Build a simple bridge, no tolls required

$3.5 billion for a ONE minute improvement in traffic congestion?

Build a simple bridge for under $1 billion — tolls not required!

The Reflector published my letter – here.

Portland has our nation’s 10th worst traffic congestion. Now that we have five years to design and begin construction of a new bridge, we must fix the traffic congestion. But there are a multitude of issues to be addressed.

Washington and Oregon have five more years to break ground replacing the Interstate 5 bridge, avoiding a requirement to pay back $140 million spent on the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). Oregon owes $93.3 million and Washington owes $46.1 million.

The Reflector reported: “A restart of environmental review in spring 2020, a completed review and the start of acquiring right-of-way for the project in the summer of 2023, and beginning construction by summer 2025.”

Yet, Sen. Ann Rivers told citizens “there is no project” last December at the Bi-State Bridge Committee meeting. Now, less than a year later, officials must begin engineering and an environmental review in a matter of months. What will they be engineering and environmentally reviewing if there is no specific project?

The 10-lane, failed CRC bridge offered only a one-minute improvement in the morning southbound commute. How much time must the undefined “replacement” bridge save commuters? The real bottleneck on I-5 is the two-lane, two-mile section at the Rose Quarter.

The failed CRC was a “light rail project in search of a bridge,” adding $850 million to the cost of “the bridge too low.” Will special interests force light rail on Clark County?

The failed CRC was laden with pork-barrel spending. There was millions for a TriMet headquarters; an upgrade to Portland’s Steel Bridge; an overpriced expansion of TriMet’s Gresham maintenance facility, and even something in Hood River. A noted forensic accountant revealed the real cost of the CRC bridge was $792 million, not the $3.5 billion boondoggle.

Why are Washington legislators spending $35 million to avoid “repayment” of $46 million? That’s three quarters of what’s owed. That’s just the first two years cost, with double that likely for the ensuing two to three years when ground “may” be broken.

What are the specific details of the unnamed project? Oregon already has $80 million in its transportation plans for a separate bridge off Hayden Island. On and off ramps at Hayden Island aren’t required if vehicles can exit 1 mile south at Delta Park. Oregon has a lift span planned for the BNSF rail bridge, eliminating the need for 95 percent of Interstate Bridge lifts.

What are the requirements and who are giving them? How much must traffic congestion be improved? One minute was outrageous for the CRC’s $3.5 billion price. How high must the bridge be for river traffic? Will any project require Oregon to add multiple through lanes to I-5 at the two-lane Rose Quarter?

A third and fourth bridge are truly needed to relieve traffic congestion. A $1 billion very basic bridge would allow precious funds to go towards a third bridge.

Will Oregon step up and solve traffic congestion problems on all of I-5, including the Rose Quarter? Build a simple $800 million bridge. Tolls not required!

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References

Of the nearly $200 million spent on the failed CRC, both states spent federal transportation dollars. If they build nothing, they have to pay it back.

(Graphic courtesy of Oregonian).

CRC Budget Discrepancies

The CRC project office published bad cost numbers, miss-allocating costs. A local forensic accountant reviewed reams of data and provided the following — the actual cost of the Interstate Bridge in the CRC was $408 million LESS than advertised.

In fact, the fudging of numbers was spread among several CRC’s major components.

(Both graphics taken from the Acuity Forensics reports on the CRC.)

Bi-state Bridge Committee 

From the Dec. 2018 Bi-state Bridge Committee meeting hosted by Washington state legislators.

WSDOT staff gave the legislators and citizens attending the Bi-state Bridge Committee meeting a high level review. It included the following slide.

(Graphic courtesy of WSDOT).

Portland Metro’s JPACT future plans

The Portland Metro regional transportation organization is JPACT. (Similar to our RTC). Here are graphics showing JPACT’s future plans which total over $4 Bill. This includes funding for a separate bridge connecting Hayden Island to Delta Park, and an upgrade to the BNSF rail bridge inserting a lift span.

$3.169 billion for a replacement I-5 bridge.

This shows the separate bridge connecting Hayden Island to Delta Park for $80 million.

BNSF rail bridge “lift span” is proposed for $35.5 million. The lift will match one installed on the exact same BNSF rail line as it crossed the Willamette River.

This shows the inclusion of “high capacity transit” on Metro’s plans for a new Interstate Bridge. At $850 million, it can only be light rail, as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would cost a fraction of the price.