First, about light rail. Its benefits and drawbacks are well-known. It’s expensive and disruptive to build, and it doesn’t always fulfill its promise of attracting transit-oriented development. And in the case of Clark County, the politics surrounding rail are so polarized they can make a much larger road and transit project a nonstarter.
If the main goal is to move people — and that’s what we need to do to break our river crossing bottleneck — bus rapid transit service might be a better option. Sure, TriMet’s light-rail line runs north almost to the state line, and a rail connection makes sense. But what if C-Tran operated bus service in exclusive lanes on a new Columbia River bridge? The buses could continue deep into Clark County neighborhoods, including the new Vine bus rapid transit alignment now being built, eliminating the need for a huge Park & Ride in downtown Vancouver. And maybe, just maybe, some of the opposition would melt.
While we’re at it, we should talk about sorting out the transportation mess at Portland’s Rose Quarter. Oregon transportation planners have looked at ways to improve that giant interchange, which is a big part of the ugly morning southbound bottleneck. A new bridge would be an easier sell if we didn’t ignore that elephant in the traffic lane.
There’s plenty of chatter about a third bridge, and that might make sense someday. But the idea has no support in Oregon, and without a major connection in Portland it would be our own bridge to nowhere. And that’s something we can ask Sarah Palin about.