Adams pulls back on Portland’s re-design of I-5 bridge
Monday, February 1, 2010
Portland Mayor Sam Adams has directed his city’s staff to suspend an “independent analysis” of the Columbia River Crossing project.
Portland city officials last week had requested reams of engineering documents from the bi-state crossing office. In a front-page story on Wednesday, The Columbian reported that Portland intended to design a bridge as small as six lanes — potentially no bigger than the existing twin spans.
The revelation stung Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who said he contacted Adams immediately.
“I had a colorful conversation,” Stuart said this afternoon.
On Jan. 19, Stuart and newly elected Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt had joined with Adams to co-author a letter calling the current plan for a 10- to 12-lane bridge “unacceptable.” That letter, also signed by Metro council President David Bragdon, called for more local input on the $4 billion project.
However, at that point, Portland city planners were already moving forward with their own ideas.
The Columbian cited one e-mail between Portland city planners laying out several discussion points for the last of four meetings between Adams, Leavitt, Stuart and Bragdon. The e-mail indicated Portland’s interest in dramatically scaling back the number of traffic lanes in the previously adopted “locally approved alternative” — or LPA — from 12 to 6.
In June and July of 2008, the LPA received the conditional support of city councils, transit agencies and metropolitan planning organizations on both sides of the river.
But, with construction looming in 2012, support has waned in recent months.
“Frustrated with the lack of ‘out of the box’ thinking about options and assumptions, last month I directed Portland to undertake our own analysis of CRC options,” Adams wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “I asked for data and was surprised by the alarmed staff response our request has received.”
Engineers with the crossing office insist that a six- to eight-lane bridge would be too small to meet the project’s original purpose of alleviating traffic congestion.
“Despite the LPA vote, it seems as if there’s a divergence here between a very big bridge and a very small bridge,” said Don Wagner, co-director of the crossing office in Vancouver. “That’s a political discussion, and all the engineering in the world won’t solve a political debate.”
The project would replace the existing twin three-lane drawbridges, improve five miles of freeway and extend light rail through downtown Vancouver.
Leavitt campaigned on a promise to fight bridge tolls, while Bragdon and Adams have raised new concerns about the project damaging existing neighborhoods and shifting congestion into central Portland.
Adams now says he has directed city staff to suspend Portland’s independent analysis of the project and instead participate in the shared work described in the letter he co-authored with Leavitt, Stuart and Bragdon.
“I look forward to sharing the insights and solutions we discover with the CRC project staff and with the public,” Adams wrote. “I believe that more knowledge is a good thing. We need it to actually move us toward a project that can be built.”