Columbia River Crossing

Columbia River Crossing:  It’s Over!

March 2014

The Columbia River Crossing I-5 project has finally died.  When the Oregon Legislature adjourned on March 7, 2014, without funding the project, ODOT announced that the CRC is shutting down.

This victory is important.  CLF spent nine years advocating for a better approach to the CRC because it  didn’t reflect the type of innovative planning that would leave a positive legacy for the region. 

The Oregonian called the demise of the CRC “an enormous victory for environmental and urban planning groups.”   We’re proud of our success, and thank the many community partners who spoke out, organized, testified, litigated, researched the issues, submitted comments, contacted elected officials, developed alternatives, donated so CLF could advocate, and did a myriad of other things that led to the CRC’s defeat. 

CLF worked to steer the CRC in a positive direction, and then ultimately opposed the project when the massive I-5 expansion became the chosen design.  Public investments, especially ones of this scale, should build the region for prosperity.  Major changes to I-5 should improve our quality of life, promote sustainable economic development, and counter sprawl.  They should connect communities, and connect us to the Columbia River.

It’s an exciting victory, though bittersweet because it came after nearly $200 million in public dollars spent, years of time and energy sunk into a fundamentally misguided plan, and relationships damaged by spending years in conflict.  

We’re also cognizant that the CRC was declared dead last year, only to be revived with an even riskier, Oregon-only scheme.  So we will continue to follow CRC to make sure it’s really dead and litigation is no longer necessary. 

Imagine what could happen when we put that much energy into sustainable, innovative solutions that build toward people's aspirations.  For 20 years, that’s what the Coalition for a Livable Future has been about.  Thank you for being a part of our community.

What Should Come Next

While it’s tempting to ask what the next big project will be, it’s wiser to step back to consider how we think about infrastructure and plan our cities. 

To improve safety, fix the roads we already have, improve options for transit, walking and biking, cut climate pollution, create equal access to vibrant communities, and support a strong local economy, we need to prioritize projects throughout the region to achieve those goals. 

The Coalition for a Livable Future has always supported effective, economically and environmentally responsible transportation investments, including those in the I-5 corridor.  The first step is to look holistically at issues in the corridor – merging traffic, travel options, seismic safety, etc. - and consider cost effective solutions to the most pressing problems. 

Smaller, incremental changes to the I-5 corridor could happen quickly if it is determined that they address the key problems.  For instance, a range of smaller strategies to shift or reduce demand can be effective at managing traffic, and were even studied as part of the CRC for after construction.  Other strategies include express buses, bus rapid transit, improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and HOV lanes.  More expensive strategies include fixing the railroad bridge to eliminate most of the bridge lifts and possibly set the stage for better rail connections, and a bridge to Hayden Island that would take local traffic off the freeway and potentially eliminate the need for the Hayden Island freeway ramps that cause congestion and collisions.  A more challenging but potentially effective approach, if the burden to low-income commuters can be addressed, is to implement tolls on I-5 and I-205 to manage traffic during peak hours and raise funds for future improvements. 

But the question shouldn’t just be about strategies for I-5, but rather what our regional priorities are.  Despite the huge costs incurred for planning and selling the CRC, we averted a planning debacle and a waste of taxpayer dollars twenty times larger than what was already spent.  The task now is to turn that success into better decisions, better planning, and a better region.  The Coalition for a Livable Future looks forward to being a partner in that effort.