Nov. Bi-state Bridge Committee

Giving them answers & challenge the assumptions

“John Ley of Camas said more bridges and corridors are needed to solve the bistate transportation issues. “If you change the assumptions,” Ley said, referring to the six questions, “the answers change.”

My remarks to the Bi-state Bridge Committee can be heard below.

In Dec. 1982 we opened our newest transportation corridor, the I-205 and the Glenn Jackson Bridge. Since then, regional population has doubled. So has the number of cars.

From the Cascade Policy Institute saying “Commuters need cars” here:

“Over the past five years, the region has added nearly 180,000 more commuters. Most of them drive to work and they’re congesting our roads. In normal times, transportation authorities would add capacity to the road network and improve streets for safe and speedy commutes.”

The following was reported by the Columbian on the November Bi-State Bridge Committee meeting.

“John Ley of Camas said more bridges and corridors are needed to solve the bistate transportation issues. “If you change the assumptions,” Ley said, referring to the six questions, “the answers change.”

What were the 6 questions/assumptions?

From the story.

“A concept failed if it did not yield a “yes” answer to these six questions:

• Increase vehicular capacity or decrease vehicular demand?

• Improve transit performance?

• Improve freight mobility?

• Improve safety and decrease vulnerability to crashes and other incidents?

• Improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities?

• Reduce seismic risk to the I-5 Bridge?”

Chris Brown in Clark County Today had the most thorough news report, including the following:

“The CRC Task Force, a group of 39 stakeholders, started in 2005 with a list of 76 potential solutions. The process of whittling that list down included looking at the options in light of whether they answered six questions. Did they increase vehicular capacity or reduce vehicular demand, improve transit performance, increase freight mobility, or address the seismic safety concerns for the century-old existing span. 

The new span also needed to sit within a narrow window of height, to allow river traffic beneath and air traffic from PDX and Pearson Airpark above. Then, there were environmental concerns for the river, as well as numerous historic landmarks and city parks on the Vancouver side.”

The CRC Task Force voted 37-2 in favor of the proposed bridge in June of 2008. It would have included three travel lanes each direction, same as the existing bridge, with up to three auxiliary lanes. Most controversially, at the time, it would have also included an extension of light rail from Portland into Clark County.”

While Brouwer and Francis maintained that the CRC was the only option that satisfied the bulk of the questions the project needed to answer, they admitted that things have changed in the six years since its demise. 

“The bridge having lift span, and the hump in the middle of it, those things don’t change,” noted Francis. “But there are the performance factors that are important to update.”

Those would include a new traffic analysis, including where crashes are happening in the corridor and how frequently, along with new population density studies to see how much has changed in terms of where people are coming from and where they’re going during their daily commute.”

From the news report:

Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) spoke to the concerns of many gathered in the room, noting that a new bridge, even with added capacity, would do little to fix the bottleneck on I-5 northbound at Columbia Boulevard, or southbound at the Rose Quarter.

“Despite the idea that we would do something at the bridge with the crossing itself,” said Frederick, “it was going to stall and continued to have congestion until you got to the new improvements.”

“That problem, noted several lawmakers, meant that the committee may need to adjust its perspective. If replacing the bridge can do little to address problem spots elsewhere on I-5 in Portland, then perhaps the goal needs to be safety or mass transit, rather than relieving traffic congestion.”

John Ley of Camas noted that ridership for both C-TRAN and Tri-Met have continued to decline, despite new light rail lines, bus lines, and increased population growth in the region.

“If you take transit out of the questions, you get a whole lot of different answers,” said Ley, recalling the issues over a 5-mile bridge influence area created by the inclusion of light rail. “And that’s what the people want. Focus on congestion.”

Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver), of Clark County’s 17th District, said the committee needs to determine its top priorities before it gets too far along.

“Vehicle capacity, transit performance, freight improvement, safety, bike and pedestrian, and reducing seismic instabilities,” listed Kraft. “Those are vastly different things, and whichever one you prioritize is going to drive a very different outcome.”

Kraft urged the committee to put commuters first, including the 70,000 or so who commute to and from Clark County every day for work, as well as the businesses wasting money stuck in traffic.”

TJ Martinelli reported the following in The Lens a statewide online news source.

“Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick (D-22) remarked that “with the folks that I talk with… they do not sit back and try to count the numbers of cars. They count how much time it takes for them to get from one place to the next. As much as I like light rail, they are not necessarily excited by the idea of light rail…it’s not an express (bus) situation; they are moving at a very slow pace.”

Connected to that debate is the purpose for the new bridge. “The question is if we make improvements…to cross the river – is that going to move traffic faster or not, or is it not going to make a difference at all?” Co-chair Sen. Lee Beyer (D-6) said.”

On one hand, the bridge is more than a century old, though it remains safe. Yet the I-5 corridor also has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, a problem highlighted by truckers and regional business groups. In 2018, 138,374 daily crossings occurred on the existing I-5 bridge’s three northbound lanes and three southbound lanes. Just six years prior, the daily crossings had been 128,373: the same volume as in 2002. That traffic congestion continues into Portland.

Frederick said that “the previous proposal…. might move traffic slightly more at the crossing itself, (but) when it reached Columbia Boulevard it was a bottleneck again.”

Although the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC) Transportation Corridor Visioning Study recommends new river crossings, a committee staff member said an analysis was “agnostic about whether the region should consider other corridors. You would still be stuck with congestion frame mobility issues and all the other issues with that.”

Other practical considerations stakeholders must eventually decide on is where to place the new bridge, whether the existing bridge should be removed and how to mitigate the impacts to river traffic.”

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References

TriMet bus ridership is DOWN by over 9 million annual boardings, compare to their peak ridership a decade ago.

MAX light rail ridership is down over the last decade, in spite of adding TWO new MAX lines. Here’s a FTA graphic with the dates of light rail line additions added.

Total Columbia River crossing traffic on the two bridges.

When the I-205 transportation corridor opened in Dec. 1982, there was an immediate 18.5% drop in vehicles using the Interstate Bridge. Over 20,000 vehicles were using the new transportation corridor. That’s congestion relief!

It took a decade before vehicle levels returned to pre-I-205 levels. If transportation officials had followed through on the original plan to finish the “ring road” building the western bypass (I-605), more vehicles would have stayed off the Interstate Bridge, using the western bypass to get to Washington County. Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Here’s the planned “ring road” allowing vehicles to bypass the crowded inner core of Portland. It was to be completed by 1990, but was sadly abandoned.