How to Build a Better Bridge? Portland, Oregon's Traffic Conundrum

I am well over a month into my cross country journey, and one thing I have noticed is that there is traffic congestion everywhere. It doesn’t matter what state I’ve been in, I’ve run into traffic in all of them. Traffic sucks, and it is only getting worse.

One of the cities I recently visited, Portland, Oregon, has been making moves to become more sustainable. But like many river cities, bridges are an integral part of the traffic equation. A proposal by the city council has been approved to widen six-lane I-5 bridge to Vancouver, Washington to 12 lanes. The project is called the Columbia River Crossing. It is projected to cost $3.6 billion, and in reality, will probably cost much, much more, both in actual costs and increased traffic/lost time. But I may have a better idea.

Portland’s Mayor, Sam Adams, has written here on Gas2.org previously about making Portland into a sustainability leader in the US. A 12-lane bridge expansion doesn’t exactly mesh with those plans, as it will merely allow more traffic into Portland. I enjoyed my time in Portland, and the public transportation system and bike lanes are top notch. But public transportation alone will not be enough to cut down on commuters.

A study commissioned by Adams reveals that a smaller, 10-lane bridge would cost $50 million less and ease traffic almost as well as a 12-lane bridge. An 8-lane bridge would require 37% of the 134,000 commuters that cross the I-5 bridge daily to carpool to work. Only 3% (about 4,100 people) do so now. Here is where I had my idea.

$4 billion is a lot of money. You could build a bridge and employ some people for a few years, but it is at the end of the day a money pit. Even with tolls, it would take decades to recoup the money spent on expanding the bridge. Instead, call city business leaders together, sit them down, and tell them that they need to get their workers to carpool. Set realistic, achievable goals for reducing the number of cars crossing the bridge. Offer financial incentives to companies who get workers to carpool. Set up neighborhood car pool systems. Even better, get companies to have workers telecommute, or cut down on the number of days they come in to the office.

It isn’t something that will fix itself over night, but give the plan one year and $1 billion of the bridge budget and see what happens. This way the money actually goes back into the hands of businesses and (hopefully) the community at large. Basically, you’re paying people to be sustainable. Is bribery the most noble way of going about greening a city? No. But the other option, a $4 billion bridge with tolls and years of traffic doesn’t sound nearly as bad as cramming into a car with four other co-workers.

It is just an idea. Some of you will probably find a problem with it. But, if you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it, and I bet the citizens of Portland wouldn’t mind hearing some alternatives too.

Source: Columbia River Crossing

Image Credit: StuSeeger’s Flickr Photostream

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.