Innovations – Mega Highway Project Will Reduce Emissions, Upgrade Substandard Bike-Ped Facilities

This bike-ped path will be upgraded to a 20-foot wide covered path when the bridge is replaced. (Image: WSDOT flickr)

Note: “Innovations” is a series showcasing creative achievements, particularly those of public agencies, in moving people and goods more quickly, safely, and cleanly in ways that often also save taxpayer dollars.  View previous stories in the series.

USDOT recently approved the final environment impact statement (EIS) for the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing Project, a highway, transit and bike-ped mega-project just north of Portland, Oregon. (See bottom for complete description of the project or visit the project webpage.) This approval provides the green light from USDOT for the project to proceed.

What’s innovative about this project?

It includes “one of the first quantitative greenhouse gas analyses ever done at the project level” and a sustainability strategy that intends to “reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 0.5 percent and reduce emissions locally in the 12-mile project area by about 5.4 percent by 2030.” These reductions are expected to occur despite the region’s growth in population, and increased freight movement from two international seaports.

This is a project, and a process, that environmental, smart growth, and transit advocates should like and hold up as a model for other State DOTs to follow when it comes to adding highway capacity.

Why?  Because the two DOTs along with local agencies and communities have strived to reduce, beyond what’s required, the environmental impacts of a necessary highway expansion.  The project will reduce emissions compared to building the more conventional version of this project.

The reductions would be achieved through use of tolls, which would reduce the growth in vehicle traffic and shift some traffic from the stop-and-go commute peaks to the more freely-moving off-peak period.  The addition of light rail will shift trips from cars, resulting in reduced emissions.  And as with many highway projects these days, the project will utilize sustainable construction materials and methods as much as possible.

The project team included a Sustainability Technical Committee to advise staff on the draft Sustainability Strategy development.  The project also included a Greenhouse Gas Expert Review Panel to advise staff.

Yet the project continues to be opposed by a variety of environmental, smart growth, and transit advocates, as well as opponents of light rail and of tolling. Several of those groups intend to file lawsuits to stop the project.  USDOT’s approval is characterized by some as “a disappointing endorsement from an administration that has made “livability” a key issue.”  On top of that, it’s unclear if and when the federal and state governments will provide the necessary funding.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, in approving the EIS, said

“We are making the long-sought-after transit link between Portland and Vancouver possible. This is the type of forward-leaning project that will greatly benefit the entire region well into the future.”

The direction of the project was set back in 2008 in a joint statement from the Oregon and Washington Governors to the project team:

We firmly believe this can and should be one of the most sustainable transportation projects in the country; one that incorporates high capacity transit, strategies that reduce vehicle miles traveled, tolling, electronic safety technologies, and world class bike and pedestrian facilities. We also believe we must use construction materials and methods that would minimize environmental impacts.

Here are more details about the project:

The project is in a five mile corridor between Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon that  includes the interstate and seven interchanges connecting three state highways and several major arterial roadways. These interchanges provide access to downtown Vancouver, two international marine ports, industrial centers, residential neighborhoods, retail centers, and recreational areas.

The project will replace an interstate bridge over the Columbia River, improve seven interchanges, extend light rail from Oregon into Vancouver, and provide a 20-foot covered pathway for pedestrians and bicycles over the Columbia River.

When completed the project will provide increased travel options, improve safety, reduce congestion, and upgrade currently substandard pedestrian and bicycle facilities.  Estimated to cost $3.2 billion, the project would be funded by federal and state funds, and toll revenue.

Sources:

Feds give green light to Columbia River Crossing,” The Columbian

“Columbia River Crossing Project Sustainability Strategy, August 2011

“Approval Process for Columbia River Bridge Included Greenhouse Gas Emission Analysis,” BNA

Ray LaHood Gives Go-Ahead to Portland’s Sprawl-Inducing Mega-Bridge,” Streetsblog DC