BY BRIAN LIBBY
Last Thursday, Portland mayor Sam Adams sent a letter to Oregon governor John Kitzhaber calling for a cable stay bridge over the deck-truss bridge planned for the Columbia River Crossing. More than ever, Adams has seized on design as a crucial component of the bridge.
"At times in the past, over-reliance on CRC staff assumptions and analysis has proven faulty and caused delay," Adams writes. "At several junctures, both I and the project have benefited from outside perspectives."
First, Adams shoots down the notion that the cable-stay option will require more analysis. "Any new bridge design will require additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis," he writes. "Since none of the three proposed bridge types have gone through the NEPA evaluation process, any of the options will likely need additional NEPA evaluation. If the deck truss is chosen without this evaluation, it may be vulnerable to legal challenges and delay the start of the project....Our City Attorney advises us that with diligence, such work could be completed in a matter of months."
Next, the mayor argues that cable-stay offers greater seismic stability and fewer in-water fish impacts. "These issues need to be analyzed more thoroughly," he tells Kitzhaber.
At the same time, Adams also deflates the incorrect assertion by CRC project staff that proceeding with a cable-stayed bridge could require a multi-year process to obtain a new Biological Opinion (BO) from the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding effects on endangered species. "I have attached a memo from Portland’s City Attorney suggesting that, to the contrary, NMFS will likely be able to complete a supplemental BO in six months or less."
Then there is the issue of quaint little Pearson Field in Vancouver and its air rights, long thought to be a hindrance to a cable-stay or suspension bridge. Turns out it's not.
"FAA review will likely allow for construction of a cable-stayed bridge, and could be completed within months," Adams tells Kitzhaber. "We have been told by CRC staff that analysis of a cable stay design by the Federal Aviation Administration about the effects on Pearson Field flights would be time-consuming. In an effort to better understand the possible barrier presented by FAA review, we hired a nationally-known lawyer, Peter Kirsch, who specializes in FAA processes, to analyze the issue. His memo concludes that FAA review is likely to be much more rapid than previously suggested, and that the existence of the Interstate Bridge, which intrudes into navigation space today, will likely significantly reduce FAA concerns. The cable-stayed bridge towers, while higher than those on the existing bridge, are farther west and south of the existing towers, meaning that they may not intrude as much into Pearson Field airspace limitations."
Nor would Vancouver zoning restrictions present an insurmountable obstacle. "The real question concerning navigable air space appears, instead, to arise from the City of Vancouver’s land use regulations. Vancouver’s zoning code extends air space height limits out into the Columbia River. However, as a practical matter, none of the Pearson Airfield flights utilize the 'protected' airspace near the bridge due to the existing bridge towers and potential conflicts with Portland International Airport airspace," Adams writes. "There is no reason to assume that the Vancouver code cannot be rewritten to accommodate a cable-stay bridge, given the practical realities that the current bridge violates the code’s provisions and does not interfere with Pearson’s effective operations."
Most importantly, Adams argues, "The deck truss option lacks strong community support, which presents a different type of schedule risk....The lack of strong community support for the deck truss bridge presents a risk in its own right.
Last fall, in a September 28, 2010 statement outlining the CRC staff response to the Independent Review Panel recommendations, Washington and Oregon directors of transportation Paula Hammond and Matt Garrett listed issues that would require more detailed work, including selection of bridge type. They stated, “We intend to build on the recent progress that has been made using the Integrated Project Sponsors Council’s Staff (IPS) and the Project Sponsors Council (PSC), to continue to work through and build consensus on each of the these critical efforts.”
In a letter on the same date accompanying the ODOT/WSDOT statement, Governors Gregoire and Kulongoski reiterated the commitment, saying, “We will revisit the analysis completed to date and engage national and international experts as we reevaluate all options with two bridge configurations. The final determination of bridge type will be developed in concert with outside experts, project sponsor staff and PSC members, and members of the CRC Urban Design Advisory Group as final design progresses.”
Adams tells Kitzhaber that "adequate consensus on the issue of bridge type selection has not been achieved. In fact, the CRC staff decision to recommend the deck truss bridge type runs counter to the written recommendation of five Oregon community groups near or impacted by the CRC design (HiNoon, the Jantzen Beach Moorage, the Bridgeton Neighborhood, the Hayden Island Livability Project, and the East Colombia Neighborhood) as well as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the American Institute of Architects, and the Architectural Federation of Oregon. The deck truss choice also disregards the written recommendation of the CRC Urban Design Advisory Group (UDAG) and the CRC Portland Working Group."
Finally, the mayor argues to the governor, "Cost-effective, good architectural bridge design is an Oregon tradition." He cites ODOT other major freeway bridge projects such as the I-5 bridge currently under construction over the Willamette River in Springfield, Oregon. In fact, the stated goals of that project include the following:
- “Select a bridge type and design that strikes a balance between design characteristics of highways and bridges within an affordable budget that responsibly uses transportation funding.”
- “Provide an aesthetically pleasing solution that recognizes the scenic beauty and community significance of the project area.”
"I believe that in the context of the Columbia River Crossing project, as with the Eugene/Springfield I-5 Willamette River Bridge, the issue of architectural design is not in conflict with building an on-time, cost-effective project," Adams concludes. "In fact, I believe that a bridge type with deeper public consensus will actually be the quickest, most cost-effective bridge to build."
Oregon governor John Kitzhaber recently began his third term, following two consecutive terms that ended eight years ago. Yet for all his years in office, the Columbia Crossing could be the governor's greatest legacy - as well as that of Sam Adams. Let's continue urging them to get this right.