This isn’t exactly a balanced article—but luckily, its biases match mine. So therefore it’s great: a nifty roundhouse kick, straight from the Willamette Week, to the notion that widening a highway is a boon, either to the climate or the economy.
In this case, it’s the Columbia River Crossing, connecting Portland and suburban Clark County, WA, that’s in the crosshairs. Here’s my favorite bit:
The $4.2 billion [pricetag for a new bridge] could buy a $21,000 Toyota Prius hybrid and a year’s worth of gas, four new $1,000 bikes, and an annual $1,260 C-Tran pass to Portland for each of Clark County’s 150,000 households.
Yoiks! That makes the wildly overpriced Alaskan Way Viaduct rebuild—the one voters roundly rejected last year—look like a bargain! Of course, pitting cars, bikes and transit against a bridge isn’t completely fair. A Prius will last, what, 15 years or so, and the bikes and transit passes a lot less. But a bridge could be standing for 50 years.
But that’s just the problem—50 years of bridge is likely to carry a lot of traffic over the long haul, which will make it that much harder for Oregon to meet its long-term climate protection goals. The Willamette Week gets the traffic effects just right:
There’s a concept transportation planners call “induced travel,” which means more road capacity results in more traffic.
While the precise relationship between capacity and demand remains under debate, CRC figures show if a new bridge were built without tolls, the number of people crossing the Columbia would increase dramatically, versus the no-build option. Figures show that without tolls, a new bridge would carry 225,000 passengers a day by 2030, while the current bridges, if left in place, would carry only 184,000. The difference of 41,000 is the “induced travel” generated by the newly built capacity.
For more on all of this, you might want to peruse our memo from last fall, exploring how highway widening increases overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Clarke,you are right. the article is biased and your first quote shows particularly clearly the logical fallacy of comparing apples and oranges. I don’t care how many Priuses you have, they can’t cross a river without a bridge. Usually Sightline is a good source for factually based arguments, that you use to counter fallacious and meaningless arguments. This time you swallowed the clever but irrelevant analogy and do your readers a disservice. Here’s a real fact for you: between east and west Portland there are ten bridges, with a total of 45 lanes of traffic. It is considered a problem when one of them is partially or totally shut down. The Columbia River, with 400,000 residents living north of it, has two bridges with 14 lanes. Building a third bridge would have much bigger environmental impact than adding capacity in an existing corridor. The proposal being considered also includes light rail and tolling, which the IPCC calls for in its guidance for transportation investments, as well as fixing existing infrastructure rather than building new, just what this proposal includes.Finally, even at its largest potential configuration, this project would increase regional freeway lane miles by less than 1%, not enough to “induce” travel demand. Indeed, the DEIS analysis shows that the proposal would actually have less traffic in 20 years than a no-build due to tolls and high capacity transit, despite high population growth.Just as we will have to build buildings—schools, homes, office buildings—for our growing population, despite buildings being just as large a source of greenhouse gases as transportation, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build anything (it might “induce” demand!). Rather it means that we need to strive to make our buildings, and our cities, as energy efficient as possible as well as pursue other means to reduce CO2 output from all sources.We will HAVE to replace these bridges someday (one is 90 years old—built for horse and wagon, and the other 50), the question is can we do it responsibly. That is just what we will get with a bridge with light rail to Vancouver, bike and ped facilities, and tolling.
PS: It is not a “$4.2 Billion highway project”Light Rail: up to $1.3 BillionBridge: up to $1.4 Billion (including up to $120M for bike and ped facility)rebuild 6 interchanges: up to $1.5 Billion
Rather it means that we need to strive to make our buildings, and our cities, as energy efficient as possible as well as pursue other means to reduce CO2 output from all sources…This would be a good point Rex, except that this new crossing will be slapped across the river just like other vintage behemoths from the age of cars—a 205 twin.Highway engineers sneer at recycled materials, a reduced carbon footprint during construction, and common efficiencies that we demand of new buildings.
Jeffrey,Where did you get that information? As a member of the Task Force advising this project I have heard nothing but strong intentions to “green” up the construction as well as the solution (tolling, light rail). I have even heard the Governor of Oregon outline the ways this would be done, including cleaner construction equipment (biodiesel, etc), reusing, not just recycling the steel spans, re_using the concrete (done on almost all projects now). These actions don’t only make sense from an environmental standpoint but with the high cost of basic construction materials, no self-respecting engineer would not do these things.I believe Gov. Gregoire would heartily second these goals.I encourage you to read the DEIS and other documents (you too, Clarke) before making such sweeping statements.Rex
Hey there, Rex & Jeffrey. Five thoughts. First: on the $4.2 billion cost—you’re right, Rex. I’ll stop referring to it that way. My bad.Second: construction-related emissions tend to be relatively small potatoes, compared with the long-term emissions from driving on a roadway. That’s true for highway projects, at least; I haven’t looked at bridges. Surprisingly, the embodied emissions from steel, concrete, and construction are quickly overwhelmed by the emissions from vehicle traffic on the roadway. I expect that bridges are more energy intensive than the average road. Still, my guess is that the construction-related emissions will be minor, compared to the emissions from vehicles themselves. (Someone, feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken.)Third: At one point, I was pretty well versed in the literature on induced traffic. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute has a nice lit. review on the subject. http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf Put simply, I’d be *extremely* surprised if Portland turns out to be an exception to the general finding of induced traffic in congested urban areas. In fact, I think the results are so strong that the burden should be on of a wider bridge to explain why Portland won’t experience a surge of induced traffic. And when I look at the traffic estimates generated for the DEIS traffic technical report, I have little confidence in the results. In a nutshell, they seem to assume the conclusion: traffic volumes among the no-build, rebuild, and supplemental options are extremely close. As far as I can tell, the analysis assumes that total traffic volumes are invariant to the characteristics of the road network: it’s as if they simply didn’t run any analysis that adjusts for induced traffic effects. Perhaps they did run the analysis, and found reasons to discount the induced travel effect; I can’t find any mention of that, though. Fourth: All three major cities of Cascadia—Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland—are considering substantial expansions of the highway network. In all three, there are people who argue—in perfectly good faith, I’m certain—that the emissions benefits from reduced congestion are a net boon for the climate. I spent a bunch of time looking at the subject, and concluded that as a general rule, widening a highway is a climate mistake—at least, when viewed at the level of the traffic corridor. When I ran the numbers, I made SUPER-conservative estimates about induced traffic, aggressive increases in mpg, & so forth, and still found that the extra emissions from induced travel outweigh the emissions reductions from congestion relief by roughly an order of magnitude. And that was low-balling the extra travel demand resulting from lower-density development.Lastly: Generally speaking, my climate-related objection to roadway expansion projects largely *vanishes* if transportation fuels are covered in an economy-wide cap & trade system. At that point, emissions will be driven by the cap, not by any particular pattern of highway investments. But until that point, I’m extremely worried about multi-billion dollar transportation investments that could take the region in the wrong direction. Cheers!