A Better Bridge 

City Council Pushes for Green I-5 Bridge

IF IT WERE up to the Portland City Council, a new bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver along I-5 would be the "smallest bridge possible," employ the "highest-quality architecture," have a "world-class" facility for bicyclists and pedestrians, and include tolls based on congestion "in perpetuity."

There's more: The council's dream Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge reduces the amount people drive, has light rail, won't impact transportation funds available for other local projects, and won't be built until project staffers commission an "independent analysis of the greenhouse gas and induced automobile travel demand forecasts for the project."

In other words, if the CRC's staff—and the two states' departments of transportation—follow the city's directives, there's almost no way the current 12-lane behemoth bridge can ever be built.

According to the CRC's own projections, a 12-lane bridge with light rail and tolls increases how much people drive in the long run, so it's a non-starter for the Portland City Council. A second draft of the CRC proposal could look drastically different to meet the city's demands—plus the demands of other jurisdictions involved in the project, like Vancouver and Metro.

At least, that's the hope. Moments before the city council kicked off a hearing to discuss the $4.2 billion, 12-lane CRC proposal last Wednesday, July 9, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) polished off a letter that was supposed to secure the city's role as the project steamrolls forward.

ODOT's letter, however, was tepid and vague: Calling the relationship between ODOT and the city "as strong, or stronger, than at any time I know of," Director Matthew Garrett wrote that the "vital partnership will continue to direct the course," and that the "City of Portland's continued input, vision, and counsel will be critical to delivering a project which improves the safety and efficiency of the interstate, offers transportation choices, and represents the values and needs of the Portland citizenry." Nowhere did Garrett write that the council has a final say.

But Portland's Mayor-elect Sam Adams says he's confident that "nothing will move forward over our strenuous objections," and he'll vote against the bridge down the road if it doesn't meet the city's criteria.

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