Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A shameful crossing

The Crossing or "CRC"

When you plan an event or project, be careful what you call it. The name you give it, more often than not, will be what it becomes.

Case in point: "The Columbia River Crossing."

That’s exactly what the governors of Washington and Oregon have given us. A nondescript crossing. Had the project been called the Columbia River Bridge, we would stand a good chance of getting a real, honest-to-God bridge.

Because it was called a “crossing,” that’s what it will be.

A crossing is functional. It gets you from one place to the other. A ford, a tunnel, a ferry, a catapult could do the job.

So can a “composite deck truss” slab of concrete on risers. (See the above rendition of the approved design.)

In government documents, the crossing has even been downgraded to the “CRC,” which has no meaning at all. It’s a bureaucratic insider’s acronym.

The CRC will seem like just more freeway. Its only relationship to a bridge will be that there will be water on both sides.

Never mind that the water is the mighty, power-producing Columbia, celebrated in song and history.

The idea of a crossing is to get you where you are going at the least cost with the least “distraction.” CRC means ASAP.

Bridges (see illustrations above right and below) are so much more than crossings.

They are legendary landmarks. They are beautiful. They say “connections between places and people are important.” They are uplifting experiences. They are legacies, inspiring gifts from one generation to succeeding ones. They are celebrations of the places they span and the places they join.

The Columbia River Crossing is none of these. It’s a crossing.

It is a shame.

Sharon Wood Wortman, aka "The Bridge Lady," who has written extensively and beautifully about Portland's bridges (vis. "The Portland Bridge Book") wrote the following in response to my post.

Re the CRC, as you say, names are everything. How do you name something that is 50 bridges—not just one bridge, plus 5-plus miles of highway?

I, for one, am not mystified by the design—after all, bridges are designed as a result of site conditions, and in this case we can't have a high, sweeping bridge because of the local airport, nor can we have one too low because of the shipping channel.

Also, a bridge with longer spans, such as the proposed cable-stayed and arch options, would not be the most economical due to the relatively shallow river. These options could be built but would cost considerably more than the truss design with its shorter spans. Most people would like a more dramatic bridge than the current choice but no one is offering to provide the extra money.

Maybe the solution is to pressure our political leaders to commit to finding and spending the extra money, as was done for the Fremont Bridge. I am more puzzled that our politicians (thus us) believe we can build to meet traffic demand. For me, it's all about early education. I'm now working on "The Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver—A Book for Young Readers." Those who want to know more about this public works project can visit www.bridgestories.com (donations are tax deductible). There will be a short, condensed section about the CRC, 50 bridges that might be finished about the time the young reader reaches voting age.

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Blogger Harvey said...

The Columbia River Crossing.
Right on. I remember a year or so ago being involved with a review of plans for this. The reviewers unanimously found the submitted plans functional, but, lacking beauty appropriate to the great city of Portland. I speak more about the importance of beauty on my blog; www.spirit97024.wordpress.com

10:04 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

http://kboo.fm/node/28463 I've done no research on this, but sounds like there's a 2 billion dollar less expensive alternative making a whole lot more sense.

10:39 AM  

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