Vancouver City Council reviews Interstate Bridge Replacement Program with emphasis on light rail, mobility and downtown development

Councilor Sarah Fox: “Lanes don’t really fix congestion” so congestion management must be part of project

Monday afternoon, the Vancouver City Council held a workshop to review the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) and the city’s position on key issues. The roughly 45-minute briefing and question and answer session brought the council members up to date on numerous changes since the 2011 Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Record of Decision on the project.

Staff member Katherine Kelly shared that the program stems from studies that began in the 1990s with a review of possible enhancements for Interstate 5. Key issues that prompted previous studies were based primarily around congestion and safety needs. 

The Vancouver-supported elements of the CRC were a replacement bridge, the redesign of four interchanges, improvements to three interchanges, light rail that terminated at Clark College, a transit alignment on Washington/Broadway streets in the lower downtown, and on McLoughlin Blvd. to the college. They also supported tolling on the bridge and new bike access and pedestrian enhancements to the bridge.

Members of the Vancouver City Council supported these priorities in the Columbia River Crossing effort. They are reviewing priorities and hope to update their direction to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program in July. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver
Members of the Vancouver City Council supported these priorities in the Columbia River Crossing effort. They are reviewing priorities and hope to update their direction to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program in July. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver

After the program stopped in 2014, the council reengaged via an Aug. 6, 2018 resolution. It supported a replacement bridge, high capacity transit with a dedicated guideway with a mode to be defined, and multimodal enhancements.

Councilor Bart Hansen asked: “we’re still talking about a 10-lane bridge, right?”

“We are still talking about a bridge that has 10 lanes,” responded Rebecca Kennedy. “The way it was designed previously, and what will be reevaluated, is the configuration that was three through lanes in each direction and two auxiliary lanes in each direction. But that is the baseline.”

Hansen responded. “We need to have that discussion, because it’s a pretty big point to be talking about as far as reducing congestion in something that was worked out with Portland.”

That prompted Councilor Ty Stober to respond.

“As I read through this presentation, it screamed. ‘Our priority is the movement of cars and not the movement of people,’” he said.  “I would like to see elevated up, transportation and personal mobility, so that they feel on par with traffic.” Stober also wants to ensure transit access for downtown and the Renaissance trail.

Councilor Sarah Fox weighed in. “On the heels of the comments of how many lanes this bridge could have, do we have a group that’s really looking at managing congestion as part of this project, because lanes don’t really fix congestion.” 

“All studies show you can add 10 more lanes, and people will just get in their cars and fill up all those lanes,” she said. “It just doesn’t take much time; so there has to be some other tools to help manage, and keep those lanes flowing.”

Staff responded saying transportation demand management systems were part of the planning and discussion.

It was not mentioned that it has been 40 years since a new transportation corridor was built or that new vehicle capacity has been added to the two main transportation corridors currently in place.

Stober mentioned that even if Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) were the chosen transit component, he wants to ensure the bridge is constructed to handle light rail.

Vancouver population has grown 17 percent, the numbers of jobs has grown 39 percent, and Communities of Color has grown 40 percent since the 2011 Record of Decision in the CRC. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver
Vancouver population has grown 17 percent, the numbers of jobs has grown 39 percent, and Communities of Color has grown 40 percent since the 2011 Record of Decision in the CRC. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver

Process moving forward

The program is tied to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).The first step through NEPA is to define the problems the program will solve. These are documented as a program’s Purpose and Need statement.

The CRC program identified six problems — congestion, seismic resiliency, safety, limited public transportation, freight mobility, and inadequate bike and pedestrian connections. Those problems have been affirmed as still being relevant and those foundational problems that still need to be addressed by the IBRP.  Climate and equity elements have been added to the Purpose and Need statement.

Changes were made to the original Record of Decision (ROD). Those changes were adjusting the bridge height from 95 feet to 116 feet, to allow for adequate maritime navigation.

That prompted Stober to ask about the three up-river businesses that were negatively impacted by the CRC’s low bridge height. They were offered millions in compensation. Stober wondered if their circumstances had changed. He assumed the prior compensation agreement was null and void.

Staff highlighted numerous changes that have occurred in the Vancouver side of the “bridge influence area.” These included a New Seasons Market and the Hurley building being constructed in the planned light rail and park and ride alignment.

New development along the waterfront and Terminal One has occurred but it has been planned so as not to impede on the CRC’s footprint, according to staff.

With regards to transit, The Vine BRT system built the downtown transit corridor, the coming Mill Plain BRT system, and C-TRAN running “bus on shoulder” on certain highways.

The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program has verified the Purpose and Need from the CRC still exists. Equity and climate change are being added to the original list of six problems identified. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program has verified the Purpose and Need from the CRC still exists. Equity and climate change are being added to the original list of six problems identified. Graphic courtesy of city of Vancouver

During council discussion, many emphasized the importance of pedestrian connections in the downtown area. Furthermore, they mentioned a “community connector,” a lid over I-5.

Staff reminded the council that the previous constraints for the required height of the bridge for river navigation, as well as PDX flight path and the constrained environment and footprint still exist.

City Manager Eric Holmes summed up the meeting.

“High level themes seem to center around the importance of harnessing whatever investment that is made to enhance the sense of place in downtown, the connectivity within downtown and two adjacent areas,” he said. “The bridge itself (should be) focused on mobility as opposed to traffic management, recognizing traffic management is a component of that, but it’s about moving goods and people, not necessarily cars and trucks.”

Holmes will use that as a framework for drafting a resolution that would come back to the council for further discussion.

The council will have two more meetings and discussions regarding the IBRP before likely passing an updated resolution providing direction and support for the project in July.

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K. Pro
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K. Pro
5 months ago

My personal experience,having lived indifferent metro locations in Michigan and Georgia, lite rail has brought more problems than solved. You still have to drive to the stations, cars are vandalized while parked for the day, so the use is abandoned by many. The best work was to bring in additional highways. Atlanta brought what was referred to as a outer perimeter. If you did not need to go into the core of the City, you drove around it. If you drove a delivery truck and did not have a deliver into the city,you used the outer perimeter.

Look at the current light rail in PDX, not very well used and over paid for…doesn’t make much sense….

David
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David
5 months ago
Reply to  K. Pro

Spot on! The MAX is way too slow and expensive;over $20M per mile. We should not be forced to adopt this ill-conceived mistake. Dedicated express bus lane instead or combined bus / HOV lane

Last edited 5 months ago by David
John Ley
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John Ley
5 months ago
Reply to  David

MAX light rail is $200 to $240 million per mile in the Portland metro area.

In Seattle, their last extension ran roughly $800 million per mile.

It’s outrageously expensive.

And as you noted, it’s extremely slow.

The MAX Yellow line travels about 10 mph.

Rhea
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Rhea
5 months ago
Reply to  K. Pro

Agreed!

jim
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5 months ago

Sara Fox shows her failure to do her homework when she said:
“All studies show you can add 10 more lanes, and people will just get in their cars and fill up all those lanes,” she said. “It just doesn’t take much time; so there has to be some other tools to help manage, and keep those lanes flowing.”

Sara, do you really expect people to drive to work TWICE each morning? Or are you expecting people who live & work in Washingto to take a side trip accross the river on their way to work?

You would be a lot smarted and better informed if you quit reading outright lies from the likes of the Sierra Club, WWF,& Al Gore.

Emanuel McCray
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Emanuel McCray
5 months ago

Once again I have to show the City how dumb I am. I believe it costs money to po nder the idea. So if we stop pondering we will save a lot of money. So the last time I opposed this boondoggle it was because light rail could not operate over more than a 6% slope. So to make the City’s idea work, you would have to reduce the slope to no more than 4%. If this us done, the Columbia would be shut down to half of its current traffic. This is where I get really dumb. You can’t build a 4% or 6% slope starting at Hayden Island and expect to land in downtown Vancouver. Ask an engineer what it would really look like. I’m so dumb, yet I can’t seem to lose the fight against the proponents. Go figure.

Myself
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Myself
5 months ago

I suggest a tunnel. No effect on up river business. No worries about height for Parsons Airfield. Won’t divide waterfront wth massive structure.
They dug a tunnel under Seattle
How about helping us out down here in Southern Washington

K.J. Hinton
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K.J. Hinton
5 months ago

That they elect morons like this results in the stupidity of their governance. Do we really expect those who won’t pay for or use this bridge to be balanced and focusing on congestion relief which is the ONLY acceptable reason for replacing a safe, paid-for bridge?

Of course not. It’s a leftist fantasy to have our $40,000 investments permanently sitting in our driveways while they feed outrageously expensive, massively overpriced contracts to their buddies who own them.

Rhea
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Rhea
5 months ago

Eric Holmes said, “The bridge itself (should be) focused on mobility as opposed to traffic management, recognizing traffic management is a component of that, but it’s about moving goods and people, not necessarily cars and trucks.”
I am interested to know how he differentiates between “goods and people” and “cars and trucks”. Aren’t they basically the same when addressing crossing the river using the bridge?

John Ley
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John Ley
5 months ago
Reply to  Rhea

Rhea — good question, but in the minds of politicians there are HUGE differences.

Cars and trucks need more lanes and more transportation corridors. It’s been 40 years since a new bridge and transportation corridor was built in the region — I-205.

But “people” can be moved by light rail or bus rapid transit or regular transit. People can also ride their bikes or walk.

Eric Holmes was reflecting what several members of the Vancouver City Council said they wanted — an emphasis on transit and light rail, rather than cars and trucks and actually reducing traffic congestion.

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