Transportation Issues in the News
The following article was prepared by RTC staff. We felt this topic would be of broad interest to our site’s visitors and offer insight into at least one emphasis area of the agency’s current focus. We plan to update these feature articles on a regular basis, so check back for new content!
The Vancouver Area Smart Trek (VAST) program, led by RTC, is a partnership of transportation agencies in the Clark County region that work to improve transportation system performance by collaborating on signal systems, freeway and arterial management, traveler information, and transit signal priority projects through the use of smart technology and the system infrastructure needed to support it.
The VAST program focuses on the non-capital side of regional transportation planning. The VAST agencies (WSDOT, Clark County, City of Vancouver, C-TRAN, and City of Camas) have been cooperating since 2001 to make better use of existing transportation facilities by improving system efficiency and performance without expanding road capacity.
This cooperation has been a valuable pathway for developing and securing funding for ITS/operations projects totaling more than $27 million in federal funding over the last 15 years, resulting in projects that directly improve transportation operations and building the supporting communications technology systems.
Projects funded through the program include central signal system upgrades, new signal controllers, signal optimization, ramp metering, freeway and arterial detection, cameras, variable message signs, and transit signal priority as well as the fiber and network communications infrastructure needed for connecting ITS devices.
VAST collaboration has also led to other successful partnerships. RTC and the VAST agencies have an ongoing partnership with Portland State University in the regional transportation data archive known as Portal. The Portal archive contains, in a single location, historical and real-time transportation data from agencies in the Vancouver-Portland region and can be used by researchers, planners, traffic engineers, and the public to look at transportation performance throughout the region.
Fiber optic networks are vital to communicating with and operating transportation devices in the field for and bringing data back to agency operations centers. VAST agencies have had an agreement in place since 2006 to share unused fiber capacity with each other saving agency costs and resources instead of having to build new fiber routes separately. This agreement has led to 115 miles of shared fiber, saving agencies from $17 to $21 million than if they were to construct their own projects.
In looking to future transportation trends and advances in technology, many experts envision tremendous growth of connected vehicles, which can exchange data with roadside infrastructure, and autonomous, or self driving, vehicles. Forecasts on the impact of these imminent mobility changes vary wildly. RTC, in cooperation with the VAST partners, is starting a conversation with regional stakeholders to make sense of the possible impact on roadways, land use, and transit service and is an area that will be explored in 2018.
Below are an assortment of recent news items related to or impacting local transportation issues. Most of these stories were authored outside the agency, and will take you to a new page on (or PDF document from) an external site.
- Estimated price tag for Rose Quarter project increases by 60 percent - January 14, 2020
- New estimates peg the cost to add auxiliary lanes on Interstate 5 near Portland’s Rose Quarter and build other improvements at $715 million to $795 million. That’s nearly a 60 percent increase over previous estimates of $450 million to $500 million. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, inflation accounts for nearly half of the cost increases. Initial estimates were based on 2017 dollars. New estimates have been adjusted to reflect 2025 dollars, the assumed midpoint of construction. Other factors driving up costs are better estimates for right-of-way acquisition, preliminary engineering and actual construction.
- Oregon creates office for congestion, megaprojects, tolling - January 8, 2020
- The Oregon Department of Transportation is pumping up its congestion relief program by creating an office to direct megaprojects and tolling. The Office of Urban Mobility and Mega Project Delivery, which was announced Tuesday, will have implications for Clark County drivers. Thousands of residents commute to Oregon jobs and endure almost daily traffic jams on and near the two freeway bridges over the Columbia River and the section of Interstate 5 near the Rose Quarter. The office will focus on delivering congestion solutions, as the Oregon Legislature directed in its 2017 transportation bill.
- Contractor to work on traffic signals at 10 locations - December 23, 2019
- Drivers in the urban unincorporated portion of Clark County can expect intermittent single-lane closures and delays as work begins to upgrade traffic signals. Starting in 2020, Clark County Public Works’ contractor, Mill Plain Electric, will improve existing traffic signal systems, upgrade and relocate existing school zone flashing lights, and repair damaged signal systems and fiber optic lines.
- Resilient finance plan sought for Interstate 5 Bridge effort - December 23, 2019
- The Columbia River Crossing project melted down in 2013 when the Washington Senate failed to provide $450 million in construction dollars. A second effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge will try to avoid the same outcome by crafting a finance plan that would allow different components to be built in phases. Travis Brouwer, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s assistant director for revenue, finance and compliance, told a bistate meeting of Washington and Oregon legislators Friday in Vancouver that the Columbia River Crossing suffered from what he called “a single point of failure.” It didn’t matter that the federal government gave the project a green light for construction, the Federal Transit Administration was ready to kick in $850 million to extend light rail to Clark College, or the Oregon Legislature had approved $450 million for construction. When the Washington Senate balked at matching Oregon’s contribution, a single setback caused the project to unravel, after years of work and nearly $200 million spent.
- In Our View: Prepare for slow phase-in of road usage fee - December 23, 2019
- Seven years after the Legislature instructed state officials to consider alternatives to the gas tax, Washington has taken only incremental steps in that direction. Recommendations from the Washington State Transportation Commission, approved last week to be sent to lawmakers, indicate that progress will remain slow. As the state considers the impact of various options for replacing the gas tax, questions and concerns remain impenetrable. The lesson? Washington should prepare for a slow phase-in as it transforms how it funds road construction and maintenance, even if the issue seems urgent.
- WSDOT: Drivers should not block new roundabout in Washougal - December 22, 2019
- Drivers eastbound on state Highway 14 in Washougal will see a new electronic sign telling them not to stop in the roundabout at 32nd Street. The sign, which provides a simple “Do not block circle” message, automatically turns on when a train is blocking 32nd Street north of the roundabout and vehicles are stacking up on 32nd Street. When the sign is on, drivers eastbound on Highway 14 wanting to turn north onto 32nd Street should wait in the left lane before the roundabout. The lane was designed to hold traffic so it will not block other vehicles from using the roundabout.
- Brunell: Bridges shouldn’t have to sink to be replaced - December 17, 2019
- Bridges shouldn’t have to sink to be replaced. However, at times that’s what it takes. Too often new projects succumb to years of fighting among interest groups and endless political bickering. In 2013, opposition killed the Columbia River Crossing, which was formed to construct a replacement I-5 bridge across the Columbia River connecting Vancouver and Portland. We all want more roads and bridges as long as they are in the other person’s neighborhood and someone else pays. But that attitude is not realistic as our population expands and more demands are put on our transportation system.
- Washington closer to per-mile road usage charge - December 17, 2019
- Washington is one step closer to replacing the state gas tax with a new system where drivers are charged on a per-mile basis. The Washington State Transportation Commission, meeting Tuesday in Olympia, voted to forward 16 recommendations for a road usage charge to the Washington Legislature, Gov. Jay Inslee and the Federal Highway Administration. Washington and other states face a funding problem with more electric cars, hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles generating less gas tax revenue. The gas tax does not automatically keep pace with inflation or rise and fall with changes in gas prices. Forecasts predict that vehicle fuel efficiency in Washington will reach 35 miles per gallon by 2035, creating a potential 45 percent reduction in gas tax revenue.
- Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge opens new bridge - December 9, 2019
- It’s been nearly 60 years since the Sevier family last used a hand-pulled ferry to move hay and equipment to their cattle on the other side of Lake River. That taxing chore went away in 1960 when the family built a modest $40,000 wood bridge, wide enough for a single vehicle. The bridge linked different parts of the family’s land, five years before the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was established. Several members of the Sevier family were on hand Monday to witness the opening of a two-lane concrete bridge over Lake River. The $8 million project will improve access for 130,000 visitors a year who take the auto tour through the refuge’s River S Unit.
- Southwest Regional Transportation Council endorses I-5 Bridge replacement - December 3, 2019
- Efforts to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge continued to pick up steam Tuesday as the Southwest Regional Transportation Council supported a statement listing the project as “Action #1.” The RTC’s board of directors voted to endorse the Clark County Transportation Alliance’s 2020 Policy Statement that backs other projects to ease Interstate 5 congestion, such as improving traffic flow near the Rose Quarter and the I-5/Interstate 84 interchange in Portland. The policy statement also supports accelerating state funding for interchange improvements at I-5 and 179th Street. Last month, the Clark County Council removed a de facto moratorium and opened the door for building more than 1,500 single-family houses, apartments and townhomes in the area.