By GENE H. McINTYRE
Many an Oregonian living in Portland, I dare say, likes where he lives. Of course, there are features of the place that readily appeal to those who prefer the urban setting for access to cultural events, fine dining, medical services, and a whole host of other things to do that can make for desirable living conditions.
What makes the place less than wholly desirable is the “elephant” in that city: the traffic conditions that make getting anywhere at almost any hour a most unpleasant, highly frustrating, even dangerous experience. There are hours of the day when any person with his wits about him will not proceed to go anywhere, unless he cannot avoid it and absolutely must do so.
There is the morning commute, which gets underway around 6 a.m. and presents a near-parking-lot-like situation until 9 a.m. or so. That’s followed by the afternoon commute, which commences at 3:30 p.m. and begins to offer a small measure of relief toward 7 p.m. Otherwise, when one travels the streets and byways of Portland and its suburbs—at most any hour of the day or night—one begins to wonder whether anyone in the city works at a job that doesn’t involve driving a car or truck or if, even at late night, anyone sleeps.
This brings me to the Columbia River Crossing or, as it’s known by its acronym, the CRC. For openers, it would seem rather stupid to build it alongside what exists to cross the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver today. It is, by the way, at present, not the only I-5 passage from Portland to Vancouver, as Interstate 205 takes one over and across on a relatively new span that does not require a lift section for river traffic and presumably is new enough to withstand the 9.0 Richter scale earthquake we keep hearing about, predicting liquification of all old infrastructure.
But the central problem to me is the ancient Interstate Bridge: the northbound bridge was opened to traffic in 1917, as a two-way, with the southbound matching bridge erected in 1958. It is a trouble maker and significantly adds to gridlock driving in Portland. First, it funnels much of the traffic, not using the I-205 by-pass, into what amounts to a “dump” of heavy traffic into downtown Portland. Further, it’s old and could fall victim to a seismic event brought about by the Cascadia subduction zone.
At present, the Interstate Bridge makes for traffic jams of enraging magnitude every day, including often on weekends, too, when it opens for taller ships to pass under it. So, by weight of the arguments against the CRC, let’s stop the silly idea of a new bridge alongside the old one and move its location, if ever to be built, down river to a site where the flow of north-south bound traffic would thereby avoid being fed into downtown Portland by virtue of a by-pass that’s as effective a by-pass to the west as I-205 is to the east.
To paraphrase a former national leader, “Governors, take that Interstate Bridge down!” Relieve Portland of the traffic congestion that’s already deplorably bad and will only get worse by building a CRC next to the Interstate Bridge. Make Oregon’s largest-population-city a more desirable place to visit and work and do something that will actually minimize the current “elephant”-in-the-room problem. Right now; it’s the traffic stupid!
The bottom line is that taxpayers forever hope our political leadership will practice wisdom. With the CRC project, we were greatly let down, $172 million spent in planning alone, that has come to nothing other than big bucks, it’s rumored, into the pockets of the Oregon capital’s pals. May the future bring us intelligent decision-makers who do something worthwhile, something other than attack PERS’ retiree benefits and plod on with “education reform” that’s so abortive that, to date, it cannot retain the services of the governor who promised three years and was so great that he left the state after one.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)