Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Task force staff says new bridge best option

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the Columbia River Crossing Task Force received the staff recommendation yesterday to tear down the existing spans of the Interstate Bridge and replace it.
The staff of the task force has concluded that the I-5 Bridge is just too narrow and too old to fit into new transit plans. Project co-director John Osborn says that would mean a staggered construction project on a new bridge.

John Osborn: "Ideally, the way that we would do these is to either go upstream or downstream. We don't know for sure what the best alternative would be, and construct the facility there, and then cut over to it and then demolish the old structures."

Osborn says the task force will review two options for mass transit on a new bridge - buses or light rail. He says they'd build the mass transit portion of the bridge first and then lanes for cars. The next step is an environmental impact study.
It's certainly not an enviable job to be on a task force with 38 other people, and it's probably less enviable to work for that task force. Coming up with a final plan is likely to be difficult.

But the obvious criticisms that will come from the right on this plan are clear. They will attack the fact that it would replace a six lane bridge with another, albeit much better, six lane bridge. Some will still stupidly demand a third bridge, even though Oregon has made it clear that's not going to happen. And of course they will attack the light rail component and the idea of a toll, and some righties will spontaneously combust if light rail is built before the automotive lanes. Heaven forbid someone takes a train into Portland instead of battling the traffic on the bridge.

Bashing light rail has a long and ignoble history in Clark County. The decision by transit planners to put light rail on the January, 1995 ballot, with the smoke still clearing from the rubble of the November, 1994 election, in hindsight ranks up there with one of the worst ballot placements by any agency in Clark County history. To this day that 2-1 rejection of light rail is cited by opponents, even after nearly 12 years.

There are legitimate concerns about the suitability of light rail in Clark County, namely the lack of density and the cost of construction and operations. On the other hand, Portland has expanded its system over the years to the point that it's possible to imagine people using light rail quite extensively in 20 years, particularly as Clark County continues to add population. West-side light rail has, in fact, seen a great deal of use in Portland. Considered in a metropolitan context, light rail becomes much more appealing.

Tolls could ultimately prove less problematic, as it's not that hard to point out that tolls were used to build the current bridge. If nothing else, tolls are very fair user fees, and technology would greatly reduce the hassle factor. (Although the idea of kids missing out on getting to throw the quarter in the basket is somewhat lamentable.)

It's also certain that Clark County commuters would like to see the promised third lane south of Delta Park actually built. Clearing up that bottleneck alone will ease things somewhat in the short term. Oregon is funny about building freeway lanes for people to more easily clog up their downtown, though.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a consensus that something must be done about the bridge. The task force has cleared some important hurdles, but their biggest challenges lie ahead: convincing the public and Congress to adopt a specific proposal.

Oh, and one other thing: the new bridge needs to be the most beautiful bridge ever built in the whole wide world. We can't forget the aesthetics.

MORE-- Here's a link to the PDF file of the staff report.

<< Home