Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Highway Expansion

Ray LaHood Gives Go-Ahead to Portland’s Sprawl-Inducing Mega-Bridge

You don't need to look too hard to find signs that the ground is shifting when it comes to highway construction. Around the country, state DOTs are running out of money. Headlines ask "Are Freeways Doomed?" Overall vehicle miles traveled are down in the Pacific Northwest.

false

But many state and regional transportation agencies continue to operate as if it were still the 1980s, when highway budgets were flush, gas was cheap and the destructive impacts of auto-centric planning were less well understood.

It's especially discouraging to see those old-fashioned attitudes prevailing in greater Portland, which enjoys a reputation as the country's most progressive transportation city. The fact that the $3-plus billion mega-bridge project known as the Columbia River Crossing remains a regional transportation priority is a testament to the pervasive grip of highway-building interests.

Just yesterday, this "highway boondoggle in disguise" passed another milestone when it was given environmental clearance from U.S. DOT, opening the way for land acquisition and construction. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced yesterday that the project has been granted a "record of decision," a disappointing endorsement from an administration that has made "livability" a key issue.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff even praised the project as a break from carbon-intensive traditions, saying, "This is the type of forward-leaning project that will greatly benefit the entire region well into the future."

It's true that the project does include a transit component. About $800 million will be spent on light rail through this corridor between Portland and suburban Vancouver, Washington. But project opponents like David Osborn, head of the community group Stop the CRC, point out that a much greater share of the money will be spent widening the highway to 10 lanes and adding a number of interchanges. This is fundamentally at odds with Portland's professed emphasis on environmental stewardship and sustainability, Osborn told Streetsblog in April.

"If we build transportation infrastructure that supports single-occupancy-vehicles, it will increase low-density sprawl," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of opposition to this project in the community."

Joe Cortright, a consultant with Impresa and one of the project's most vocal opponents, says he is disappointed but not surprised by the U.S. DOT announcement. "This has been clearly in the pipeline for some time," he said. "It reflects kind of the internal consensus of the state DOTs."

But he added that the federal government has yet to award the CRC any funding -- and the project plan assumes a $1.2 billion contribution from the federal government. Nor has either state DOT committed any money, he said. He added that legal challenges to the environmental impact statement were likely forthcoming.

So the fight certainly isn't over yet in Portland.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Bedford Ave. Protected Bike Lane Would Benefit Residents, Businesses: Data

A new report debunks the common myth that street safety projects aren't built for the benefit of people who live in a given neighborhood.

July 16, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines: Rajkumar’s Citywide Bid Edition

The potential candidate for city comptroller cares more about "quality of life" than transportation, she says. Plus more news.

July 16, 2024

Report: The 3 Deadliest Districts for Pedestrians are Represented by Republicans

According to Smart Growth America, Suffolk County and the southwestern part of Nassau County are the worst places to be a pedestrian in the state.

July 16, 2024

Monday’s Headlines: Who’s a Good Boy Edition

Too many of our four-legged family members are being killed by car drivers. Plus other news.

July 15, 2024

Delivery Worker Minimum Wage Shows Promise … For Some, Data Shows

New data from the city's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection shows minimum wage is bringing order to a previously wild industry.

July 15, 2024
See all posts