IN A QUIET HALL at the Expo Center last Wednesday night, December 3, a few women who live in houseboats along the Columbia Slough, a stone's throw from I-5, pored over a map of the proposed Columbia River Crossing bridge.
"What a mess!" one woman said, pointing to the tangle of on and off ramps and extra "auxiliary" lanes that intertwined on both sides of the Columbia River. If the plan she was looking at is eventually built—with three through lanes in either direction, and six auxiliary lanes to facilitate entrances and exits, for a total of 12 lanes—her home would have a new roof of concrete overhead. "And I thought my roof would last 30 years," she joked, wryly.
That woman, and others, were on hand for an open house on the Columbia River Crossing—a chance to weigh in on everything from the number of lanes to whether light rail should go under the vehicle bridge, or should get its own span across the river. Big tables were covered with large-scale drawings of both the 10-lane and the 12-lane options for the $4.2 billion project, and project staffers helpfully answered questions.
Two days later, the Columbia River Crossing Sponsors Council—a group of officials from every jurisdiction impacted by the project—gathered to check out essentially the same info. It's their job to help decide how many auxiliary lanes the bridge will ultimately have (the jurisdictions all initially signed off on six lanes of traffic, with the extra number of lanes to be determined later).
"Everybody has an opinion, and I've heard them all," said Council Co-Chair Henry Hewitt. "What I've tried to say in all those conversations is, 'Let's have an opportunity to hear all the facts.'"
And facts they heard, from project staffers and analysts who double checked things like whether a bigger bridge will cause sprawl (the analysts say no, but elected officials like Metro Council President David Bragdon questioned their findings).
They also heard that the amount of traffic went down—and safety went up—with an increased number of lanes. Finally, project staffers noted that every option on the table—eight, 10, and 12 lanes, but no six-lane option lacking auxiliary lanes—increased the amount of "vehicle miles traveled" (VMT) in the region. The council will dig further into that issue at a future meeting, and it's likely to be a sticky conversation—jurisdictions like Metro and the City of Portland have insisted that the bridge reduce the region's overall VMT.