Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Columbia River Bridge

Oregon and Washington want desperately to build a new bridge across the Columbia River, near Vancouver, to ease congestion. (Cost ~ $2.4B.) But, being Oregon and Washington, they want to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, too. In fact, Governor Kulongoski (D-OR) wants to decrease them by 75% by 2050.

So word has come down to factor emissions into the bridge planning process.

This completely misses the forest for the trees.

The difference between building a bridge and not building a bridge is only about 5,000 cars a day--fewer if the bridge is built. (I'm not exactly sure how about this conclusion--why are there fewer cars if the new bridge is supposed to ease congestion--but let's accept it for now.) There will be about 175,000 daily trips across the bridge, on average, by 2030. So the difference is about 3%.

Considering that this bridge and its associated commute will represent only a very small fraction of the total greenhouse gas emissions of Oregon and Washington, and that transportation only represents about 30% of all GHG emissions, the difference between building a bridge and not building a bridge is a small fraction of one percent. It's not worth worrying about.

If we are truly going to meet Kulongoski's goal, we need vast and comprehensive changes in our society. Whether we built this bridge or not will make little difference, especially if it primarily carries cars instead of bicycles, buses, scooters and light rail.

People have still not grasped the enormity of what's required to avoid significant global warming of even a couple of degrees. We must, almost literally, reinvent civilization. That's a lot more than just bridges.


Dano said...

We must, almost literally, reinvent civilization. That's a lot more than just bridges.

"Thus they keep their distractions on the go to avoid having to face themselves." -- Le Corbusier



John Mashey said...

I think there are (at least) *two* hurdles for every proposed infrastructure project:

a) Greenhouse
b) Peak Oil

And of those two, Peak Oil's effects will likely hit harder much earlier.

Let's see:
2017 completion (?)
2030 GHG estimated
2067 useful lifetime? [50 years?]

Some of the features of the bridge sound pretty good, and I don't know the circumstances well enough to know...

but I'd claim that any long-term infrastructure investments have to seriously consider that in 2050:

- world conventional oil production will likely be roughly 50% of what it is now, and China & India will want some of it.

- hence, there is likely to be precious little gasoline for private cars. Hopefully, they'll mostly be EVs or PHEVs, but in an era when we'll be scrambling really hard to replace fossil fuels with renewables, one just has to wonder. How much auto traffic will there be when gas hits $10? Will there be less?

Do the planning documents include this? I looked at the UK's plan for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, tearing down 600+ homes, due to be done in 2020 ... and it didn't. This is needed for traffic growth ... but jet-fuel? [Yes, possible & Richard Branson has investments, but what is it going to cost? Will airplanes still act like busses with wings.]

Anyway, I hope somebody is modeling 2050 with realistic assumptions, and thinking about exactly what should be built there. It *might* be a good investment if done right & allowing for more lanes for trains over time.