Friday, February 22, 2008

Columbia River Crossing Project (CRC)

Significant decisions regarding the Interstate 5 Bridge and High Capacity Transit (bus or rail) are looming on the horizon, both through the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Project, and with further studies of road and high capacity transit within Clark County.

As both a Vancouver Councilmember and Chair of the C-TRAN Board of Directors, much of my effort over the past couple years has been spent in some capacity related to this issue and working to insure these significant decisions are the most beneficial for our community. The purpose of this blog is to give you some background and opinion from my perspective. I appreciate and will consider your feedback as it comes time for me to weigh-in on behalf of the citizens of the City and C-TRAN.

The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Task Force, comprised of 39 members has been meeting to discuss and learn about the proposed improvements for over 2 years now. More detail of the CRC may be found at:

In short, the Task Force was created by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to engage key local stakeholders in the Portland-Vancouver Metro area in a dialogue about the options available to meet the objectives of improving the efficiency of transit (marine, automobile and truck) and safety of the corridor.

Specifically, the Purpose and Need of the CRC is described as:

To address the transportation problems on I-5, a mix of bridge, public transit and highway solutions are needed. If we do not move forward with a comprehensive long-term solution now, the problems will only get worse. This project will improve:

  • Travel safety and traffic operations at the I-5 river crossing and nearby interchanges
  • Connectivity, reliability, travel times and operations of the public transportation systems in the project area
  • Freight mobility and address interstate travel and commerce needs in the project area
  • Structural integrity of the I-5 river crossing
Members (stakeholders) of the CRC Task Force include public agencies (Metro, City of Vancouver, City of Portland, Port of Vancouver, C-TRAN, Trimet), and neighborhood and business representatives.

Aside from the CRC, local agencies in our community such as the Vancouver City Council, the C-TRAN Board of Directors and the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) have held numerous public meetings over the past couple years to receive updates and discuss progress of the project.

The process began with some 20+ options to consider for meeting the goals of the project. After much analysis, discussion and input from the various stakeholders, the CRC is close to releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public consumption, review and comment. The release date is now expected toward the end of March. This document describes in detail the improvement alternatives (four) agreed upon by the CRC to move forward in the process, including a replacement bridge or a supplemental bridge; bus rapid transit or light rail. Options for the high capacity transit alignment are also proposed.

Improvements to meet the goals of the CRC will be costly and require federal support to meet the funding needs. A conglomerate of technical experts (planners, scientists, engineers, public information, etc.) was contracted with to complete laborious analysis of feasible alternatives that met strict federal guidelines for funding, and state and local desires for improvements. The analysis and data these technical experts have prepared has been the basis for the discussions over the past couple years. These alternatives meet, by CRC accounts, the minimum requirements for federal funding of such a mega-project, with cost estimates (depending ultimately on the alternative chosen) as high as $4.25 billion.

Still early in the process, funding opportunities have not been fully vetted. The general expectation is that a third of the funding will be federal, a third will be State/Local and a third will be via tolls on the bridge. Details yet to come.

Alternatives being Considered
There are two (2) bridge alternatives and two (2) high capacity transit (HCT) alternatives being considered in the DEIS. A 'No-build' option is also part of the DEIS.

The bridge options include either #1) a replacement for the existing spans (circa 1917 and 1958), or #2) a supplemental bridge built west of the existing spans.

For HCT, the alternatives are either #1) bus-rapid transit or #2) light rail. In addition, there are two alignments under consideration: #1) A 'Vancouver' alignment that resides west of I-5 the entire length, or #2) An 'I-5' alignment that crosses to the east of I-5 along McGloughlin or 16th Street.

Preliminary Findings
Early analysis and assessment by the CRC consultant team has resulted in the following general findings:

#1) A replacement bridge more effectively meets the need and purpose of the project.
#2) Light Rail transit is more costly to construct, less costly to operate, more efficient connection to Portland HCT system, and more efficient movement of transit riders.

Feedback To Date
My communication with neighbors, residents and business owners in Vancouver and Clark County has been extensive, and aside from many individual conversations, includes meetings and presentations with Uptown Village business owners, neighborhood and other representatives at a recent Light Rail Forum sponsored by 15 Vancouver neighborhood associations, the East Vancouver Business Association, and the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce political action committee. I anticipate many more opportunities for dialogue about the CRC in the coming months. In the next week, I will be meeting/presenting/discussing the CRC with the Vancouver Rotary Club (225 members) and the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce general membership.

The feedback I have received thusfar can be summarized as follows:
  • Comfortable with replacing the existing bridge and interchanges.
  • Comfortable with light rail instead of bus rapid transit.
  • Discomfort with light rail through the Uptown Village area, particularly on Main Street.
  • Discomfort or misunderstanding about the potential costs to Vancouver/Clark County associated the CRC project.
  • Discomfort with the imposition of a toll on the bridge.

Response and Opinion

Details to come...

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