John Laird: When campaigns heat up, so does the bridge rhetoric




Now that political campaigns are intensifying for the Aug. 7 primary and the Nov. 6 election, radical rhetoric about the Columbia River Crossing is rising to flood levels. So it’s time to review the Top Five Delusions about replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge. First, though, let’s start with three basic principles:

  1. Two-thirds or more of traffic on the bridge is local (entering or leaving the freeway — or both — in the five-mile CRC project area).
  2. Clark County and Vancouver are not the only stakeholders in the CRC. We should listen to other people in other places and try to work with them.
  3. Always keep in mind the goal of the CRC: The bridge must be replaced because it is too narrow, too congested and too dangerous for traffic, not to mention the fact that bridge lifts on an interstate highway are unacceptable.

The CRC project is beset with many problems, not the least of which are funding uncertainties and disagreements over clearance for marine traffic. But as for the Top Five Delusions wafting among the critics:

o Replacing the I-5 Bridge is futile because it will only expedite southbound traffic and worsen congestion at the Rose Quarter.

The greater problem the CRC will solve is northbound traffic congestion, especially in evening rush hours. As for southbound traffic, the Rose Quarter is six miles from the bridge. Even if the CRC makes congestion worse at the Rose Quarter, great! Maybe that will expedite the long-overdue widening of I-5 there.

Many skeptics insist that freeway widening at the Rose Quarter will never happen. But a June 6 Oregonian story reported the Oregon Department of Transportation is planning a project that will add lanes, cap portions of the freeway and improve interchanges around the Rose Quarter. Local (Portland) approval of the unfunded project is expected to be requested this fall.

o The CRC is flawed because it offers no new lanes for through traffic.

No new lanes are needed for through traffic. See No. 1 among the basic principles. Bridge congestion is caused largely by local — not through –traffic. And the bridge congestion is made worse by archaic interchanges nearby with dangerously short ramps.

Look at improvements of Northeast 88th Street in Vancouver between St. Johns and Andresen roads. That project is a huge success, yet no through lanes were added, just a third lane for turns.

We need a third bridge, preferably at Southeast 192nd Avenue, or between the ports, or near Ridgefield.

See No. 2 among the basic principles. We’re not the only ones who matter in this issue. Many leaders in Portland do not want new bridges and new connecting freeways running through sensitive environmental areas or commercially unimportant areas of Gresham, west Hayden Island or Scappoose. Their opinions are no less valuable than ours.

Here’s the chief misunderstanding among the Third Bridgers: A third bridge will do nothing to solve the original problem. See No. 3 among the basic principles; review the project’s goal. Hey, everyone wants a third bridge, but even if we built one, all of the CRC problems would remain unsolved. We would still have an obsolete structure with bridge lifts on an interstate highway. And, that’s right, the grumpy folks would grumble because we solved none of the I-5 Bridge problems.

o The feds should pay a bigger portion of the CRC, like all of it. After all, it’s a federal highway.

See No. 1 among the basic principles. When two-thirds of the bridge traffic is local, and the local contribution will pay only one-third of the bridge cost, I’d say we’re getting a pretty good deal. To have the two states (together) and the feds pay one-third each is a reasonable plan.

o No new bridge until the southbound Delta Park bottleneck is fixed.

Ah, yes. The low-info crowd weighs in. The southbound Delta Park bottleneck was fixed two years ago; a third lane was added.

Will reviewing the Top Five Delusions sedate the grandstanding politicians during the campaigns? Maybe tone down their rhetoric? I doubt it. The politics of “No” is all about serving up red meat. Basic principles are silly distractions.