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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Clearing up confusion about the Columbia River Crossing project

Here's a good illustration of how terminology can impact public perception.
For months now, officials from the project -- a joint operation of Oregon and Washington -- have been saying the bridge will have three through lanes in each direction, not counting onramps, offramps and breakdown lanes.

But now, official descriptions of the proposal say the bridge will be have "five or six lanes." That doesn't mean lanes were added; it's just a switch in terminology.

"It's the wording," said Danielle Cogan, task force spokeswoman.

Yes, it will still have three through lanes, but now the onramps, offramps and breakdown lanes are included when counting lanes. Five or six lanes will cross the bridge in each direction, Cogan said, although one may be, for example, an exit-only lane to eastbound Highway 14 in Washington, or an exit to southbound Interstate Avenue in Portland, or a place to change a flat tire.
The article goes on to note that the CRC has received a lot of comments complaining that we would be spending $2 billion to build a bridge with the same number of lanes as the existing bridge. That's simply not the case. A new bridge would involve at least three "through lanes" and any number of "exit" lanes.

Leaving controversial transit questions aside, it seems clear that efforts are being made to address safety, interchange and overall design issues. Put simply, the 1917 highway technology would be replaced, as it stands in the current staff proposal, by 2007 highway technology. It's still cars, but it would be a drastic improvement. Having "drop-off" lanes that serve Hayden Island and downtown Vancouver, for example, would free up a lot of room.

There are tons of issues to be sorted out, but this was a smart move by the CRC. People were misunderstanding the proposal, thinking it would only involve three total lanes in each direction. While there are legitimate arguments to be made about the staff proposal, it's important that everyone at least understand what it is.

UPDATE: Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who is certainly not shy about speaking his mind, declared his support for light rail and tolls yesterday during his "State of the City" speech. From The Oregonian:
Pollard, delivering his annual State of the City address, embraced light rail, saying he wouldn't support an Interstate 5 bridge replacement plan that didn't include it. He said vehicle tolls would be essential to pay for the new bridge. And he said that a $20-per-vehicle license tax would be needed for new transportation projects elsewhere in the city.
As the article notes, at least one city council member and two county commissioners were not exactly jumping for joy.

It's an interesting development, to say the least. The city and county have clashed repeatedly over growth-related issues, especially annexation. An article in The Columbian about the speech has Pollard "hinting" that it might be time for Vancouver to chart its own course when it comes to transit.
During his speech, Pollard hinted that it might be time for Vancouver to break away from C-Tran and form its own transit agency.

Afterward, Pollard said he made that comment because county commissioners appear ready to use their power to veto C-Tran decisions and block the transit agency from backing a bridge project should it include light rail transit.
One more thought about tolls: if the new Interstate 5 bridge is tolled, what implications does that have for the existing Interstate 205 bridge not far upriver?

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