If you’re a keen observer of politics in Olympia, you may already know that the Columbia River Crossing—a massive highway expansion and rail transit project connecting Portland, Oregon with Vancouver, Washington—has emerged as one of the most hotly contested issues in the negotiations over the state’s transportation package.
But if you’re not from Portland, you may not understand how much local controversy the CRC has generated. Critics from the right think that the project is simply too expensive. Critics from the left…well, actually they tend to agree that the project is a budget buster, but they also quite reasonably point out that a wider bridge could boost traffic, sprawl, and greenhouse gas emissions. (The Economist has cleverly dubbed the right-left opposition the Green Tea party.) Both right and left are joined by a variety of more centrist critics who bemoan the serious flaws in the planning process—including early assumptions that traffic across the Columbia would continue to grow steadily (it didn’t) and that drivers would simply learn to love tolling rather than diverting to the I-205 span just down the river. These critics also raise concerns that toll revenues just won’t be there over the long haul—creating long-term funding burdens for both Washington and Oregon.
So amid all the controversy and the high stakes, I figured it would be a good time to recap some of the things Sightline has written about the CRC in the past:
- Where Are My Cars: Columbia River Crossing — In which we point out that vehicle traffic across the Columbia has remained fairly flat over most of the last decade. See the chart to the right. I just looked at some newer numbers, and traffic on both I-5 and I-205 across the Columbia remains below its all-time peak—raising questions about whether we really need so much extra highway capacity.
- Columbia River Crossing: Cutting Ped/Bike Projects — In which we point out that, in order to save money, project planners have started looking at ways to cut pedestrian and bike projects that planners had included to build political support.
- How Not to Forecast Traffic — In which we look at the patently absurd forecasting methods that had been used to project traffic growth across the Columbia River.
- Don’t Count on Toll Revenue Forecasts — In which we look at the spotty forecasting record of the company that’s been hired to estimate future CRC toll revenues. (Hint: two toll roads they worked on in California are deep in red ink and may never have been financially viable!)
- Rural Sprawl in Metropolitan Portland — This isn’t directly about the CRC, but it looks at Clark County’s rather disappointing record in allowing scattered, low-density development outside the urban growth boundary, which is just the sort of low-density development that massive highway projects can facilitate.
- Our literature review on road tolling and traffic diversion — The quick summary: toll roads with toll-free parallel routes tend to miss their traffic and revenue projections!