How Cyclists Helped Rethink A Bridge
By Joe Kurmaskie
In the spring of 2009, the Oregon and the Washington State Department of Transportation and other business interest groups were pushing the Columbia River Crossing project, a 4 billion dollar, 12-lane bridge planned to replace the existing I-5 structure between Oregon and Washington. They were telling anyone who would listen that it was a done deal. As evidence they would point out that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) was even sitting at the table to see that world class cycling facilities were included in the design.
Jamming a 12-lane freeway through the center of Portland looked like 20th century thinking: The sort that brought the world Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas rush hours - the transportation equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig or dressing up a corpse. Once the bridge was built, the choke point for traffic would move south, forcing highway expansion through Portland. Furthermore, the bridge expansion would induce demand, increasing automobile traffic at a time when the world is calling to reduce it.
When Coalition for A Livable Future, Thousand Friends Of Oregon, ThirdBridgeNow, Smarter Bridge Coalition, and student groups from REED and PSU colleges joined metro councilor Robert Liberty and engineer Joe Cortright to question the wisdom of building a jumbo bridge at a time of changing driving habits, skyrocketing fuel costs, oil wars and the like, we were told the fight was over, and the bridge was as good as built. They said progressive political figures such as Sam Adams and democratic Governor Kulongoski were in favor of it and we should be happy that bikes and mass transit were going to be part of the design.
We ignored the voices in high places that were telling us to stop opposing the project and launched a campaign to discuss alternatives. We created videos that explained the disadvantages of building such a monstrosity and started a grass roots campaign, even staging a rally in Portland’s Waterfront Park. Politicians from Oregon and Washington attended the event, the BTA stepped away from the table, the media began to question the idea, and public support for the project faltered. Today it looks to be dead in the water. The last nail in the coffin came from the Vancouver side of the river, where a number of elected officials, including the Mayor, have gone on record stating they are against extending the light rail from Portland and in June, city officials gave light rail opponents the go-ahead to mount a petition to appeal extending light-rail from Portland to their city. But ventures like this never stay dead, not with this much money involved.
In the meantime, cyclists are left without a quality route between Portland and Vancouver and the door is still open for jumbo bridge planners to keep pushing for the biggest design that politicians and the public will eventually have to swallow.
Alternatives need to take center stage in the media and with both political leaders and the public if the Northwest hopes to arrive at the best solution.
Here are some options proposed by those against the mega-bridge, which could be implemented as a whole or in part to reduce traffic congestion while ensuring the support of non-motorized users and keeping the costs more reasonable.
Option 1: Tolls
It would modulate the flow of traffic across the existing bridges, especially during peak hours in the prime direction and it would allow the flow of essential commercial traffic without massive infrastructure development while raising revenue.
Applying for a federal demonstration grant to establish an electronic and license recognition (no tollbooths) variable rate toll system on the existing I-5 and I-205 bridges.
There would be some slight implementation costs, but these would raise more than enough revenue to pay for the collection costs.
Option 2: Improve Public Transit
This would provide a viable travel alternative to the private automobile, especially for commuters.
Extending the MAX train north to Hayden Island as part of the Milwaukie Light Rail Project in conjunction with an eastside connection between OMSI and the Rose Quarter. It could also include a 13-mile long north/south high-capacity rapid transit line between Hayden Island and Milwaukie (42 minutes) with daily transfer connections to 550 east/west MAX trains and over 1,650 TriMet buses. The Portland Harbor MAX Bridge could also accommodate pedestrians, bikes and possibly local vehicle traffic.
Option 3: Fix the Railroad Bridge
Fixing the railroad bridge would allow tugs and their tows to pass safely under the “hump” of the interstate bridges, eliminating the need for bridge lifts except on rare occasions. It would also provide more clearance for all vessels. Reducing the opening time would increase rail capacity. A seismic upgrade (see below) of the opening span could also be performed at the same time.
This could be done by re-applying for Truman-Hobbs funds to replace the old swing span, with a wider lift span located closer to the center of the river as proposed by the Columbia River Tugboat Association in 2002. The cost estimate at the time was 42 million dollars and no local funds were necessary.
Option 4: Seismic Upgrade
Reinforcing the existing I-5 structure to withstand a major seismic event, following the current CRC recommendation for the Supplemental Bridge Alternatives. The cost would range between 125 - 265 million dollars (2006 dollars) provided by Federal funds and Oregon’s share of toll revenues.
Option 5: Modify Ramps (Hayden Island)
Modifying the ramp would reduce local traffic congestion, provide fast and convenient C-Tran bus access to Hayden Island and improve northbound truck access to I-5.
This can be done by adding a truck bypass lane from Marine Drive to Hayden Island (converting existing bike/pedestrian lane on Portland Harbor Bridge to general traffic) and limiting northbound Hayden Island on-ramp traffic to buses and emergency vehicles in the prime direction during peak hours. The cost would be minimal and come from the Oregon’s share of toll revenue.
Option 6: Light Rail to Clark County
This would improve transit service to Clark County, reduce operating costs to meet high capacity demand in the corridor and allow C-Tran the flexibility to expand and improve its local feeder bus network.
This could be accomplished by constructing a downstream light rail bridge with an opening span, following the profile of the existing Interstate Bridges. (Less costly than a high span; it would not normally be open during hours of rail operation due to phase 3 above). It would provide for bikes and pedestrians and could also be built to provide for local vehicles (tolled) as well accommodating SB SR14 traffic (tolled), allowing the southbound freeway traffic to flow more smoothly over the existing bridges.
The cost would vary depending on the vehicle options selected, but would be significantly less than the current proposals because it would be much shorter and would not include interchange modifications. It could potentially be funded by FTA and Washington State toll revenues — including FHWA if vehicles are included.
Option 7: World-class Bike Path
This would provide for bikes and pedestrians with paths, lanes, signals and markings alongside light-rail on any project going forward.
Without alternatives being discussed and voiced to policy and decision makers, they may still construct the jumbo bridge. Here’s how you can get involved:
• Contact your local politicians:
• Contact your Federal representative: