The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) mega-project was a freeway expansion, tolling, and light rail project along a five-mile stretch of Interstate 5 between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.
The CRC was created in 2005 to complete a buildable plan in 3 years at a cost of $50 million. Approaching nearly a decade, the CRC spent over $180 million - a 260% cost overrun. The $180 million spent on design is only 5% of projected construction costs of the $3.6 billion project.
With the evidence below, it's hard to ignore that the CRC plan was wasteful, outdated, and needed to be shut down.
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Rep. Frederick speaks on the Floor of the Oregon House, February 25th 2013, on House Bill 2800, the Columbia River Crossing Bill.
1) The I-5 replacement bridge would create a choke point for river commerce. The proposed new bridge would become the lowest clearance bridge from the Pacific Ocean to The Dalles (190 miles). The CRC plan does not meet current marine traffic clearance needs, will limit future marine business, and goes against national trends of higher bridges for larger vessels. The Columbia River is one of the few important military and commerce major waterways on the West Coast. Water transportation is the most fuel efficient, least polluting, safest, and least expensive means of moving cargo.
2) Don't fall for the fear tactics - Our current bridge is safe. There are 795 "structurally deficient" bridges in Oregon & Washington and the Columbia River Interstate Bridge is not one of them. The I-5 bridge is a historic landmark that is safe, with an impressive 178’ of clearance for river traffic that does not impede river commerce. A seismic retrofit to our current bridge could be done for a small fraction of the cost of replacement.
3) North Portland Harbor Bridge has over 60 years of lifespan remaining. One of the most-used and yet most obscure bridges in town - The North Portland Harbor bridge built in 1987 carries I-5 over the North Portland Harbor (often called the "Oregon Slough" and "Hayden's Slough") between Hayden Island and Delta Park. The CRC plan estimates $25 million to remove and 95 million to replace. This bridge as-is now could last over 60 years with no major rehabilitation.
4) The BNSF Railroad Bridge offers a better solution. By resurrecting the 2004 "Vancouver BNSF Rail Bridge Project" the only "stop-light" on I-5 would be nearly eliminated. Over 90% of I-5 bridge lifts would be eliminated by updating the downstream railroad bridge. The railroad bridge is a swing bridge, but the swing is aligned with the lift section of the I-5 bridge. If the railroad bridge was updated with a middle lift, barges could pass under the tall south side section of I-5 without lifts. This project is shovel ready and has previously been given the green light by the US Coast Guard.
5) The current plan is a waste of taxpayers funds. The CRC has spent an average over $70,000 of taxpayers cash per day in its design stage. This would balloon to over a million per day during construction. The enormous cost of this project and its side effects will continue to be a burden on local commuters, taxpayers, and state budgets for decades if it is not stopped. The plan does not solve congestion, impacts Clark County with 45 years of debt, has been spotted by fiscal hawks as another step closer to the "fiscal cliff", and with interest and cost overruns could cost over $5 billion up to $10 billion. The CRC still has no buildable plan, no secured construction funding, and ever mounting mitigation issues due to unacceptable bridge height to accommodate light rail.
6) Pork. There are over $100 million of questionable expenditures tucked into the current bloated plan.
7) Mitigation. Oregon taxpayers would pay three manufacturers $86.4 million to compensate for the bridge being built too low. Many more legal challenges will come from WA that will increase OR cost.
8) Tolls will take away money from our local economy. A bi-state commuter could easily spend $2,000 per year on tolls. CRC’s own documents show tolls could be high as $8 each way and 4 times as much for large trucks. Tolls would increase costs for local businesses relying on freight deliveries for daily operations. Tolls will also stick Clark County commuters with an extra $400 million for improvements to Oregon interchanges. Local citizens will be paying tolls on the debt until the year 2060, and tolling I-205 is being considered.
9) The CRC plan is a job killer. The FEIS does not factor in the thousands of long term jobs lost due to the relocation of businesses because of the proposed low bridge plan. The CRC plan does not address the root issue of bi-state commuter traffic - a lack of jobs in SW Washington. The plan will destroy more local long term jobs than it creates and further promotes our dependance on jobs in Oregon.
10) Major negative impacts on Downtown Vancouver. The current plan will kill our revitalized downtown Vancouver just as it’s blooming. Tolls, light rail, and 6+ years of construction without financial mitigation for indirect impacts will kill the small business community in downtown Vancouver.
11) An Environmental Injustice. Rep. Frederick spoke on the Floor of the Oregon House, February 25th 2013, on House Bill 2800, the Columbia River Crossing Bill. Frederick stated the neighborhoods in his district around I-5 in North Portland have the highest asthma rates in the State of Oregon. Advocates for air quality and children’s health have raised alarms that congestion caused first by the construction project itself, and then by shifting the I-5 bridge bottleneck south into a traffic jam in North Portland, will cause an increase in air pollution in a region that is already struggling with health concerns.
12) The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is based on the same traffic projection numbers that we now know to be the incorrect. The FEIS views the CRC plan as an improvement over a “worst case scenario” for regional traffic increases and congestion around the bridge. But new data about traffic and congestion in the area show that this “worst case scenario” is not a likely outcome for the region. Page 17
13) A nine part series from Cascadia Times The CRC, A Bridge to More Air Pollution
• Part 1: CRC to disappoint those believing its empty promises.
• Part 2: ROAD RAGE: Could Fury Over Freeways Topple Plans For A New CRC? Or Will Portland Join the “FREEWAY ARMS RACE”?
• Part 3: Lagging Traffic Volumes Could Force Taxpayers to Cover Bridge Debt
• Part 4: The CRC and the Cancer In Our Air
• Part 5: An Environmental Injustice, The CRC Would Increase Pollution in Portland's Most Highly Polluted and Most Ethnically Diverse Neighborhood
• Part 6: Air Pollution Inc, Northwest Portland Gets A Daily Reminder That Esco, Their Local Polluter, Is Fouling Their Air with Carcinogens Odor Complaints Have Been Going On For Years
• Part 7: Global Warming and The CRC
• Part 8: Our Choice Our Future
• Part 9: The Media's Role, Did The Oregonian Use Misinformation To Sell An Expensive Unneeded Bridge To An Unwary Public?
14) Not supported by Clark County voters. Light rail has been firmly voted down multiple times by SW Washington voters since 1995.
15) The CRC plan has been designed around controversial light rail from day one. Oregon’s Supreme Court decision stated that the massive project is only a “political necessity” to persuade Clark County residents to accept a light rail line to Vancouver.
16) Portland’s TriMet is broke. Why put our healthy C-Tran on the hook for TriMet's financially failing light rail in Vancouver. C-Tran would be responsible for millions of dollars annually to maintain a light rail extension into Vancouver. The enormous cost of light rail includes increased insurance rates for businesses and residents near light rail lines, new taxes for law enforcement, enormous taxpayer subsidies, and loss of street parking for businesses.
17) Parking Impacts. Light rail in downtown would eliminate valuable street parking in trade for a blight of costly parking structures.
18) Light rail is slow. A summary of key metrics clearly shows that light rail compares poorly to buses.
19) Inability to Perform. Millions spent on scrapped bridge designs and years spent on multiple attempts to complete a plan the Coast Guard would permit.
20) Conflicts of Interests. From a governor adviser also working for the project’s biggest contractor, hiring new contractors previously employed by the CRC, to a Senior Civil Engineer mayor working for a firm that also receives funds from the CRC, there are several ethical issues with the project.
21) Lack of Transparency. Violating public meeting laws, discouraging public input, limiting scope of study for a predetermined outcome, sheltering huge cost of interchanges into the bridge to justify tolling, and blocking the release of financial statements.
22) CRC lacks vision. Since 2005 we have been experiencing enormous growth in telecommuting, Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and traffic projections by the CRC to justify the project are failing. The CRC lacks vision and uses a mid-20th century freeway-only mentality.
23) Local Traffic. Actual data show CRC traffic forecasts to justify the project are failing.
24) I-205 Impacts. Diversion from the CRC project area will force improvements, expansion, and tolls on I-205.
25) High-Speed Rail. Billions of tax dollars are already being spent on heavy rail improvements to increase speed and capacity for freight and commuters.
26) Autonomous Taxis, Ride-Hailing, Ride-Sharing. These rapidly developing technologies will undoubtedly be huge disruptors in transportation and real estate.
Moving Forward, Post-CRC
With this evidence, it's hard to ignore that the CRC plan was outdated, wasteful, and needed to be stopped. During these times of budget shortfalls, debt, growing environmental concerns and a rapidly increasing trend of people working from home (telecommuting), it is painfully clear that freeway expansion, tolls, and light rail is antiquated thinking. Treat the cause, not the symptom. The problem is not the bridge, it is why we cross the bridge. Our efforts would be better spent on promoting local businesses that provide long term job opportunities to attract cross-state commuters to stay closer to home and encourage our residents to spend locally which would strengthen our city and spur more local jobs.