On the CRC Mega-Project: Differing Visions, Shared Sense

By John Charles and Bob Stacey

John Charles is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute. Bob Stacey is the former Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon.

The two of us may be strange bedfellows. Over the past twenty years, we’ve disagreed about many issues, including transit investments, land use laws and the underlying role of government. But recently we were both in Salem criticizing HJM 22, a bill asking the federal government to spend over a billion dollars on the ill-conceived “Columbia River Crossing” mega-project.

We each bring decades of experience in transportation policy to the table. Among the hundreds of projects we’ve seen, the current CRC proposal stands out as a doozy, throwing staggering amounts of money at a wasteful, ineffective plan.

Others, including the project’s own Independent Review Panel, have written about the huge costs to the taxpayers and the state, about the risks of cost overruns in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and about the project not fixing congestion but merely moving it from Vancouver to the I-405/Rose Quarter area. Those are serious problems.

As transportation experts from very different perspectives, we diverge on other flaws of the project. However, we agree on several actions Oregon should take instead of building the highway departments’ current bloated plan:

– Build an additional bridge. Having only two road crossings of the Columbia in the greater Portland area doesn’t make long-term sense. Clark County is an integral part of the region. We should be increasing the number of crossings of the river, whether the new bridge be a local or highway bridge, and whether it includes light rail or not.

– Retain the existing bridges. The current pair of I-5 spans have decades of life left in them. Spending $74 million to demolish them and build something in their place is wasteful.

– Use tolling. A well-designed tolling system could fully finance the cost of a properly designed and scaled new bridge.

– Increase the legislative oversight of mega-projects. ODOT and the Oregon Transportation Commission, rather than the Legislature, have historically guided and decided on projects. But the CRC mega-project’s bill of $450 million or more to Oregon taxpayers demands enhanced accountability measures.

– Strategically focus taxpayer investments in seismic upgrades. Oregon’s Bridge Inventory doesn’t list the I-5 bridges among those most threatened by earthquakes. We should be concerned about the impact of earthquakes. But we should examine all of Oregon’s infrastructure, from schools and bridges to water and sewer lines, and figure out which are the highest priority to reinforce or rebuild.

– Fix what we have before creating more money sinkholes. Our backlog of maintenance for existing roads and bridges is large and includes hundreds of structurally deficient bridges. We should make sure we can afford to maintain the infrastructure we have before building more.

Every independent review of the CRC mega-project has found major flaws. While some flaws can be fixed, the current plan to build five huge highway interchanges, tear down existing bridges, and build a new bridge is simply too costly and too risky. It won’t get us what we want, but it will stick us with a huge bill. The legislature should demand we do better.

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Posted by at 11:00 | Posted in Columbia River Crossing, Economy, OR 76th Legislative Session, Oregon Government | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • FYI, in the spirit of their post, John and Bob asked that this be posted at BlueOregon as well. https://www.blueoregon.com/2011/04/crc-mega-project-differing-visions-shared-sense/

  • noibn

    Leave the I-5 bridge as a roost for starlings and pigeons. Considering regional growth, a third bridge makes more sense. Period!

  • Well writ.

  • valley person

    Fascinating. Now go convince Oregonians and Washingtonians to pay tolls for bridges that already exist and have been paid for and you might be onto something.

    • Of course tolls are only needed to pay for the light rail. A simple highway bridge should come in cheap enough to NOT NEED tolls.

      Of course the two states would have to give up wasting some money on toy trains.

      See http://www.NoBridgeTolls.com


      • Valley person

        A new freeway bridge with no light rail would not need tolls? You really believe that?

        • Dean Apostile—You really believe that?
          That is because I actually bothered to look at the DEIS and at the numbers. It is a no brainier that the bridge alone costs under a billion. (You just have to read the DEIS instead of greenie, Metro propaganda.)

          At a more reasonable $500 million, the Feds pay 50%, leaving $125 million for each state. All Oregon has to do is take back 1/2 of the money promised for the worthless Milwaulkie LRT and WA just got a gas tax increase.

          I take it you didn’t bother to look at my link either. That sore of carelessness is why you are wrong about most things. (Global warming, smart growth, light rail, environmentalism.)


          • Valley person

            The bridge alone minus all the on and of ramps is not very functional.

          • Again, you show your lack of study.

            Once again, see: http://www.NoBridgeTolls.com (and update the bridge only cost to around $400-500 million.

            There is no need for extensive ramp work on the Oregon side, and only SR14 in WA. (Once you dump LRT, the bridge lands right beside the current bridges in Oregon, needing only minor work. In WA SR14 may have to be rebuilt, or partly rebuilt, depending on where one places the hump and the choice of grades.)


          • valley person

            Reality check Jim. Neither Portland nor Metro will support a new bridge that does not include provision for light rail. And I doubt either will support a new bridge not funded in part by tolls. And your own buddy John Charles says tolls are essential to reduce congestion, and I agree with him. So you can fantasize all you want about a new bridge with no tolls and no light rail, but it isn’t going to happen. There is no political support for that idea.

            I think Charles and Bob Stacy have a strong case. But I think your case is very weak.

          • Dean Apostle:—-There is no political support for that idea.
            JK—————-And there is NO citizen support for toy trains and their tolls. As usual the political class is out of touch with reality.

            Further those who support tolls are again proving that the typical progressive doesn’t give a damn about low income people’s well being.

            Their proposal to extract $1500/year from low income people to build a worthless toy trains just to put money in to their pockets is pure evil. As are the supporters of tolls.


          • Valley person

            There is plenty of citizen support for trains. Portland elected a mayor and council who all support light rail. The entire elected Metro council supports light rail. The vast majority of elected officials in the Portland region support light rail. If citizens do not support light rail then they are electing the wrong people. They must be pretty dumb.

            Its probably true that a majority of Clark County residents do not support light rail or bridge tolls. Fine, let them stay stuck in their traffic jams. Eventually they will figure it out.

            Low income people are the ones who use transit the most.

          • Earth to Dean Apostile: Elected official support is NOT THE SAME as citizen support.

            Earth to Dean Apostile: Light rail DOES NOT REDUCE CONGESTION – it increases it by taking resources from highways and encouraging high density.

            Dean Apostile: Low income people are the ones who use transit the most.
            JK: Precisely the reason they sould be concentrating on the best service for the low income, instead of wasting billions on toy trains to try to get yuppies out of their BMWs.


          • Dean Apostle:—-There is no political support for that idea.
            JK—————-And there is NO citizen support for toy trains and their tolls. As usual the political class is out of touch with reality.

            Further those who support tolls are again proving that the typical progressive doesn’t give a damn about low income people’s well being.

            Their proposal to extract $1500/year from low income people to build a worthless toy trains just to put money in to their pockets is pure evil. As are the supporters of tolls.


  • Bob Clark

    I know it’s probably a non starter but what about a west side bypass toll road and bridge? What’s more make it a toll road financed, owned and run by a private consortium with independent regulatory oversight, much akin to public utility regulation of monopolies. This could have been done with the Sellwood Bridge as well.

    A big reason vancouverites might hate tolls is they are mostly being asked to pay for lightly used, capital intensive light rail. Light rail as planned is a travesty as it would try routing Vancoverites via the “slowly meandering Expo light rail line. This in place of express C Tran buses. Only someone with a sick sense of humor would be in favor of such a thing.

    You could even reduce the tolls for all electric cars, small cars, and other emission positive attributes.

    • noibn

      A third bridge makes more sense than redoing the I-5 CRC. Yes, a toll bridge (until paid for) alternative to non-toll bridge(s) for nickel seaters.

      Wouldn’t be surprised to see this option better serve interstate transportation needs than pouring more money into the light rail paradigm pitting in MetroPotland’s scheme of nolo cost-effective paradigms.

  • Ron Swaren

    Response to Mssrs. Charles and Stacey’s article:

    Oregon Catalyst article on Third Bridge plan vs. CRC:

    Not only do we need a third interstate bridge across the Columbia serving Portland’s growing west side, we need a third route with it connecting Vancouver to jobs in Washington County. This would be symbiotic for all parties, and would also make transit options (i.e public transit and (gasp) bicycling) much more feasible, by reducing the miles traveled between those two centers. Even if you prefer to get there by car, you’re still into saving money and time, right?

  • Damdream

    Still think tunnels should be dug.  The ‘experts’ tell me it cannot be done, but Seattle is going to bury it’s freeway.  Should dig three tunnels, one for highway 14, one for the freeway and one for trucks only.  Do one at a time and spread the cost out.  Leave the old spans for the light rail and bikes and people

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