The New I-5 Bridge – What to do?

It’s obvious that something’s gotta give. Anyone who’s made the drive from Vancouver in the morning or to Vancouver in the evening knows that. On bad days, it can take more than an hour to cross the span. It’s a headache for both commuters and trucks making shipments. But is a new bridge the answer? The problem is more complex than it looks.

First, while I most definitely sympathize with truckers just trying to get across the river to make their shipments and do their jobs, our neighbors up in the ‘couve haven’t really done much to try to solve the problem of having too many cars on the road. For well over a decade now, our neighbors to the north have given the finger to mass transit. They voted down a MAX connection. They refused to pay three cents out of every $10 spent to prevent major service cuts for C-Tran. And now there are rumblings that they might try to kill the light rail portion of the new bridge, essentially dooming the project. I know that our suburban readers get pissed about perceived “bashing”. Unfortunately, Vancouver readers, the shoe fits here so you’re gonna have to wear it.

Compounding the problem is that the new bridge might not be effective after all. As reported here and here, the new bridge might not be all that effective in reducing congestion, anyway. According to the “O”, right now it takes a driver 16 minutes to get from SR-500 to Columbia Blvd. With the new bridge, that same trip would take 19 minutes. The reason is that the current bridge reduces the flow of traffic into existing bottlenecks in the I-5 system – bottlenecks that will still exist, even with a new bridge. By way of contrast, doing nothing would result in the trip taking 19 minutes – two minutes shorter than if the bridge was built. With information like that, I think that the city should at least look at some alternatives before building this thing. The Merc has some listed here.

So, what do you think?

9 Comments so far

  1. nojam75 on July 7th, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    Let’s be honest. The bridge project is really the Vancouver development project that primarily benefits Washington commuters. Communities on the Washington side have made it clear that they are unwilling to make any concessions for this project. They refuse to relocate the private airport or invest in public transit. Worse, they expect Oregonians to pay half the cost.

    The communities on the Oregon side of the metro area have long planned on dealing with congestion and growth. We’ve taxed ourselves to build MAX and the bus system. We’ve limited and controlled development requiring most of us to pay higher housing costs. Now, the SUV-driving, job-stealing folks in the ‘Couv who thought they were so clever avoiding OR property taxes and higher housing costs now expect us to help pay for a project the primarily benefits them?

    I sympathize with truckers as well. However, I-205 was built to give truly interstate truckers (those just passing through) the ability to bypass the most congested areas.

  2. nuovorecord on July 7th, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

    The "rationale" for building contains neither of the following:

    * A model of the traffic flow based on current oil prices. The "middle of the road" figure used was $59/barrel. Currently, oil is trading at over $140/barrel.

    * An honest look at how building the bridge will impact growth patterns in Clark Co. The model assumes there will be NO impact by building the bridge.

    This whole process has been rigged from the start to end up exactly where we’re at. The powers that be want to build a new bridge, even if we don’t need one.

  3. matt on July 7th, 2008 @ 10:34 pm

    I’m with Avery Brooks on this one.

  4. vancouverman on July 12th, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

    If Vancouver residents didn’t already have to pay 9% of their income while receiving no benefits for it then maybe they wouldn’t mind paying for a new bridge or light rail service. Seriously, what do we get? To check out library books?

    They also might not mind paying tolls if the tolls just went towards paying off the bridge instead of nickel and diming us for perpetuity. I don’t really think the bridge is the problem.

    The problems are:

    1. Delta Park Bottleneck: Fix this and traffic is free to move until the Rose Quarter. I think if Delta Park got fixed people wouldn’t care about a new bridge. I also think Oregon is going to make sure Delta Park doesn’t get fixed until after the tolls start so they can say "see how great these tolls are working!"

    2. HOV Lane: Washington decided the HOV lane was ineffective at reducing congestion yet Oregon keeps it in place. Does packing the majority of drivers in two lanes and letting a few cars whizz by in another lane reduce congestion. No, it just pisses off people who want to get out of the People’s Republic of Oregon.

    Vancouver residents also have plenty of reasons to not want light rail. C-Tran always wants more and money and what did C-Tran do with the extra money they got from their gerrymandering? They built a new multi-million dollar station. Great, a building. That really helps people get where they’re going.


    What is the solution? I don’t know but if the people don’t want light rail or even a new bridge then building one is a waste of money. I think a bridge between Camas and Gresham is a good idea and makes more sense for light rail in Clark County than downtown Vancouver does, but that’s not going to help with I-5 much. If there was a large tax break for Washington residents who used alternative methods to get to work that would encourage people but "tax break" isn’t in Oregon’s vocabulary? It’s a complicated situation and blaming Vancouver for not being like Portland or wanting the same things isn’t fair considering how different our cities have been planned, populated and laid out.

  5. tenstringesquire (port_bill) on July 12th, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

    What you "get", vancouverman, is a method of getting from Vancouver to Portland without sitting in traffic and paying $5.00 per gallon for the pleasure of doing so. The reason you pay taxes in Oregon is, presumably, because you work here. By doing so, you use our roads and infrastructure, and also receive the benefit of making a living wage in our state. If you don’t want to pay the tax, find a job on the Washington side of the river.

    As a previous poster pointed out, Portland has long been planning for car-free alternatives. Vancouver has refused to do so. The result is a freeway system chock full of Washington plates in the mornings and late afternoons. Vancouver has decided that the answer for congestion is more roads and more sprawl. We don’t do things that way down here.

    As for your C-Tran argument, you’re being disingenuous. C-Tran was crumbling because Vancouver residents refused to support it (I lived in Vancouver for eight years, so I know of what I speak). The 2005 measure (a whopping .02% sales tax increase) was merely to keep current levels of service without further disruptions. The people who received C-Tran service were the ones allowed to vote – people in Vancouver, Camas, Washougal, Ridgefield, La Center, Battle Ground and Yacolt (i.e., pretty much everybody in Clark County). Forgive me if I don’t share your outrage over a .02% sales tax increase to help reduce congestion.

    Providing alternatives to automobiles costs money. Buses don’t run on air and rail lines don’t build themselves for free. Having once been a Vancouver/Portland commuter, I would jump at the chance (and happily pay a little extra in taxes) to be able to park my car in downtown Vancouver and hop on a train to get to work. At some point population growth and insanely expensive gas prices are going to make the commute from Vancouver unbearable. I just don’t understand why many of our neighbors to the north lack any kind of foresight.

  6. vancouverman on July 12th, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

    Gas taxes and vehicle registration pay for roads in Oregon, not income tax and if any Oregonian wants a job in Washington they don’t have to pay a dime to work here.

    .02% may not seem like much to you but tell that to someone who just paid $200 more in taxes for their $10,000 home improvement project. The people who received C-Tran service may have been the ones allowed to vote but I would like you tell me one major store or place of business that is outside the taxation zone. Not everyone voted but everyone still pays.

    You can be all high and mighty about urban sprawl not happening down" there" but the only reason your urban growth boundary works is because of Vancouver. Portland knew when they planned it that Vancouver would be their overload center, they knew Vancouver residents would commute to Oregon and bring in tax dollars from people who didn’t use their services, and Vancouver would build the housing that the urban growth boundary didn’t allow for. The Washington plates in Oregon are just as much Portland’s fault as they are Vancouver’s.

    As for driving to downtown Vancouver and riding the bus, I work in Tigard and spend about $200 a month in gas. If I drove to downtown Vancouver and rode the bus I would end up saving $100 a month in gas and spending that $100 on a bus pass. Not to mention the bus would actually take longer and would get me to work late.

  7. radiatta on July 15th, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

    Couple key points:

    The reason the bridge will not get built without mass transit is the feds will not give this region a grant for a new bridge without some type of mass transit going across. I didn’t see the Tribune article really come out and say that.

    1. The bottleneck at Delta Park you mentioned has been under construction since April Maybe you seen the fresh dirt moved around in that area?
    This will be a slow process as they plan to keep all lanes open during peak hours.
    2. Yes it must suck to sit in a single occupant car while cars with 2 or more people whizz by but it sure feels good when your in that car whizzing by all the jokers waiting to get get across the bridge. (I was one of those jokers for seven years)

    Your comment about Vancouver being an "overload center" is interesting do you have any facts backing that up? It is kind of true but I don’t believe Portland planned it that way. Quite an evil plan if they did.

    Yes the commute across the bridge sucks and you are right you will probably get to work late by taking light rail. But was it ever a good idea to work in Tigard and live in Vancouver? Why would you want to live in one suburb and commute to another suburb? Because you could afford it or least you used to. Now gas costs 2x or more and traffic is worse you may be rethinking about taking that job in Lincoln Center or wherever you work. But what about other people who would love to take light rail from Vancouver to Downtown? If they were all riding light rail you would have a little more wiggle room on the freeway.

    my 2 cents.

    I am in favor of replacing our current Interstate bridge but 12 lanes that seems a little insane. More lanes equals more traffic and more congestion. If gas prices continue to go up $5+ the congestion problem may work itself out. My preference is 4 lanes in each direction 2 of them being dedicated to carpool and bus lanes. Additionly there would also be lightrail going into Vancouver (I205 side as well as I5 side). This infrastructure must be built or we will be screwed as a region.

  8. vancouverman on July 16th, 2008 @ 7:42 am

    I know that Delta Park is being fixed but my theory still is that Portland wants to start tolling before the project gets done so they can say the tolls reduced congestion, not the project.

    As for Vancouver being an overload center just look at this quote,from a
    USA Today article on Portland’s Sprawl

    "Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., was one of the early advocates of an urban growth plan for Portland. He still defends it.

    Without it, "this would’ve been gone in a heartbeat," Blumenauer says as he looks out the helicopter at farmland 10 minutes from downtown. "And because of the certainty of growth laws, we know it’s going to look exactly the way it does

    Pointing to Vancouver just a couple of miles across the Columbia River, he says, "We force development there."

    Portland can say it’s green all it wants but I really don’t see how forcing sprawl to surrounding areas helps the environment in the big scheme of things.

  9. tenstringesquire (port_bill) on July 16th, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    Regarding Vancouver as a planned "overload center" – I don’t buy it. Vancouverites could have planned and promoted a similar urban growth boundary on the Washington side of the river, but they didn’t. We’re not "forcing sprawl" on anybody.

    As for HOV lanes – we absolutely should keep them. Makes perfect sense to reward those who carpool by allowing them to bypass one of the nastier parts of the PDX/Vancouver commute. Removing them would only promote and encourage single-car commuting.

    Finally, I believe your math is wrong. The tax on a $10,000 improvement project (and this is only if the entire amount was spent on taxable materials and not services) would be $30, not $200. Three cent tax on every $10, according to the Columbian article. Not a lot of money.

    I don’t mean to come across sounding condescending, accusatory, or "high and mighty", as you put it. I bet you’re a pretty decent guy (or gal) in real life. My main beef with your argument is that just because the proposed light rail line isn’t going to your doorstep in Tigard is not necessarily a reason to oppose it. It will help out lots of other people get from Vancouver to North Portland, Downtown, Hillsboro, Gresham, and other places as the system expands.

    The new bridge should be more than just a means to promote future gridlock. I think we can both agree on that.

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