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.
- Washington’s deadliest occupation? Driving - February 18, 2020
- The most dangerous thing to do at work in the state of Washington in 2018, according to statistics released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was something most adults do just about every day – drive. Transportation incidents accounted for 34 percent of the 86 fatal occupational injuries suffered in the Evergreen State in 2018, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics press release. That number is actually a little bit lower than the national average of 40 percent transportation-related incidents.
- Region braces for trunnion trauma - February 13, 2020
- For anyone obsessed with the upcoming closure of the Interstate 5 Bridge’s northbound span, set your countdown clock for 212 days. That’s how long until the span, which opened 103 years ago, shuts down for up to nine days, starting Sept. 12 and ending Sept. 20. The closure is to replace two trunnions, part of the drawbridge’s lifting mechanism that allows tall vessels to pass under the green structure. The work will replace sheaves, or wheels about 12 feet in diameter, sheave covers, cables and trunnions, which are axles 20 inches in diameter that help lift and lower the bridge.
- Tolling on I-5, I-205 in Oregon ‘years away’ - February 5, 2020
- Oregon is pushing ahead with plans to toll portions of Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 in the Portland area, but it would be years before any tolls are collected. The Oregon Department of Transportation says a two-year environmental study under federal law will begin this spring for tolling a portion of I-205 on or near the Abernethy Bridge over the Willamette River, between Oregon City and West Linn. Plans for tolling a 7-mile stretch of I-5 through Portland would have a much bigger effect on Clark County drivers. That tolling project is lagging 12 to 18 months behind the I-205 work, in part, because of the need to coordinate with proposed tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project.
- ODOT holds first tolling meeting of 2020; public welcome - February 3, 2020
- The Oregon Department of Transportation is moving ahead on required environmental work and further study of tolling along Interstates 5 and 205 in Portland. The first meeting of 2020 is 5:30 p.m. Monday, at the ODOT Region 1 headquarters, 123 N.W. Flanders St. The public is invited to attend.
- Electric cars will challenge Washington’s power grids - January 20, 2020
- When Seattle City Light unveiled five new electric vehicle charging stations last month in an industrial neighborhood south of downtown, the electric utility wasn’t just offering a new spot for drivers to fuel up. It also was creating a way for the utility to figure out how much more power it might need as electric vehicles catch on. Seattle aims to have nearly a third of its residents driving electric vehicles by 2030. Washington state is No. 3 in the nation in per-capita adoption of plug-in cars, behind California and Hawaii. But as Washington and other states urge their residents to buy electric vehicles – a crucial component of efforts to reduce carbon emissions – they also need to make sure the electric grid can handle it. The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles – the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights and heating and air conditioning.
- 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.