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Environmental Studies

A Bridge to the Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River Crossing


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A Bridge to the Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River Crossing
What is the Columbia River Crossing?
Portland, Oregon and neighboring Vancouver, Washington are located on opposite sides of the Columbia River and are connected by bridges on Interstates 5 and 205. The bridge on I5, first constructed in 1917 and expanded with a second identicial span in 1958, serves as the primary transportation artery between the two states.  The span across the entire river is over a mile long, and the only transportation link for Hayden Island residents and businesses to the mainland.

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It is almost impossible to argue that nothing should be done about the state of both the facility and the problems the megaproject aims to tackle; one of the spans is over 90 years old, the link features the only drawbridge on the entire I5 corridor between Canada and Mexico, freight companies have called the bottleneck the biggest traffic jam on the west coast (which, considering the traffic congestion of Los Angeles and Seattle, might be hyperbole). Engineers have voiced concerns about the bridge’s potential response to an earthquake, and the traffic congestion along the corridor frustrates commuters, increases the risk of automobile collision, and costs local businesses and citizen’s valuable time and money.

The provisional inclusion of public transportation and bicycling facilities make the Columbia River Crossing a unique megaproject to study; the ways in which these amenities are emphasized as contributing towards a “multimodal” facility reflects the region’s commitment to a narrowly defined version of sustainability that is typically not articulated in other interstate megaprojects across the country. Many public transportation and bicycling activists across the country would actually be happy to see this expressed intent to provide alternative facilities along a major highway project.

Provocative activists have asked of the intelligence of spending $4.2 billion on a project that doesn’t drastically improve the Portland Metro region’s environmental sustainability; the same funds (the equivalent of $2000 per resident in the metro area), could instead provide roughly 80 miles of light rail, countless green-collar jobs and tax incentives (located so that Vancouverites wouldn’t have to cross the bridge), or other astronomical projects to ready Portland for an uncertain economic and environmental future.  Is this the best use of our scarce financial and environmental resources? Who is articulating that this particular facility is the correct intervention to make, what are the problems that this facility is attempting to solve, and how has the planning process for the region’s largest infrastructure project ever engaged the local agents who have the most to gain or lose from this facility?

Nick Faldo, a local critic of the Columbia River Crossing as currently planned, produced this video to describe the overall context of the megaproject (The role of local advocacy of this project is discussed here and the importance of the embrace of new media here):

Columbia River Crossing : Introduction from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

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Last updated:  3rd May 2010


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