The Western Arterial: Makes Sense!


by Ron Swaren

Gridlock on the Interstate 5 (and I-205) highway through Portland continues at epidemic levels. I was out there on three afternoons last week and noticed it seemed to start earlier now, too. As early as 1 pm for the afternoon rush. A huge portion of the traffic is freight trucks—-and a sure indicator of economic recovery is the movement of freight.

But one overriding economic factor is Washington County growth. With recent announcements by big employers the growth–and the traffic–will continue. This does translate into more tax revenue for the state of Oregon, but with no equivalent of the I-205 highway on the west side of Portland, commuters from SW Washington will continue to be stalled. And freight shipments will also be stalled and wasting time and money.

A clone of the I-205 on the West side would be astronomical in cost and, likely, politically impossible as well. Last summer the Clark Co. Commissioners floated the idea of a Columbia River bridge crossing in the vicinity of 192nd Ave from Vancouver. This is about a 10,000 foot jump—and also would go through Government Island Oregon State Park. Recently they have had some discussion with Troutdale officials, regarding a Camas-Troutdale crossing.  This would be a fairly short crossing, although the benefit would be limited until the inevitable expansion fills in the Gresham-Fairview-Wood Village area.  However, I think Washougal and Camas could both benefit by an express bus service to CTran’s 164th Transit Center and to Vancouver.

A solution that would be very intermediate in cost and scope—and could offer incentives to environmentally conscious Oregonians–is the Western Arterial Highway. My vision of it is built on mostly existing rights of way and connecting from the West Union Junction on US 26 all the way to the NE 39th Street, Hwy 500 and I-5 junction in Vancouver. There are some obvious hurdles—-such as going underneath NW Skyline Blvd. for a distance. And getting across three bodies of water. But therein lies the advantage from an environmental standpoint.

The flow on the Columbia River is fairly predictable. In other parts of the US and Canada, there is experimentation with underwater electrical turbines. Some use tidal currents, and some use river currents. A long span bridge—to get across commercial navigation channels—would require fewer, but larger, piers. Why not design such piers with underwater turbines installed right into them and use the power for charging hybrid or all electric buses and for bridge lighting? Both the main channel of the Columbia and the Portland Harbor area have strong currents. Both C TRAN and Tri Met could easily sustain a small fleet of electric buses serving suburban express routes.

This short interior route could link areas that will experience future growth—-downtown Vancouver, Rivergate area, Linnton and the Silicon Forest—with a series of modest sized, bicyclable shortcuts. Presently the overall distance from Vancouver to the West Union Junction in the heart of the Silicon Forest is 20 miles. My calculation for this by the Western Arterial route is 14 miles, and made up of short segments. This is a project that is financially achievable and would return traffic on I-5 to tolerable levels. I think an east county bridge will be needed, but building the Western Arterial route would give us time for a more informed discussion on that project. METRO should open an online discussion of the Western Arterial route—which has generally received favorable comments when the public hears about it. Right now there is an enormous waste of resources due to gridlock on I-5.

I am supportive of both public transit and cycling.  In my testimony to agencies–including METRO and its various citizen advisory committees, Tri Met and to SW Washington RTC, I point out that the earth shaking technological advancement is going to occur in road vehicles. Not light rail. Light rail is now confined to the same pattern of tracks and overhead powered vehicles, so that new lines interchange with existing ones.  In road vehicles the whole thing can be redesigned. Both electric motive power and rechargeable battery technology is rapidly advancing. And nano, alloy and synthetic materials will make undercarriages lighter and simpler.  In Canada, Quebec’s version of the BPA, is even manufacturing a newly designed electric motor for larger vehicles that can replace both a heavy diesel engine and transmission at the same time.

Ron is a resident of the Portland area, has been involved in transportation issues and participates in the UN World Urban Forum. As a commercial journeyman carpenter he has built some of the major structures in the Portland area and believes that costs on public works need to be dramatically reduced.

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Posted by at 01:12 | Posted in Columbia River Crossing, Transportation | 8 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Big Bopper

    Of course, Hanjin leaving the Port of Portland is a big factor, possibly the biggest factor, of all the increased freight on the roads.

  • Bob Clark

    Count me in on looking at this new route. It would cost billions but possibly could use tolls to finance. It would unleash an economic boom on the west side of Portland Metro area, only if Metro would flex the artificial wall erected around the region..the UGB.

    Other major cities have multiple bypasses of the center core, and yet 30 plus years of population growth and Portland still really only has the one bypass (205).

    So, sure would like to get in on studying this proposal. Where can we go to find out more?

  • Drowning in Bureaucracy

    The Big Bopper’s right about the disfunction of the port being the main reason there are more trucks on the road. Your logic is flawed. Hey Ron, for the majority of us, the economy has not improved. Maybe for you newcomers/elitists who like to rub elbows with politicians its different. You’re right about utilities needing to be reduced. I’ve lived in Portland for twenty-three years and worked higher end jobs the entire time and I’m being forced out of town because my water/SEWER bill has increased more than 300% in ten years even though my water/SEWER usage hasn’t increased. My electric has increased about 200%, food 100% and my property tax 30% (even though the value dropped during the recession). Unfortunately, corruption reigns in this city more taxes are in the creation process in Salem. Even though I’ve paid extra to have a hybrid fuel efficient car, I will soon be taxed more to repair roads that already have (or had) funds that were whisked away to use on ineffectual pet projects. My income has only increased 30% over the last ten years. One more tax to pay for projects you are suggesting will definitely force me out of town. I’m part of this community – volunteer at school, on the sports fields and at my church yet my family will be the ones forced out.
    Before we start any new projects lets focus on fixing the corruption that is robbing the average taxpayer. I am sick of Oregon politicians mismanaging funds and some how gaining in their personal wealth.

    • Myke

      It’s nice to hear that the chickens are coming home to roost. Portland, through its environmentist movement, has slowly been killing the economic vitility of the rest of the state. Eventually, residents of the Portland metro area will, with the blessing of the states political elite who they keep electing, will pay the taxes for the rest of the state, being thats the only income producing area.
      Course, now we’re starting to see a movement to raise the state minimum wage even higher! But, than, in an income tax state, if you need to spread the cost around, while raising even more revenue, there isn’t a more altruistic way to do that than to boost the tax paying capacity of the lowest wage earners. Even at the risk of further crippling the business capacity of the rest of the state. Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!

  • Ron Swaren

    “Bob Clark: “It would cost billions but possibly could use tolls to finance.”

    Bob, I don’t think it needs to cost big $$$. I presented this at the CRC Alternatives Forum by Robert Liberty in 2011 and this got the nod out of 15 proposals. I said at the time $1.75 to 2.25 billion. HTNB engineering has recently done some large metal bridges in the US for $100-300 million range; but we need three of them plus a tunnel under Skyline Bv. Drill and blast method w/shotcrete is tried and true and would be more appropriate than tunnel boring machine in this case, and less troublesome. The key is standardizing designs to allow mass production; also metal bridges have better seismic capability.

    I have been putting a bug in new OR Rep. Mike Nearman’s ear; and WA Leg. Liz Pike is s’posed to go on an aerial tour, with boyfriend Neil Cahoon flying his private plane(s). Now, Pike is yopping on some other projects, so…… Can you contact your OR reps?

    DIB:”One more tax to pay for projects you are suggesting will definitely force me out of town. ”

    DIB, I’m a Multnomah Co. native and no, I don’t rub shoulders with the elite, except to present the case against elaborate and expensive projects. And as a matter of fact it is Clark Co. conservatives who most frequently raise the most expensive solution of all—and I-605 Freeway. This is not needed and I am against it. As far as financing this project: It’s a shortcut for commuters from Vancouver to Beaverton Hillsboro, of 6-7 miles, and they can avoid congestion, so tolls would be appropriate–poss. $4. With my suggestion og hydro turbines and electric transit this would qualify for New Starts or Small starts for two agencies–Tri Met and CTRAN. Clark Co. commuters also pay Oregon income tax, so the more commuters we assist get to jobs in Oregon the more tax revenue for out state. Also, the highest level feds, incl Chair Mike Schuster on US House Transportation are aware of the desperate need and the uproar over the CRC. They are supportive of our struggle—-although no doubt they don’t want a boondoggle either. I lucked out when they were here, and got to testify to them and have kept their committee aides informed.

    Myke, I agree Portland is siphoning off the rest of the state. The OR Leg should Make rural and small town economies a priority. I think we need to stop the MultCo dems because of their outlandish and over the top projects.

    • Pogo A. Posin’

      The MultCo dems, to wit not unlike WA’s KingCo dems. No surprise. some computer spell checks still suggest Melanoma in lieu Multnomah, yet the moniker retains reality and like Seattle’s KinkO’s, still drool over the registered electorate, dead or alive.

  • Ronsense for the good overall

    Build it as described and common sense, not politics, will overcome.

  • Leslie Stevenson

    Why at West Union Junction? Why not connect it directly to 217?

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