Talks over a possible new I-5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland have heated up a bit, according to this article from The Oregonian:
Portland and Vancouver squared off Friday on the size of a new Interstate 5 bridge, with Vancouver officials aiming for a high-capacity span and Portland insisting that a smaller, more environmentally friendly alternative could suffice.
The article quotes new Portland Mayor Sam Adams as saying he could possibly support a ten lane bridge, and then David Bragdon, who heads Metro, weighs in along the same lines:
Metro Council President David Bragdon sided with Adams, saying he could agree to 10 lanes. But that support would be based on charging high tolls to encourage mass transit use and discourage rush-hour commuting.
On the Washington side, both Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard and the city council member challenging him, Tim Leavitt, didn’t seem to like the idea of a smaller eight lane bridge, with Leavitt immediately playing to the peanut gallery by saying
“I’m not really interested in compromising on issues related to safety and congestion and the economy of our region,” said Leavitt, chair of the board of C-Tran, Clark County’s mass transit agency.
I’ve always found sanctimony to be the best possible political strategy, which could explain why I never ran for office. But I digress.
More than a few things strike me as interesting here.
It’s been discussed many times before, but the continued focus on how many lanes a new structure will have is somewhat misleading. Project staff have repeatedly said that all of the six additional lanes in their proposal will function to reduce “mixing,” the lane changing that occurs near freeway exits and entrances and causes so many accidents. (If you know the area, think about all the little cruddy on and off ramps between Fourth Plain on the north side of the river and say, Alberta on the south side. The bridge project would not just build a bridge, it is intended to fix these dangerous, sub-standard situations.)
Now Adams, the Portland mayor, is complaining one of these lanes might be too long. Well, okay, but it doesn’t make much sense to deliberately end a mixing lane just because a politician doesn’t like it.
In the wake of a short but serious disruption of I-5 in Lewis County due to flooding, here we once again find politicians throwing up (ahem) roadblocks to solving problems on the transportation artery that supplies the West Coast. The tensions are, of course, based on real political factors.
In the case of Portland, there is a vocal element of bridge opponents that dismisses the needs of Clark County residents out of hand, frequently with a sneer and a flip comment about McMansions and Hummers. Then they drive down to the bicycle shop and purchase bike wheels that cost more than a hybrid.
On the Clark County side of the river, there is a vocal element that attacks the transit component of the bridge effort, especially light rail, frequently with a sneer and a flip comment about “socialism.” Then they complain about a lack of snow removal and demand more equipment and cooperation.
Being human beings, we’re all hypocrites to one degree or another, but while the elected officials on both sides have done a fairly decent job of working on this project, the two communities have some issues to work out.
For starters, while generalizing is how people try to make sense of the world, everyone in Clark County is not a commuter, nor does everyone in Clark County live on 5 acres and vote Republican. There are plenty of people more than willing to take light rail if it comes over the river. In addition to the commuters that, for some reason, draw the undying enmity of certain factions in Portland, there are non-commuters who have legitimate reasons to travel to Portland, such as medical patients. It’s kind of hard to hop on a bike and peddle home in a January rain when you’re an 87 year old woman undergoing chemotherapy, for example.
And in Oregon, not everyone is an extremist like the bridge haters. In fact, there are tons and tons of Hummers and other evil vehicles in Oregon.
My main critique of Bragdon’s continued insistence on what is known in transportation circles as “Transportation Demand Management,” in this instance tolls, is that nobody is talking about applying these tolls to Oregon residents driving vehicles into the city on the Sunset or the Banfield, or from I-5 to the south, but only on Clark County residents. There will almost certainly need to be tolls to finance the project, but very few members of the public in Clark County are going to see TDM as anything but an arbitrary punishment unless TDM tolls are applied evenly throughout the metro area. (Note: I realize there are aspects to TDM other than tolls, including things like parking, positive incentives to use transit, land use policy, etc. My focus here is on tolling for TDM.)
Essentially Oregon is demanding that elected officials in Clark County take a position that will guarantee a huge public backlash.
The good news in all this is that discussions are still happening, and that there are some fairly impressive individuals involved, especially the two mayors.