More bridges needed, not light rail

My View: More bridges needed, not light rail

What’s not in either state’s public plans? A third bridge across the Columbia River and a new transportation corridor. That’s what’s truly needed.

Published in the Portland Tribune here – Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Bi-State Bridge Committee held its first joint meeting Dec. 11.

Is this a resurrection of the Columbia River Crossing and its “light-rail project in search of a bridge”?

Washington legislators said this was about “process” — there was “no specific project.” Sen. Ann Rivers said this wasn’t the CRC.

Oregon legislators said nothing regarding light rail being included or excluded. Sen. Cliff Bentz stated there was no way to pay for a project, other than tolling.

Yet Gov. Kate Brown said “no light rail, no bridge” during her re-election campaign. Gov. Jay Inslee just remarked: “light rail must be included to get federal funding” in his budget request.

Light rail isn’t required for federal funding. The CRC finance plan included $400 million in federal money not tied to transit. Additional transit dollars can be obtained for Bus Rapid Transit.

Metro’s JPACT 2040 transportation plan spends $4.1 billion for a bridge and light rail into Vancouver, Washington. SW Washington RTC’s 2035 plan includes a new bridge and light rail.

What’s not in either state’s public plans? A third bridge across the Columbia River and a new transportation corridor. That’s what’s truly needed. Especially since Oregon refuses to add new through-lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter.

Both Rep. Rich Vial and Rep. Ed Orcutt emphasized the need to tie a replacement of the Interstate Bridge with building a new third bridge. That was one hint this could be about additional bridges and added vehicle capacity.

Rep. Vial stated: “I ran for the Legislature originally because our transportation challenges, particularly in Washington County, have begun to become critical.” He later added: “It’s not solely the I-5 bridge. There is a westside north-south solution that has been put off for roughly 38 years in Oregon.”

Rep. Orcutt commented: I think what we need to be looking at is a replacement of the I-5 crossing and looking at additional crossings. I think we need to be working on it as a package. I don’t think we should leave this process without a plan for additional crossings.” He later said: “The math says that there aren’t enough crossings; there aren’t enough lanes.”

The Cascade Policy Institute’s John Charles echoed those sentiments.

“I agree that the current I-5 bridge is perhaps functionally obsolete, but I don’t think replacing it or rehabbing it is a huge priority now. It is functional. I think it needs be part of a package deal. I simply reiterate the comments Rep. Ed Orcutt made and Rep. Rich Vial — you need more capacity. No bridges are going to fall down.

“You absolutely need a third, fourth and fifth bridge. You should think bigger. The same reason that we have about a dozen bridges over the Willamette River in downtown Portland. They all serve different travel markets and they’re all really important.”

The Rose Quarter has Oregon’s highest accident rate. It’s the region’s No. 2 bottleneck, beginning at Rosa Parks Way and continuing south through the Rose Quarter. It doesn’t include the Interstate Bridge.

Reps. Vial and Orcutt are right. New bridges and transportation corridors are needed. Will elected officials propose a third bridge and increased regional vehicle capacity? Or will they simply focus on replacing the functional Interstate Bridge with a platform for light rail, which both governors demand?

John Ley is a commercial airline pilot from Camas, Washington, who has been actively engaged in transportation, transit and toll issues in the Portland metro area. Contact him at



Here’s the video of the full Bistate Bridge Replacement Committee hearing.



The 1970’s regional transportation plan was to build a “ring road”, allowing traffic to bypass the crowded downtown Portland core. We built the eastern half of the “ring” — I-205 opened Dec. 1982. Politicians killed the construction of the western half of the “ring”. Rep. Rich Vial was referencing this plan when he said a westside bypass had been put off for 38 years. Here’s the map showing the full system, to be completed by 1990.


Portland’s worst transportation bottlenecks do NOT include the Interstate Bridge. The #1 bottleneck is Hwy 26 from the Vista Ridge Tunnel to Hwy 217. The #2 bottleneck begins at Rosa Parks Way on I-5 and continues south through the Rose Quarter. The Oregonian reports it here.

The 3 miles from the Rosa Parks Way to the Rose Quarter mimics a parking lot much of the day, when you calculate for the morning and evening commute, for a grand total of 9 hours, 15 minutes. That means prime drive time has grown two full hours, or 27.5 percent, since 2013.