in Oregon make up the second largest Oregon income tax base after Multnomah county… that is over $1 billion dollars over the past 5 years. For that they get what? oh a job! and nothing more, even their unemployment will come from Washington.

      5. @Mike,

        Why would Oregon traffic be worse if the commuters from Clark County lived in Oregon? Oh, maybe some spouses who have jobs in Clark County would get jobs in Oregon and add cars, but basically it would be a one-for-one swap between origins for the existing commuters. And, since Tri-Met is a LOT better at hauling large numbers of people than is C-Tran, if a given commuter is destined to downtown Portland she or he would more likely take the bus or MAX.

      6. @Dave,

        You are dead on wrong about unemployment for Washington residents who work in Oregon. I’ve lived in Vancouver for 19 years while working in Oregon every year but two as an I/T contractor; fortunately I’m an Oracle contractor so I work at big shops that insist the relationship with the contract company be W-2 employee. I can assure you that my unemployment between engagements has always come from Oregon except for one very fortunate time in which my Redmond-based contracting firm had paid Washington UI taxes on me for two months by mistake. They were new to the Portland market and their bookkeeper didn’t know the rules.

        So that time I was able to claim in Washington (since I had “Washington earnings”) which has a higher weekly benefit than does Oregon. But Washington got the tax payments for the rest of the two year period on that engagement from Oregon, so the state didn’t pay much out of its own funds.

        But anyway, as most Oregonians say, rightly, “If you choose to live in Washington but work in Oregon, you are deliberately foregoing your representation in the government’s use of your tax monies. Man up and take responsibility for your decisions.”

    5. Clark county rejected a 1% tax at 56% no and 44 yea. However, district 49 is where the rail would have the most profound impact and with the tax off the table I think Vancouver would vote for it. Also I noticed that the station with the highest boarding in Phoenix is at the end of the line in the City-burb of Mesa where there is a large park and ride. I think Vancouver would have the same impact.

  2. Don’t hold your breath! The project has been dead before but the con$ultant$ and con$truction companie$ pushing for the project managed to resurrect it, including hiring someone to sit full time in governor Kitzhaber’s office lobbying for it.

    The problem with light rail is that MAX from Vancouver to Portland is far too slow on the existing MAX line. C-Tran existing buses get stuck in traffic on the bridge, so everyone drives, so everyone is always stuck in traffic.

    What really needs to happen is a tram-train line using something along the lines of the Stadler GTW over the main line between downtown Vancouver and downtown Portland. That way, they could at least use the MAX line through the transit mall to serve a larger area than just Union Station.

    However, the upgrade requirements seen here in this video are far more complicated. You can’t do a lift span on the railroad bridge, or even on the I-5 bridge today due to the FAA restricted air space over the bridge. Take a look at the alignment of the Portland Airport runways. The only reason the bridge lift span is where it is is that it predates the airport. Furthermore, traffic congestion on the railroad bridge is so severe that the entire way that whole series of junctions is arranged needs to be solved, or both Portland and western Washington are going to start to have economic problems due to limited railroad capacity. Among other things, the fact that the UP main line branches out at a way that limits things to 10 mph means both main lines are blocked by their trains for 20 minutes at a time, or more if their dispatchers don’t respond to the presence of their train and allow it to enter UP signaled territory.

    1. Glenn,

      I’ve seen some people propose a bascule opening in a new “sensible alternative” type local bridge. And while I agree that the FAA would probably bark at a lift span on a replacement bridge for the highway, the rail bridge is another 3/4 of a mile west of the runways. Planes pass over it at least 2000 feet in the air, and a lift span would be no taller than the grain elevators immediately adjacent, and just as directly in line with the runways. A lift there really shouldn’t be a problem.

      A bigger problem than the time it takes the Yellow Line to get to downtown is the Steel Bridge congestion. If downtown Vancouver redeveloped as planned, MAX to Vancouver would quickly run out of capacity because there are only six or possibly eight trains per hour that can be added to the Steel crossing. The Green line is finally growing and the new condos and apartments along Interstate are filling up, and most don’t have parking. So their new residents are MAX-dependent. Those sources combined will probably be four trains per hour of the unused capacity, leaving just four trains per hour of capacity for Vancouver. There just isn’t that much slack in the system to accommodate many people from Vancouver in the absence of a Steel Bridge solution — a new parallel adjacent bridge or one of the tunnel proposals — even if they did show up. Neither has been promised or even hinted at by the powers that be in Portland.

      And lacking the development in downtown and south Midtown that the city would like to see, they might not be needed. It’s almost certain that the large proposed garage on McLaughlin will be little used because it will take a long time from the Clark College station to downtown Portland. Five additional station stops and a mile and a half of 25 mile per hour street running will be added to the 30 minutes from Expo to the Pioneer Courthouse stops. Few people will actually get on I-5 driving south and then exit at Fourth Plain to park in the garage there and put up with the guaranteed 42 minute ride on the MAX. Sure, in the morning they’d always get one of the seats, but in the afternoon they’d be standing to Killingsworth half the time. Not a recipe for success diverting traffic.

      I will say that the smaller garage at 13th and Washington might have been more popular with people from the northwest quadrant of Vancouver city, but the big one would have been a huge flop. And so, either way the MAX extension doesn’t make sense. If it’s as successful as the planners project (3,000 pph in the peak direction) from walk-up riders in downtown Vancouver it will overwhelm the capacity at the Willamette crossing; if the gentrification dreams do not come to fruition, MAX will also fail to meet projections and end up a boondoogle.

      I like lazarus’ proposal for 1 HOV and 3 general purpose lanes for a bridge replacement. But that doesn’t solve the problem of how to get the C-Tran expresses to downtown Portland promptly. They aren’t going to capture a significant mode share if they’re running in mixed traffic south of the bridge; they need some priority, and I just don’t see how to provide it unless Oregon replicates the northbound HOV to the AM southbound lanes.

      But that will lead to even greater “leakage” to parallel arterials, which is probably why ODOT hasn’t already done it.

      And that doesn’t answer the question of “Who’s going to pay to run them?” if the expresses did get popular. If a system like Golden Gate Transit were proposed in which some of the bridge tolls were used to fund the transit system, the heads of the lunatics over here would explode.

      It’s a problem, but I don’t think “Sprinters” are the solution. The BNSF lines in Clark County are too far from the population centers; the tracks run along the edge of the built up area and are separated physically from arterials linking to the center almost everywhere. VERY few people will get off the freeway and drive west to the train station through a bunch of complicated residential streets — with the possibility of being blocked by a freight crossing one of the two accesses to the station — to get on a Sprinter at the Amtrak station. When the old bridge was shut down for the lift spool replacement Amtrak offered free shuttle service from Vancouver to Portland. I rode it every day, alongside about twenty other people.

      One nice thing was everyone had two seats…….

      1. I’ve seen some people propose a bascule opening in a new “sensible alternative” type local bridge. And while I agree that the FAA would probably bark at a lift span on a replacement bridge for the highway, the rail bridge is another 3/4 of a mile west of the runways. Planes pass over it at least 2000 feet in the air, and a lift span would be no taller than the grain elevators immediately adjacent, and just as directly in line with the runways. A lift there really shouldn’t be a problem.

        It shouldn’t be, but it is, according to the rail division of ODOT. It doesn’t make any sense to me either, but apparently the FAA has increased the size of the protected air space over the years, which is why the bridge wasn’t an issue before but it is today.

        A bigger problem than the time it takes the Yellow Line to get to downtown is the Steel Bridge congestion.

        I disagree. It takes about 20 minutes for MAX to go from the Expo Center to the Rose Quarter station itself, averaging about 20 miles per hour. (6 miles / 0.3 hours = 20 mph). This isn’t an attractive speed for the distance involved between Vancouver and Portland.

        The service that Amtrak provided was only once a day or something along those lines, rather than something that operated at anything like light rail frequencies. You would have to alter the way the freight moves through the area, but that is going to have to happen anyway. One of the problems with “commuter rail” is that it is oriented only around commuters in terms of its scheduling. Making it a truly useful alternative to driving means offering more than that.

        However, Amtrak is able to get from the Vancouver Amtrak station to Union Station in about 12 minutes sometimes, even with the various problems the line currently has. The Stalder GTW has a maximum operating speed of 75 mph, which is within reason for this line. Solving a few of the problems on the route could bring the Vancouver to Union Station time into the 10 minute range.

        True, you wouldn’t want to muck up downtown Vancouver with a huge park and ride garage, but that huge unappealing series of strip malls just north of Highway 14 and directly east of Pearson (S Grand Blvd and Columbia House Blvd) is easily accessible from the BNSF main line, from highway 14, and has a bunch of highway oriented development where it really shouldn’t be too difficult to toss in a park and ride garage as well.

        That would be a decent start. You would want to extend to other areas as well as the demand merited. There is never going to be a demand for better transit there if the development patterns don’t change, and development patterns will not change unless there is good transit for those development patterns to follow. You have to start somewhere.

      2. Glenn, you’re talking about using infrastructure that’s already there. That’s insane!! ;-)

      3. It’s more complicated than that. The BNSF and UP have really needed a new bridge over the Columbia River for some time now. My concept of a rework of the area, a new freight bridge would have to be built. BNSF and State of Washington are already working on sinking an intertie track between the BNSF westbound main and the Port of Vancouver, so that there isn’t so much east-west traffic that blocks north-south traffic. So, at the very least, you would want the freight bridge far enough west so that BNSF freight can go under the north-south main on the new Port siding, then cross the river on the new bridge.

        So, new infrastructure would be needed.

        However, the State of Washington has pointed to the need for replacement and significant upgrade of the whole mess anyway as part of trying to make the Amtrak Cascades service better.

        It so happens there is $800 million sitting in federal grant money for the light rail line to Vancouver over the Columbia River Crossing that now can not be used for the crossing that isn’t going to happen. Commuter rail / regional rail would qualify for the FTA grant too.

        So, maybe it is time to throw together (before the grant money no longer becomes available) something that can be done with that money that would benefit both local passenger service AND Cascades service between Portland and Seattle.

      4. I had to do some real digging to find references to some of the problems with the FAA and the approaches to the Portland Airport and how those factored into the plans for a new bridge. I wasn’t able to come up with exactly what I was looking for, but the City of Portland does have this on their web site:

        Among other things, the statement that starts at the bottom of the first page looks like it might be part of the reasoning that the approaches to the airport are an issue:

        A bridge structure could possibly affect other airspace constraints. In particular, it is possible that a bridge could affect air carriers’ emergency procedures for operations when one aircraft engine becomes inoperative. There is no formal process to determine whether there is an effect on such procedures without consulting individually with each carrier. Neither consultation nor approval is required before construction of a new structure.

        At the same time, this report was prepared as part of trying to get a cable stayed bridge design built. They went with the deck girder design in the final proposal for a number of reasons, and I remember one (but not the only) of those reasons was the risk of having to apply for an FAA waiver for the structure and then possibly having it denied.

        However, I am wondering just how thoroughly this was investigated. The report makes it sound as if it really shouldn’t be that bad to get a lift span on the railroad bridge approved.

      5. @Glenn,

        I wasn’t saying that the Steel Bridge crossing is the reason that the MAX is so slow, although it’s certainly not quick. The problem there is the limitation to potential capacity, which makes the arithmetic questionable. I simply don’t see how anyone can predict that 3,000 people will be crossing the bridge in the peak direction in one hour when the trains can’t get to downtown Vancouver.

        The problem with the Sprinter idea is that everyone would have to drive to it. With the MAX there is a good chance that downtown and the south end of Midtown in Vancouver would be filled with mid-rise buildings and people would walk to the station. Now I don’t believe that downtown Vancouver would become like the South Waterfront with genuine high-rises. It’s too far from anywhere else. But it might develop like The Pearl district. It has riverfront and a great view of Mt. Hood.

        That sort of development is not going to happen either east of Grand or near the Amtrak station. They’re both industrial areas.

        The Amtrak service was two trains inbound and one return in the morning and the opposite in the evening. That way the train laid over at the end at which it would next be needed. And yes, it was fast and fun. And I rode with 20 people on a three or four car train every day.

    2. Why has nothing been done about the Steel Bridge crawl in 28 years? Especially when more lines were added and it was clear that it was becoming a major corridor in Portland’s economy?

      1. Cost. The only way to really solve the problem is the build a MAX tunnel downtown, connecting from Goose Hollow on the west side to the Convention Center on the east side. The problem is that you are looking at around $1 billion. For that much they could build a new line to Tigard, or out Powell to east Portland. It’s hard to justify slashing a few minutes off the existing commutes when you can serve a whole new section of the city.

        Personally, I’m a big advocate of a MAX tunnel, and expansion of the system in general. We need to prioritize speed and mobility in the core of the city to encourage more density.

      2. Sadly, this has actually gotten WORSE over the years. When the now-Moda Center arena was developed, they took out some of the grade separation that used to connect the Steel Bridge to Interstate Avenue and separate the MAX line from road traffic. It is now one huge messy tangle of pedestrian crossings, highway traffic, local street traffic, and MAX lines.

        TriMet owns MAX, but the bridge crossings are generally Multnomah County’s problem, except the Steel Bridge is leased from its owner, the Union Pacific Railroad. Any questions asked of any of these entities about the Steel Bridge and the slow MAX route over it will generally not result in useful information.

        Which I think is why TriMet decided its next crossing would be a bridge they own and operate themselves.

  3. The CRC is dead until one of three things happen:

    1) The Dems regain control of the WA State Senate.
    2) The bridge sustains damage requiring temporary shutdown for repairs.
    3) A maintenance issue is discovered requiring temporary shutdown for repairs.

    Anyone of those 3 things happen and the CRC will come roaring back to life, and even Don Benton and Pam Roach won’t be able to stop it.

    Personally I hope that when it does come back it comes back in a slightly better form. Put the min height at 140 ft to match the clearances of the upstream bridges, and drop a lane to go to a “1 HOV + 3 GP + LR + Ped&Bike” configuration. Such a thing would save money which would make the project a lot more palatable to the budget hawks, and the reduced road capacity would make it more palatable to the progressives.

    The only people left out of such a config would be the road warriors, but if they want a new bridge, they would have to agree to it. And agree to tolls too of course.

    1. 1) The
      2) The
      3) A

      4) The Con$ultant$ and Contractor$ figure out how to bribe the Republicans in Washington, like they did pretty much everyone on Oregon. No one has ever accused the Willamette Week of being a right-wing publication, and they were among the many liberal voices against this thing. Money, however, has spoken far louder than sense in the course of this project.

      1. Glenn, please refrain from insinuations like “Con$ultant$”. It lowers the level of discussion. Furthermore, if you have evidence of bribery, which is not the same thing as the usual process of campaign contributions, please provide or link to it.

      2. The Willamette Week article
        talks of how the consultants had someone working inside the governor’s office, being paid by both the bridge construction efforts and supposedly working for the state, in a position that as far as I am concerned should have been impartial to the new bridge efforts.

        It isn’t exactly direct bribery as usually performed, and wasn’t specifically illegal, but it certainly allowed money to talk louder than the practical needs of the region, or the actual population.

        If someone were employed by SoundTransit, and also happened to be employed by a large real estate development firm that stood to gain from the location of LINK lines, wouldn’t you call foul as well? That is kind of what went on here with the dual employers of a certain individual in the state government. It is a practice that SHOULD be illegal because it is a sort of bribery, but in the letter of the law it isn’t.

      3. Fair enough. That’s a much more substantive assertion than putting dollar signs in words.

      4. Apologies, but I did also put a first link to the article in my first response, at 7:45 this morning, above. As this blog is oriented around Seattle, and the Willamette Week isn’t exactly a mainstream news source, it would be easy for some here to not know about the true nature of the money tangle with this bridge.

    2. Unfortunately, the likely option will be #2, considering how low of a rating each bridge has. Then what will happen is a bridge so mammoth, expensive and lacking light rail, that everyone will wish the old, ridiculous CRC was back.

      I still can’t believe that there are still people that consider leaving the existing I-5 bridge as-is, a viable option…

      1. RapidRider,

        The vertical clearance on the existing bridges is nearly two feet higher than the Skagit spans at the sides. It doesn’t have that crazy downcurve at the ends of the lateral truss connections that the cheapie bridges from the late 1950’s and ’60’s have. These puppies have LOTS of steel in them.

      2. @Anandakos Read the bridge rating reports. The steel part is the least of the worries that will take down that bridge. It’s everything below deck that is cause for concern.

      3. RR,

        Rogue trucks can’t take out the bridge supports; that’s what I was referring to. A Skagit Bridge recurrence. Only a Subduction Zone shaker could do that, IF it did that. Everyone is worried about the old wooden pilings underneath the concrete supports. But they’re a feature not a bug. Wood buried in mud is a very good vibration dampener.

      4. @Anandakos Your points are accurate, but again, there are other things to consider, such as river scour, which is slowly undermining the wooden pilings. The bridges may last another 100 years for all we know, that’s the problem with bridge failures, the major catastrophes are impossible to predict.

        But what we do know, is that when the bridge fails, the economic impact will be immense, much more than the billions to replace the bridge today. And a lot of the alternates to building a new bridge that I’ve seen on here do nothing to mitigate that impact (130,000 vehicles/day). We need a new I-5 Columbia River bridge, just not the CRC monstrosity that was thrown around the legislature. The problem is, both sides are acting like it’s an all or nothing deal. I don’t understand why we can’t just duplicate the I-205 bridge and call it a day.

    3. If it comes back; folding is a reasonable option—indeed, each and every prior empire has done this on their way down. Alternatives include bluffing or eating the costs—my bet is for a bluff, to kick the debt can down the road, a gift to future generations, their savings shredded. A bluff lets you ignore things like the 400% capital expense increase by the oil majors to wring out a measly 2% production gain since the legacy oil peak back in 2005, among various other warning signs. Eating the costs? Well, I’m sure Americans will be all for the hard work and sacrifice necessary, such as no longer being able to afford that new TV, or that snorkling trip to Alaska, due to the higher taxes required.

    4. lazarus,

      Please be aware that Don Benton and Pam Roach don’t want to stop a bridge across the Columbia. They and most of the “conservatives” in Clark County very much want a large new highway bridge for general traffic, paid for by somebody, anybody else.

      “No Tolls! – No Crime Train!” is their story and they’re stickin’ to it.

      1. Ya, they want a free, 18 lane bridge, with no LR and no tolls, paid for by everyone else and with not a cent coming out of their pockets or anyone in Clark County’s pockets. it’s not a very tenable position in these days of tight budgets, but that doesn’t stop them……

        And I wonder how those two illustrious Senators voted in regards to tolls on the Tacoma Narrow’s Bridge, tolls on the DBT, and tolls on SR 520?

      2. Don’t forget the Let’s Use Private Enterprise thing. For example, Elizabeth Hovde at the Oregonian writes in July of 2013:

        I’d like to see a replacement bridge design brought by a group of business leaders in the region who rely on the Interstate 5 corridor. Given the economic need for freight mobility through our states, I bet private businesses could figure out this riddle that got the best of state planners and politicians with platitudes.

        So remember, if private enterprise isn’t doing something about a problem, then it obviously isn’t a problem. Otherwise, private enterprise would already be doing something about it.

  4. Why do you show a picture of the Hawthorne Bridge to illustrate the death of the CRC?

      1. It’s also sort of appropriate. If you look at some of the final renderings of the Columbia River Crossing, it looks like all they did was take photos of the Sellwood Bridge, add a little embellishment, and paste it onto the Columbia River.

        Besides, you have to be pretty desperate to cross the Interstate 5 bridge on foot, to get a photo like the one shown of the Hawthorne. It can be done as there is a walkway there, but it is probably the second loudest sidewalk in the city of Portland.

  5. Like many other things about our politics, the reason there’ll be fewer needless huge highway-only projects will not be either budgetary or ideological, but generational. For one thing, interstate highway system, in its day really exciting, has now not only become old-fashioned, but is falling apart.

    And the same goes in spades for car travel itself. Offering neither freedom nor fun, like legal marijuana or the cars of the sixties, private cars and the sprawl their proliferation has spawned are indeed your father’s Oldsmobile. With somebody going ” She-Bop, She-bop” on the radio all the time.

    Places like Clark County, and Thurston, will inevitably get both more people and younger ones. There will be a bridge across the Columbia, and it will carry electric trains, which will not be slow. For every thing, (turn, turn, turn) there is a season…


  6. I’m gonna disagree with your last point: hamstringing the East Link segment with a sub-optimal downtown station location and level crossings in the Bel-red corridor are unacceptable tradeoffs that will cost MORE to fix eventually.

  7. These would be my priorities. Each could be worked as a single project, or all together in short phases:

    1. Local access bridge to Hayden Island from the south. 2 general purpose lanes, light rail/ bus lanes, and bike/ped. Extend the yellow line to Hayden Hayden Island.
    2. New 4 track railroad bridge adjacent to the current one. 2 tracks dedicated for freight, 2 dedicated for passenger rail. Public/private partnership between the railroads and the state. Two of the tracks would be owned by ODOT/WSDOT, and would continue north through Vancouver, eventually tying back in to the mainline. This would support increased Amtrak service and commuter rail to Vancouver (if they want it).
    3. New 8-lane single-level span between Hayden Island and Vancouver for I-5 traffic. This plan would re-use the existing Hayden Island to Oregon bridge to the south, and then make an S-curve on the island, jumping directly across the river, and lining up with I-5 right at SR-14. 2 lanes HOV, 6 general purpose. Close the interchange on Hayden Island.
    4. Demolish existing northbound span. This is the oldest and most at-risk structure. Seismically retrofit the southbound span and convert it to light rail/bus and pedestrian/bike.

    1. The retro fitting, and seismic upgrades of the Northbound bridge would be cheap at twice the price, with the appropriate maintenance there is another hundred years in that bridge. No sane person would demolish it, it’s an asset on so many levels.

      The push for the commuter rail using dedicated high-speed lines using the existing Amtrak corridor is the future. Just to get it from Portland Union station to Vancouver and the keep pushing it North. BRT to the stations and then 10 minutes from Vancouver to Portland, there is a level of efficiency you could sell to the voters. With just one commuter train, that’s easily one every half an hour. On a dedicated line, no drivers required.

      1. i’m not sure the engineers know what they’re talking about. the seattle viaduct and wanapum dam are 60 year old structures and look at the cracks that are cropping up in them. engineers never expected them to give out either. concrete is not meant to last 100’s of years.

      2. @Dave,

        “BRT to the stations”. I guess that would work for the existing Amtrak station. Unfortunately any stations along the BNSF tracks north of there, on the existing tracks or new ones owned by WSDOT, would be hard for those BRT buses to access. It might be possible to put a station at 78th and Lakeshore, but 78th/Padden Parkway misses all of the activity centers. There’s no plausible station location north of there until 179th and then of course Ridgefield. But both of those locations are at the extreme west end of the built area (179th is the flat-out boonies), and 179th misses activity centers, too.

  8. Clark county rejected a 1% tax at 56% no and 44 yea. However, district 49 is where the rail would have the most profound impact and with a vote for tax off the table I think Vancouver would vote for it. Also I noticed that the station with the highest boarding in Phoenix is at the end of the line in the Cityburb of Mesa where there is a large park and ride. I think Vancouver would have similar numbers.

  9. Wow, I agree with part 3 of the 3 part series so much (and the entire series)! Ben, GMTA.

  10. Anyone who commutes the Portland – Vancouver or/and is mass transit positive… We need to create a third entity, be it private or governmental, completely independent of Tri-Met and therefore C-tran. The “Vancouver Portland Line” VPL (little joke-google it). Create a high speed line using the existing amtrak corridor from Union station to Vancouver and then fork into two lines. Similar to Wuppertal Suspension Railway on the Portland section so there is no congestion with freight traffic. One could follow the existing Amtrak line north while an east bound fork could head east via Vancouver Mall, Orchards and on to Camas. A true highspeed rail solution that doesn’t mix rail with road traffic to slow it down. Where a journey time from Camas to Vancouver could be achieved in under 15 minutes and another 10 minutes to Portland. Imagine students in Camas being able to commute to Clark college in 15 minutes or less. Playing nice with WSU-Vancouver would be it’s own nightmare of course.

    1. I agree completely.

      TriMet used to have bus route 5 go into downtown Vancouver and help provide service there. Today, that task has been foisted off onto bus route 6, which only goes as far as Hayden Island. C-Tran expresses go into downtown Portland, but the options really aren’t great. C-Tran has a bus that goes from downtown Vancouver to Hayden Island and then to the MAX yellow line termination, but this routing is quite slow.

      Something like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which created the Port Authority Trans Hudson subway (PATH) would be nice for all the same reasons it was done in New York: everyone on each side of the river doesn’t want to do anything outside their own district as it isn’t their problem.

      Of course, in the current headlines situation, you probably don’t want to mention Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to anyone (“Time for some Traffic Problems in Fort Vancouver!”)

      Is there a model out there somewhere of a bi-state transit agency that has a better reputation?

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