The multi-billion dollar Columbia River Crossing (CRC), with its likely $8 tolls and Portland’s light rail, has quietly been resurrected this past year. Governor Jay Inslee’s recent visit emphasizing “a new I-5 bridge is critical” was the exclamation point.
“We have to have an Interstate 5 corridor that is not built on wooden piers and signed by the Woodrow Wilson administration, that is imperative. We have to fix that corridor,” Inslee said.
The governor forgets he told Clark County citizens: “no light rail, no bridge” in 2014. But for that demand by both Inslee and Oregon’s disgraced former Governor Kitzhaber, construction would be underway today.
“Fixing the corridor” should mean, first and foremost, addressing the Rose Quarter. The real roadblock on I-5 is this 2-mile, 2-lane section of I-5, which Oregon refuses to fix. It has the highest accident rate of any Oregon road. The CRC provided only a one-minute improvement in southbound traffic due to the Rose Quarter.
Addressing the corridor would mean providing a new, alternate corridor for north-south vehicles and freight. The I-205 corridor provided significant I-5 corridor relief 35 years ago with an eastside transportation option. (The Glenn Jackson bridge cost $169 million). A new westside corridor would allow traffic to/from Beaverton, Hillsboro area to avoid both the Rose Quarter and Vista Ridge Tunnel choke points. A 1990 transportation plan died when Portland refused a new highway across their West Hills.
Our 2008 Regional Transportation Council (RTC) “Visioning Study” provided options for four new bridges crossing the Columbia – two west of I-5 and two east of I-205, for new transportation corridors. Instead they demanded “a light rail project in search of a bridge” as an Oregon Supreme Court Justice described the CRC.
A year ago, Vancouver demanded $83 million to “upgrade” their modern Mill Plain/I-5 interchange. Councilman Jack Burkman told the RTC it was the $80 million CRC price, adjusted for inflation. There were no plans showing the scope of work. Plans produced later show the proposal is the exact CRC design. David Madore said: “it’s building the CRC one step at a time.”
In June, our legislature increased gas taxes, including $94 million for this piece of the CRC. TriMet’s Neil McFarlane talked about resurrecting the CRC and extending light rail into Clark County last September.
Identity Clark County discussed “the elephant in the room” at January’s RTC Board meeting. Now seeking re-election, Gov. Inslee discusses an I-5 bridge replacement for his second term.
In 2013, 223 out of 228 Clark County precincts rejected the CRC and its light rail and tolls. Yet Inslee and the downtown Vancouver special interests refuse to accept the will of voters. The over-priced CRC is being revived, rather than pursuing new transportation corridors with new bridges to reduce traffic congestion and improve freight mobility.
Portland has a dozen bridges across the Willamette River. Why should we be limited to just two bridges across the Columbia?