Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Feb. 18, 2020

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In our view: Bridge Progress

New Metro study reduces concerns about sprawl in Clark County

The Columbian

Scientific data and expert advice from stakeholders continue to fuel momentum for the Columbia River Crossing project. More and more, these ingredients subdue the political grandstanding and assuage the activists’ angst as the complex process of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge continues.

For example, Portland’s Metro agency announced Wednesday that a new analysis shows a new bridge with tolls and light rail will have negligible effect in fueling sprawl in Clark County. We have long thought the issue of sprawl in Clark County should be assessed and controlled by officials on this side of the river, more so than any agency in another state, but now we see even Metro leaders softening their stance on this issue. That’s because the recent study projected an increase in households of only about one-third of 1 percent with the new bridge, compared with a no-build scenario. Also, “Northern Clark County would have virtually no household growth” caused by the new bridge, Metro noted in a statement.

The new study is valued for its independence and advanced methodology. Metro’s nationally acclaimed Metroscope growth modeling technology produced a forecast based on a 10- to 12-lane bridge and $2 rush-hour tolls in each direction. The study, according to Metro Council President David Bragdon, “underscores the importance of tolls and light rail to this project” and will “help Vancouver reach its goal of a compact, walkable downtown area while also improving access for households that live in North Portland and work in Vancouver.” More encouragingly, as we see it, was Bragdon’s proclamation that “Vancouver’s growth as a regional center is something we can all stand behind.”

Providing light, instead of heat, is the strategy that works best for the bridge project. As Bragdon explained, the results of the latest study “show how Metro’s modeling analysts work independently of any political leanings as they produce authoritative analysis of the region’s growth.” We look forward to Metro becoming more of a player and less of an impediment as the CRC proceeds.

As for advice from stakeholders, significant letters of support for the new bridge were produced recently by two disparate groups. Leaders of Clark County’s three ports — Vancouver, Camas-Washougal and Ridgefield — sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire urging her to work as “quickly as possible” to move the project along. The ports, of course, are motivated by their collective bottom line: about $40 billion in combined annual freight, projected to reach $72 billion by 2030. Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson said, “Customers, particularly those that truck, are already feeling the cost relating to delays on the bridge,” to the extent that port officials would even support reasonable tolls.

And the Portland-based Legacy Health System of hospitals has twice provided statements at Vancouver City Council urging more progress on a new bridge. Current congestion impedes the movement of doctors, equipment and patients across the bridge, and crash rates in the bridge corridor are twice what is seen elsewhere, with collisions increasing by a factor of three or four during bridge lifts.

These two crucial ingredients — knowledge and consensus — finally are emerging as driving forces in the CRC’s work. Planning and design have taken much longer than many people would like, but it’s good to see the growing mountain of irrefutable evidence supporting a new bridge.

Finally, here’s a free suggestion from the peanut gallery. To help calm the toll fears of weekday commuters, offer them big discounts on a month of tolls, and even bigger discounts on a year of tolls. (About 70 percent of regular crossers of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge use discounted Good-To-Go accounts.) That tip is free for a reason, of course.