The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Using blackmail to get Light Rail into Washington State

Thursday, March 27, 2008
By Elizabeth Hovde

Portland Mayor Tom Potter joked Monday that to get to Vancouver, he gets to “cross the I-5 Bridge that apparently was built by the Lewis and Clark expedition.” The bridge isn’t that old, but it is outdated in size, form and function.

Ask almost anyone if we need a new Interstate 5 bridge and they should nod in agreement. For heads that don’t bob, tell them the northbound span was built in 1917 and the southbound in 1958. Remind people that the bridge is seismically unfit and that it offers the only red light (for bridge lifts) on Interstate 5 between Canada and Mexico. Inform them that this area of I-5 has double the collisions of comparable highways. Finally, tell folks that 134,000 vehicles cross the Columbia River each day on I-5 — leading to four to six hours of congestion each weekday. That might really drive home the point that the drawbridge’s three lanes each way and frequent lifts are entirely inadequate at keeping commerce flowing or getting commuters to and from work.

By 2030, the Columbia River Crossing planners estimate that 184,000 people will be crossing the bridge each day, leading to 15 hours of daily congestion if no action is taken.

That’s where we can make a difference. We can help make sure action is taken. But there’s a small problem: The opposition to light rail (past and present) by many people in Vancouver.

A decade ago, a light-rail measure failed miserably here. And some suggest that a bridge should be built without a mass-transit component.

Whether you believe mass transit is good or bad for a replacement bridge, a new bridge isn’t going to be built without it. The governors of Washington and Oregon and the Portland City Council have all indicated they will not support a new bridge without a light-rail component. Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard has suggested the same. With these officials saying it’s all or nothing, we better get on board with the idea of shiny little trains traversing the river. One of the primary reasons officials insist on light rail is because without a mass-transit component, the bridge won’t likely win the federal funding it needs to be built. Local leaders aren’t trying to ignore the will of voters or stick it to naysayers; they’re truly trying to get an expensive bridge built.

And right now, the federal government appears willing to help. A lot.

The good news for light-rail detractors follows:

  • Because tolls will be required to build the new crossing, those who use the bridge will be paying much of the cost. Fares will contribute to any ongoing light-rail costs. That means commuters and truckers and folks who spend their free time playing in Portland will be paying more of the bill than others. That’s appropriate.
  • Light rail isn’t going to be added to the bridge project while vehicle lanes go ignored. The bridge is going to bloat big time: up to 12 lanes in the current plan.

Feds could walk away

I was at a recent meeting where a
CRC representative and Thayer Rorabaugh, Vancouver’s transportation manager, both said that at some point before the bridge is built, Vancouver voters would need to approve a maintenance and operation measure for any mass-transit plan in the project. I asked what would happen if voters said “no” to the expected 1- to 3-cent tax increase on a $10 purchase:

Their best guess? No bridge. The feds will likely walk away from the table.

Pollard told me Tuesday, “Our time is now. If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity when the feds and the tolls are almost prepared to pay the whole thing for us, we are going to go WAY to the back of the line,” he said.

The back of the line is a bad place to be when dealing with an unfit, overcrowded bridge.

Various light-rail alignments and Park & Rides planned for Vancouver are worrisome. One in particular — up Main Street through Uptown Village — could adversely impact quality of life for residents and businesses.

Bridge planners have to be innovative in finding ways to make any alignment or parking lot a benefit rather than a bust. But Vancouver voters need to make sure Vancouver’s quality of life thrives, too. One way to do that is getting the feds to buy us a new bridge by showing support for the whole package — mass transit and all.

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