Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Myopia in Rose City

First off...the definition of myopia:

Myopia (mahy-oh-pee-u) noun.

1. Ophthalmology. a condition of the eye in which parallel rays are focused in front of the retina, objects being seen distinctly only when near to the eye; nearsightedness
2. lack of foresight or discernment; obtuseness.
3. narrow-mindedness; intolerance.

Item number two is the working definition for today's blog.

Two entries recently appeared in the fish wrap south of the Columbia River regarding the Columbia River Crossing project, the content and quotes of which demonstrate a clear myopic attitude of certain individuals about regional/national transportation issues and business/commerce.

First, a Sunday, February 24th article, entitled Bridging the Global Warming Gap by Dylan Rivera includes comments from a Metro council member: "the region should scrap the proposal entirely. Toll the existing bridge -- and change nothing else for a while -- to see how that reduces congestion and carbon emissions. Follow up with light rail and river navigation enhancements that would be less costly than the $4.2 billion proposal on the table."

Response: Really appreciate the idealism here; the goal of reducing carbon emissions is and 'creating' a sustainable community is laudable and I support that position, to a reasonable extent. Constantly pushing the envelope is necessary to, in the least, incite conversation.

However, it's entirely unrealistic...and bad public policy for the entire WEST COAST of the good ol' USA to suggest that the blinding red beacon of the Interstate 5 Bridge and associated interchanges not be improved. This bridge should not become the "great sustainable experiment". A 'do nothing' alternative is unacceptable.

Public safety alone is a compelling enough reason to fix the corridor. The CURRENT bridges were constructed in 1917 and 1958! In 1917, the bridge was constructed for horse-drawn carriages and Model T Fords...the speed limit was 35 miles per hour. The interchanges and on-ramps/off-ramps are evidenced by the high frequency of accidents. Tolling the bridge with no improvements does not address the woefully inadequate interchange issues. The CRC studies already completed show that tolling has some, but limited impact on usage; the argument that there will be less traffic, thus less safety concern doesn't carry.

Those comments also suggest that business and commerce aren't important in the I-5 corridor. Any concern about the impacts to Portland businesses if the 60,000 employees from Clark County have an even more challenging time getting to work? Do these comments reflect the perspective of Portland business owners? What about commerce/freight and delivery traffic in our region and up/down the West Coast? What about maritime commerce? We are aware that the maritime navigation is dangerous and requires bridge lifts that further inhibit efficient traffic circulation. No doubt the negative economic impacts of tolling the existing bridge with no improvements would ripple throughout our side of the country.

If one were to expand the argument of this myopic scenario with more obtuseness...tolling the existing bridge with no road/safety/capacity improvements indeed would be BENEFICIAL to Clark County. Commute times would increase exponentially, as expected with our population growth and modeled by the CRC. Business in Portland would suffer. So, either business would expand into Clark County...or residents would move to Portland. My guess is business would move to Clark County. There's more shovel-ready commercial & industrial property; there's more tax advantages to business and residents; and our school system is in much better shape. Either way, Clark County wins. More business, more tax base; less population, less drain on agency resources, less sprawl, etc., etc., etc.

Next, on Tuesday, February 26, an Oregonian editorial writer presented a piece called Building A Bridget to the past? The piece included mis-statements of facts and a backwards perspective of the objectives of the project, including the following:
Apparently, I need a little help with the math on the Columbia River Crossing:
The $4 billion bridge will shave 10 minutes off the commute to Clark County...
Those 10-12 lanes at the state line will funnel into four lanes at the Rose Garden . . . and still reduce the legendary I-5 bottleneck?
"You have a bridge that is unsafe and seismically unsound," said (Chris) Smith, who is running for a seat on the Portland City Council, "but I don't know the answer is to build something that encourages more commuting from Clark County."
Particularly when that county has a much more leisurely philosophy about taxes, land use and sprawl. "If I had $4 billion to invest," Smith said, "I might put it into affordable housing in Portland, not economic development in Vancouver."

Response: I'll tell you that indeed, assistance with the math is needed. I know there is criticism of the level of education in math and science in our country, but please...
There are NOT 10 lanes of traffic feeding at the state line feeding into the bottleneck at the Rose Garden!!! Indeed, the addition is entirely unaccurate. The CRC project, in truth, will result in THREE (3) lanes of through traffic extending to the Rose Garden. A closer look at the proposed project would reveal that the road improvements are restricted to adding needed merge lanes, primarily in downtown Vancouver and at Jantzen Beach, onto the three through lanes.

Fortunately, CRC study results show that some 70% of the vehicle trips in the bridge influence area get on and off the freeway prior to the bottleneck at the Rose Garden. At the Rose Garden those other 30% of vehicle trips will start to slow and backup. It's hard to see how it could be accomplished now, but leaders in Oregon should look at widening I-5 in that area. The freeway varies from 2 to 3 lanes until after the Marquam Bridge, where it returns to three lanes.

Why is there a suggestion that the commute to Clark County will be shaved by 10 minutes. While this may be the case, it is more important for business owners in Portland that rely on Clark County employees to learn that current travel time INTO Portland during the morning commute will be preserved into the next couple decades. I suppose it wasn't the authors intent to emphasize that aspect of the improvement project...for fear of weakening his arguments.

Not encouraging more traffic from Clark County? Portland businesses don't want reasonable access for some 1/2 million citizens from Clark County to shop, eat, work and recreate in Portland? Any 'expert' in transportation issues recognizes the vital link between transportation and economic vitality. Don't improve the bridge and interchanges: Allow for more difficulty for Washingtonians to get to Oregon; allow more difficulty for local business to haul freight and goods between the two states; allow more difficulty for interstate and international business commerce on the West Coast. The result? Loss of business competitive advantage; loss of economic growth and business expansion; loss of jobs.

It's a difficult project to wrap your arms around, as apparent by some of the remarks by others noted here. There is a lot of information; the process has been ongoing for several years now. One simply cannot take a 'sound bite' of information and draw conclusions....that is simply irresponsible, particularly by public officials and media types.

The CRC project is more than just moving people; more than sustainablilty; more than maritime traffic. The CRC project is about FUTURE community vitality, livability and properity. The citizens of our region deserves leadership that will keep an eye on this future.