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Columbia River Crossing 

This is a defining decision in Vancouver history!

Yes that head line is correct.  The Columbia River Crossing will be a defining project for Clark County.  We need to fix the problem of increasing traffic across the Columbia River.  The big push right now seems to be this crazy notion of replacing the venerable Interstate Bridge.  As I have clearly suggested, this idea sucks.  Why does government continue to find ways to pour our money into bottomless pits of wasted effort?  Yes I said wasted effort.  I can't even begin to gather in my mind all the reasons this idea is lousy, but for the sake of my readers I'll try to be clear and concise.

First, why on God's green Earth would we replace at the cost of billions of dollars, a bridge that already works fine?  Because politicians are stupid or corrupt and sometimes both.  Argue if you will that the Interstate bridge in all her historic glory is old and funky.  Yes the bridge lifts for ship passings is a pain in the ass and backs up traffic.  But do we need to spend four billion dollars to eliminate the occasional delay for a lift?  That is $10,000 for every man, woman and child in Clark County.  And it will go over budget.  If government says it will cost a four billion you can bet it will cost eight billion. 

Let's take a walk down memory lane shall we?  The first span of the Interstate Bridge opened in 1917.  That was during World War One!  You can probably count on your fingers the number of people still alive who remember that day.  The second span was opened up in 1958 when President Eisenhower was building the Interstate Highway System.  This bridge is a big part of local history and deserves to stay.  Of course if we saved for posterity all things, we all would be living in thatch huts and mud houses so here is the crux of the issue.

This set of bridges carries 125,000 cars a day over six lanes of traffic.  I-5 through the city of Portland is between four and six lanes wide and Oregon has made it clear they do not intend to expand the freeway aside from fixing the southbound bottle neck at Delta Park.  Building a bigger and wider bridge is a big, fat waste of time and money as the cars will still be backed up just as they are now.  The majority of Columbia River crossing already takes place on the Glenn Jackson bridge which carries about 20% more cars per day and is not as congested as the Interstate Bridge.  By the way the Interstate bridge is paid for already!

So what is better?  I like the third crossing idea.  The big push for replacing the Interstate bridge isn't about easing traffic for cars and trucks but rather about bringing Portland's little choo-choo train across to Vancouver.  Portland has spent billions of dollars on the train that of course is heavily subsidized as virtually all mass transit systems are.  (exception N.Y. City Subway).  This train of their's is a favorite amongst the liberal environmental crowd but it has proven to be a train of violence and a big waste of money.  Do we want that here?  If this community is really at a point where it wants the warm and fuzzy feel good choo choo that muggers so love and adore, fine.  Build a truck and mass transit bridge linking the two ports of Vancouver and Portland and run the train over the separate span next to the Interstate bridge or underneath the river.

A third crossing makes sense for many reasons.  The crossing could be west of Downtown Vancouver and link our Port with the Port of Portland.  It could be between I-5 and I-205 linking SR-14 and Marine Drive.  It could be east of I-205 linking 164th Avenue to East Portland.  It could even be a third span for trucks and mass transit right next to the existing two spans of the Interstate bridge.  Many options are available and I'll leave it to the engineers to figure out.

One of the problems with having only two crossing points is that in an emergency one of the crossings might be blocked or impassable leaving but one crossing available.  An emergency could be as benign as a crash that blocks two lanes or as severe as an Earthquake or terror attack.  An extra span would spread out the cars over three instead of two crossings.

Many people don't realize that this project will take years to complete and the traffic will be unbearable during this period.  Now I know that there are solid arguments against a third span.  But if the State of Oregon will not widen the I-5 corridor between the proposed bridge and Downtown Portland then the idea still sucks!  I cannot support spending billions of taxpayer dollars and a span that will not cure trafific problems at all and that is really a cover for bringing the train to Vancouver. Now, if Oregon were to pull it's head out from between it's legs and agree to widen I-5 then we can build the new bridge and it would make sense with or with out the choo choo.  Hey maybe we could move the old spans upriver to be used as a 164th Avenue crossing to Marine Drive!  Okay, I admit, that's a stretch but when I think about losing a grand piece of history I wax nostalgic.

How about that crazy toll idea?  Yeah, we get to pay tolls to pay for a bridge that WILL NOT ALLEVIATE ANY TRAFFIC AT ALL!  In fact a toll plaza would add to congestion as cars and trucks would need to slow down or even stop to pay.  THIS IS INSANE!  For those of you scratching your heads wondering why a new I-5 bridge won't it ease traffic congestion, I'll go over it for you.  I-5 from Jantzen Beach to Downtown Portland is three lanes in each direction until you get to I-405 then it is just 2 lanes in each direction through the Rose Quarter.  It does not matter if the new bridge has 100 lanes, the cars will still be squeezed down to the three lanes and then two that head into Portland.  The Oregon government is on the record as saying it will not expand I-5.  Frankly an expansion would be very difficult and expensive as that corridor is heavily developed and of course they want to continue pouring billions into a train system that carries a small fraction as many people to their destinations as our freeways do.  So four billion dollars and no traffic relief.  Brilliant.  Only crooked politicians can come up with this crap.  Again, if Oregon were to change it's tune on highway expansion then this idea to replace the old bridge could have merit.

Why is Oregon taking a no widen the freeway stance?  Because they are left wing kooks over there.  Left wingers want you stuck in traffic.  Why?  Because that is the only way to get you out of your car and onto their cash sucking mugger's express train.  Cars are bad and trains are good or so they think down on Hawthorne.  Now you may think I am anti-train and you would be wrong.  I mentioned above that the N.Y. City Subway pays it's own way.  I like the N.Y. Subway for that reason.  Why does it pay it's own way?  Because New York City has 8.2 million people living on 303 square miles of dirt for a population density of over 27,000 per square mile.  That is nearly as many people living in one compact city than live in the entire states of Washington and Oregon combined!  That is what trains are designed to do.  Move millions of people quickly.  According to the Metropolitan Transit Authority the NYC Subway has a daily ridership of over five million on routes totaling a mere 229 miles.  Portland's Max runs 104,200 per day over 44 miles of routes.  NYC has 22,000 riders per day per mile of routes and Portland has 2,352 riders per day per mile of routes.  

We do not have the population base to support a train and frankly we don't have the urban density either.  San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York are about the only cities in the country with densities that make trains viable.  If you have never visited San Francisco or New York City, you have no idea how incredibly dense those cities are.  San Francisco has nearly 800,000 people living on 46 square miles and it is the center of a Metropolitan area of more than seven million souls.  Portland has 536,000 living on 134 square miles with a metro area of about 2.3 million. San Francisco has twice as many people commuting into their city than does Portland.  Portland's population density is 4,000 per square mile versus San Francisco's 16,000 per square mile.  Portland's workday density swells to about 4,900 per square mile while San Fran's pushes 21,000 per square mile.  So they have a density that is four times that of Portland to support high density mass transit and their transit system is in the red too. Go figure. 

I think trains are great when they serve the public and are self sufficient financially or at least close to financially independent.  Otherwise it is a waste of time, space and money.  Portland has proven how stupid it is by spending a God only knows how many Gazillions on the Max Trains that go out to the damn suburbs where densities are even lower than in Portland.  For what they spent on that cute little choo choo,  I bet they could give every one of the 104,200 riders a pick you up at your door bus ride to work every day till they retire.  Don't laugh, I am probably not that far off reality with that comment.

Let's build a new bridge, fix the highway, vote on the train and hey, let's try to keep the old bridges too!l

All images on this page were pulled from the public domain on 3/10/08 and are the property of their makers or publishers. 

The twilight image of the Interstate bridge Copyright 2004, Rod Sager.

The Vancouver shot from the Interstate Bridge Copyright 2005, Rod Sager 


Copyright, 1994-2008, Rod Sager, Evergreen Online Enterprises, all rights reserved.   Vancouver, Washington, USA

("Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Simon and Garfunkel, Album "Bridge Over Troubled Water" 1970 Columbia Records)