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CRC tolls would produce gridlock on I-205

Impresa has just completed a new analysis of a CRC consultant report it obtained via a public records request. The report shows, that, contrary to claims that tolls will produce only minor traffic diversion, nearly 50,000 additional vehicles will be loaded onto the Interstate 205 bridge when tolling starts in 2016.

In 2022, when the new I-5 bridge opens, only 80,000 vehicles are expected to cross daily — one-third less than use the existing I-5 bridge today. Meanwhile, 210,000 vehicles — two and a half times as many — will be jamming a toll-free I-205 crossing.

This report, prepared by consultants CDM Smith, shows that the CRC financial plan results in a transportation disaster on the Columbia River: a $3 billion new crossing will be grossly under-utilized as motorists avoid tolls, and the I-205 crossing will be jammed to capacity. Overloading I-205 is also likely to increase congestion and raise travel times on connecting routes like I-84 and SR-14, and will impair access to Portland International Airport — perhaps the region’s most time-sensitive destination.

In addition, these forecasts show that traffic on the new, expanded I-5 bridge will be only about half the levels projected in the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. Under every reported scenario, fewer vehicles would use a new, tolled I-5 bridge in 2030 than use it today.

Such a huge shift in traffic to I-205 will hit extreme capacity limits on that river crossing and its supporting freeways and arterial roads, including access to Portland International Airport. “This project is in truly uncharted territory when we consider pushing I-205 to 200,000-plus vehicles per day,” Girard said. “There has been zero consideration given to the consequences of driving this part of our freeway system to failure levels.

“The ultimate irony is that the $3 billion additional capacity on the I-5 crossing would be unnecessary when tolling knocks the traffic levels down to 80,000 daily vehicle trips, and I-205 is carrying more than double the traffic of the I-5 bridges.”

Here are other highlights of this report:

1. In 2016, CRC will toll the existing I-5 bridges at $2.50 per peak hour vehicle, plus a $1.50 surcharge for those who don’t buy transponders.

2. Traffic on the I-205 bridge will rise from 140,000 vehicles per day today, to more than 188,000 vehicles in 2016.

Meanwhile, tolls will cause a huge drop in traffic on I-5. In 2016, traffic will drop to just 78,400 vehicles from 124,000 vehicles today.

3. In 2022, when the new bridge opens, tolls will be raised to $3.62 (peak hour) plus a $1.77 surcharge for those without transponders. Traffic diversion will worsen: Traffic on the new I-5 bridges will fall to just 78,200 vehicles per day—about the same level as 1972. After spending more than $3 billion, the new mega-bridge will serve fewer than two-thirds as many motorists as use it today.

These estimates show that the traffic forecasts contained in the CRC are — as critics have claimed — drastically overstated. CDM Smith forecasts that I-5 traffic on the new bridge will be less than 100,000 vehicles per day in 2030—barely half the 178,000 forecast in the project’s EIS.

Joe Cortright is an economist and president of local firm Impresa.




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