A high-level meeting of elected officials did little Monday to reach consensus on how many lanes should be built on a new replacement Interstate 5 bridge.
The Portland City Council and the Metro Council, in a rare joint work session, spent close to two hours in a wide-ranging discussion of the lane issue, bridge tolls and projected effects on greenhouse gas emissions and urban development.
The meeting, however, only underscored the division between Washington and Oregon on a bridge-freeway-transit project that could cost $3.5 billion or more.
An interesting comment from one official:
Metro Council President David Bragdon said officials agree on a number of issues, including the need to replace the bridge and to extend light rail into Vancouver. On the day a light-rail line opens connecting Portland and Vancouver, it would have the highest ridership of any route in the Portland-Vancouver area, he said.
If politics is the art of the possible, hopefully a grand compromise can be worked out between the two states and the two cities. There are hysterical types on both sides of the river, on one side proclaiming a new bridge will inevitably lead to greater sprawl and on the other side proclaiming the end of freedom due to communist choo-choo trains. It’s all so silly, and unsupported by fact.
The bridge project (bridge influence area in planner-speak) is focused on a short stretch of I-5, the main commercial artery on the West Coast. The sub-standard interchanges and bridge present a real safety and efficiency hazard, and it’s long past time a new bridge is planned and constructed.
The detail that concerns me the most is how tolls are presented to the public. If the proceeds are used to pay for construction and maintenance, the public will accept them. If tolls are used to “manage demand,” far fewer people will be happy and there is the risk of an intense public backlash in Clark County. Since the public will have to be asked to approve taxes to run light rail on this side of the river, that’s a big risk to take.
That may not be how some transportation experts see it, as new technology and the hope of influencing congestion through pricing is a somewhat attractive proposition, but it will be seen as punitive and an example of government being out to get the little people. And frankly, since any toll would be new, as passage across the bridge has been free for decades now, there would be a de facto limiting effect anyway. The quick jaunt across the river to purchase merchandise from big box retailers will have to be weighed against the cost of the tolls.
Complicated toll pricing schemes will just muddy the political waters. I sure hope they don’t do it that way.