Why Cascade opposes the Columbia River Crossing boondoggle


For the past five years the Cascade Bicycle Club has been opposed to the Columbia River Crossing mega-highway, a Vancouver-Portland area project now at the center of heated legislative negotiation.

Although the current corridor is far from ideal for people on bicycles, the proposed $3.2-$3.6+ billion project does little to improve the situation. The mega-project would divert several billion dollars away from higher transportation priorities while fueling costly sprawl that’s bad for families who want to bike in their neighborhood.

Every organized bicycling or pedestrian group that has taken a CRC position is opposed to the current plan – including the BTA, Bike Walk Vote and the Cascade Bicycle Club.

Huge Opportunity Cost for a Non-Functioning Project

The biggest reason Cascade opposes the CRC is its opportunity cost: every one of the billions of dollars we spend on this boondoggle can’t be spent on Washingtonians’ higher transportation priorities -- providing safe transportation choices and maintaining the roads and trails we already have.

As we work hard to find a few million dollars to fund dozens of projects across Washington to make it safe for kids and families to bike, the state is hoping to spend billions on this single poorly-designed, non-functional highway expansion. To be clear: roughly half of the project's cost is for five miles of highway expansion, while only one-quarter goes toward a new bridge and one-quarter to light rail.

One serious problem: the CRC’s hand-picked Independent Review Panel found the project’s value is questionable unless Oregon spends billions of more dollars in addition to the billions on this project, and there is no plan for that funding, amid a huge maintenance backlog. The Review Panel concluded: "Questions about the reasonableness of investment in the CRC bridge because unresolved issues remain to the south... threaten the viability of the project.”

Bad Design and Process

The CRC plan includes a steep new bridge which would require significantly more effort to bike across than the current spans, a five-block corkscrew detour to get to downtown Vancouver, and a long multi-use pathway under the car bridge, which many expect to feel unsafe to bicyclists, especially at night (more). These elements – safety, distance, hills – are top reasons the 60% of Washingtonians who want to bike more often do not.

Throughout the project’s design and planning, the project’s high-priced consultants shunted aside concerns and desires of people on bicycles, and cut back design elements to save money, while $575 to $650 million-dollar highway interchanges remained. The process was so egregious Oregon's Bicycle Transportation Alliance resigned from the advisory board.

Bicycle-Unfriendly Land Use

As we strive to build communities that encourage families to bike, the CRC undermines that vision. By expanding highways, the CRC promotes longer travel distances and costly sprawl across Clark County and beyond. During a hearing this February in Oregon, one CRC proponent argued housing values would increase as far north as Chehalis.

Poor Project Management

Lastly, the CRC has a record of mismanagement, from its misdirected Purpose and Need Statement to the recent discovery, nine years into planning, that the new bridge would be too low for upstream boat traffic to travel under. It has shunted aside more affordable alternatives arguing they failed to retain passage for 100% of upstream vessels – something the CRC’s own design fails. When facts got in the way, an ODOT statement from the mid-2000s saying the current spans could serve for another 60 years was disappeared from ODOT’s website, and when facts were not compelling enough, CRC backers have used rampant fear-mongering about safety. The list goes on - including using traffic models based on $1.10 gas, models that aren't designed to consider tolling, models that presume no land use changes from the project, and contracting practices that raise significant red flags.

Simply put, the CRC is an example of misplaced priorities, a project pushed by the well-heeled highway lobby at the expense of Washingtonians.

We can find a more affordable, functional solution in the corridor that better serves the values of Washington’s families. We urge the legislature to stop pouring millions of dollars into this dysfunctional boondoggle.

Read more at the Seattle Transit Blog and Sightline.

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