BY KEVIN MANAHAN
The $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing project has much more at stake than improving transportation between Portland and Vancouver. Environmental concerns, economic implications and – of course – costs are pitting state governors against city leaders as they debate the scope and timeline of the historic project. Meanwhile, some local creative minds have ideas of their own.
The Pacific Northwest College of Art is currently hosting “Crossing the Columbia: What Does It Mean?” – a public forum created by the Architecture Foundation of Oregon and PDXplore, and running during select weeks in February and March. As an independent design collective made up of five local designers and architects, PDXplore has worked to examine some of Portland’s more pressing urban design issues over the past few years. Its collaboration with AFO is a forum consisting of discussions, presentations and an ongoing exhibit at the PNCA featuring proposals from the PDXplore members. The exhibit’s purpose: to help the public understand the significance of the proposed CRC and its effects.
The project is in the middle of a tug-of-war between government officials. On one side, the mayors of Portland and Vancouver, Metro President David Bragdon and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Stuart have all criticized the plan’s “unacceptable” effects on the metro area. The four leaders called for a more thorough review of the plan, but Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed a letter saying the project should push forward with no further delays. “The citizens of this region have watched our two states discuss and plan for a new bridge for over 20 years and they expect us to proceed,” the governors said. State highway planners, they said, are already taking into consideration pollution, sprawl and other concerns. Meanwhile, the ports of Portland and Vancouver have also spoken out in support of pushing the project forward.
Among those displaying a proposal at the exhibit is Portland State University professor Rudy Barton. To him, the CRC project is about much more than the bridge; rather, what happens on each side of the bridge is more important than the design issues being considered. “The expenditure of $3 billion must buy more than concrete,” Barton says. “This expenditure should provide the urban design structure for improved urban development.”
His proposal consists of developing an “eco-quarter” in the Expo Center/Delta Park area that balances transit, housing, jobs and ecological design. Barton’s challenge comes from the touchy issue of developing in ecologically sensitive areas, but he believes looking into whether or not they can coexist is worth the effort. “This position is very important since the region has not fully examined what happens after the bridge,” Barton says. “Other than traffic projections, there appear to be no projections regarding future land use and jobs other than construction - and no political debate as to whether such future changes are desirable.”
Rick Potestio, an educator at the American Institute of Architects and principal at POTESTIO STUDIO: architecture + design, also has a novel idea on display at the exhibit: Remove the Marquam Bridge and the portion of I-5 that runs on the east bank of the Willamette River, and leave the I-5/I-405 and I-5/I-205 routes as the major north-south passages. Potestio proposes looking at the regional transportation system holistically, rather than incrementally planning for individual transportation modes as currently practiced. By having planners work together on a comprehensive plan, all modes of transportation (motor vehicles, rail, bikes) can be developed as effectively as possible.
This includes moving the region away from dependency on motor vehicles and toward alternative means of transportation – thus the idea of downsizing the current freeway system and opening up the city center for residential and business development. To Potestio, planners need to look beyond the CRC when considering the best way to improve transportation in the metro area. "Basically, I want to see the region be smarter about the big picture,” he says.