Unmerciful Insanity: the Columbia River Crossing

This article was originally published on Mismanaging Perception.

In the last two years I’ve written over 20 articles breaking down why the Columbia River Crossing freeway mega-expansion isn’t just failed transportation policy, but why it’s an outright nightmare totally out of line with the values our community champions.  From historical precedent, to strange-bedfellow political opposition, to austerity, to the growing climate crisis, to Charlie Hales, to tax policy, to livable streets, to the devastation to the built environment around freeways, to meme wars, to community events against the freeway, there’s few CRC angles I haven’t covered on Blue Oregon, Mismanaging Perception, or Rebel Metropolis.

Truthfully, just the thought of writing yet another article about this boondoggle “bridge” to nowhere depresses me. There are many others who’ve fought this ultra-mistake who feel equally worn down. They’re fatigued. They want to live their lives working on projects that improve our community, instead of playing defense against wasteful projects that will destroy it. Perhaps that’s part of the CRC supporters’ strategy: beat down the majority by repeating the same lies ad nauseum.

For those unfamiliar, or for those who believed this train-wreck had finally ended, it’s worth reviewing a few more of the facts. The CRC can not honestly be called a ‘bridge’. It is a 10-12 lane, 5 mile long freeway expansion and light rail extension over the Columbia River from Portland to Vancouver, WA. While doing nothing to reduce vehicle trips times or congestion, the CRC’s design and tolling appears entirely dependent on actually encouraging more trips to be taken by automobile, in total disregard for the climate crisis we now face.

r3ok-dgif-826b4a094d775278Before and after CRC – insanity magnified tenfold.

Last year, just before Oregon’s legislature passed the now expired HB 2800, I wrote on Blue Oregon:
CRC supporters are suffering cognitive dissonance if they think a cringe-worthy rebranding attempt will make the public forget the facts. Temporary short-term job gains will be nullified by the demolishing of some 70 businesses to make room for the 600 foot wide, 22 lane Hayden Island interchange. Adding more lanes will not relieve traffic, it will incentivize more congestion, more pollution, and more carbon emissions that will worsen our climate crisis. Tolling will fall far short of providing the cash needed to pay off the project, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab while the rest of our state’s roads continue to deteriorate. The price tag of $4.2 billion has been projected to balloon to as much as $10 billion dollars by the end of construction. The number of falsehoods and outright lies being sold to the public could fill a phone book.

Since publishing that article, the only CRC fact that’s changed is that Oregon taxpayers would now be solely responsible for paying off upwards of a Billion dollars in bonded debt including mitigation costs, as Washington state chose to ditch the controversial project entirely. Too bad our state isn’t this wise. Oregon’s lauded reputation is that of a ecologically responsible place governed by Democrats falling over themselves to invoke Tom McCall‘s name while campaigning, yet have no qualms about pissing on his grave with their actual voting records.

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A smaller bridge connecting Hayden Island to Oregon would prevent local traffic from merging onto the interstate. Even simply reconfiguring the on-off ramps that produce most of the congestion in this corridor would be a smarter and cheaper solution. Regardless, the amount of traffic over the current bridge has been declining every year for over a decade. But the Democrats wasting our money will not address these facts. It would seem Common Sense Alternatives escape their comprehension.

The only way tolls will effectively pay off the CRC will be if there was a vast increase in car traffic. Current data now shows as much as 30,000 daily vehicles LESS cross the I-5 than what CRC predicted a decade ago. Even if they were correct in their wildly off-base predictions, their insistence on increasing traffic to making tolling work will add even more toxic pollutants to Portland’s lousy air quality.

It’s recently been reported that much of current I-5 traffic would divert to the Glenn Jackson bridge to avoid tolls – increasing pollution and congestion along I-205 in the process. Meanwhile, taxpayers would be left on the hook with tolls coming nowhere close to paying off Oregon’s CRC debt.

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Only half the current I-5 bridge is a century old. Last time I checked, both the Hawthorne and the Steel bridges are even older and are doing just fine. There’s no reason to replace the I-5 bridge at all, but I’ll concede if that’s all this project was, I’d probably not be so outraged. As it is, the “bridge” is less than 1/3rd the cost of the entire project, and DOUBLES the number of freeway lanes. That’s utter insanity. Portland isn’t Houston or Atlanta. We deserve better than this.

Perhaps the most condemning mark on this project is how much governor John Kitzhaber hates it. It’s been speculated by the Willamtte Week that Kitz backs the boondoggle in spite of loathing the CRC. Many believe he does so solely to please the trade unions. During his first stint as governor of Oregon, Kitzhaber understoodmore lanes doesn’t solve congestion.

Now in his 3rd term, John Kitzhaber and house speaker Tina Kotek are spinning Tom McCall in his grave. The legend of Portland as a sustainable, livable, progressive city could be flushed down the toilet by Democrats who not only know better, but have scant political risk in opposing this project. Seriously, who else are unions going to endorse?

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If politicians like Jules Bailey get it wrong when 11 environmental groups are begging them to do the right thing, Oregon has a problem far greater than just the CRC. If these Democrats can stay in office after voting in favor of tax breaks for NIKE, for new freeways in a post-peak car America, for helping Monsanto and other GMO profiteers, Oregon may no longer be the state we thought it was.

Our elected “leaders” may enjoy riding Tom McCall’s coattails while they undo Oregon’s legacy. Ultimately, they’ll be trashing their own legacy in the process. There’s a new generation of voters swarming into Portland. And they see right through this political hypocrisy. The Kitzhabers, the Koteks, the Baileys – they’re rapidly losing public support. Maybe they know it. Perhaps that’s why they’re so desperately ramming the CRC down our throats one last time.

The CRC faces a new committee hearing this Tuesday, January 14th, at the capitol building in Salem, Oregon. Unfortunately, public testimony won’t be allowed. Please consider attending to bear witness.  Be prepared to speak out no matter what happens. Democracy demands involvement, not permission.

If stopping the Columbia River Crossing matters to you and your family, we need you now. For info on contacting your legislative representative, click HERE.

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 The next Columbia River Crossing hearing at the capitol in Salem is this Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 at 1pm. Testimony is by invitation only. If you can’t make it in person, please follow the Mismanaging Perception liveblog of the hearing, beginning shortly after noon that day.

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5 comments

  1. Being from Atlanta, and having enjoyed my visits to Portland, this is interesting news to me. Do everything you can to keep a giant expressway from cutting your city in two.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog, and your writing has very quickly and drastically affected my opinions about cars, so thank you for all the well researched posts.

    One critique here though is with the slogan “Portland deserves better”. It reads as if Atlanta and Houston deserve terrible infrastructure, and I don’t think that that is its intention. I’m happy for Atlanta to be held up as an example of one of the worst ways to grow a city, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also deserve better infrastructure than what we have. It’s just that we already fucked everything up, and unfucking it is really hard. Everyone deserves better. If Portland wants to grow in smart ways, it shouldn’t be as a way to mock cities that didn’t.

    I know that’s not the real issue here, but it’s a comment nonetheless.

    1. I totally agree, and apologize if that’s how it came off. Of course the people of Houston and Atlanta deserve better. All cities need to invest in livable streets and begin tearing down the auto-centric infrastructure that divides communities and pollutes the air.

      1. No apology needed, and I don’t think that’s how it came off really. I definitely understood what you meant, but it’s easy to get touchy about phrasing when you work hard towards livable communities and see progress but know that any real success is still easily somewhere between 25-100 years off, with the destruction and rerouting of a 12-15 lane interstate.

        Keep that monstrosity out of your city for all of our sakes. Atlanta’s is not a battle I’d wish on anyone else.

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