Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on March 29th, 2011 at 10:37 am
"We believe that there are important unresolved questions that demand further scrutiny before the commitment of additional public dollars to this project."
20 Oregon legislators — 8 Republicans, 12 Democrats — have issued a letter of concern over the Columbia River Crossing highway expansion project. The letter, dated March 28th, comes on the heels of a public hearing for House Joint Memorial 22, a bill that would have urged the federal government to fund the controversial CRC project.
Here's the opening of the letter (download PDF here):
"... We believe that there are important unresolved questions that demand further scrutiny before the commitment of additional public dollars to this project."
While the letter raises serious questions about the project, its signatories are careful to not come off as being opposed to the project. "Raising questions should not be construed as opposition to a new bridge." (It's too bad they refer to the project as "a new bridge" when the bridge is just a small part of the overall project.)
That being said, for a project that ODOT and WashDOT say must move forward to not lose its place in the federal funding queue and who portray it as having broad political support, this letter is a significant development.
Here's the list of Oregon House Representatives that are signed onto the letter (there are a total of 60 members of the Oregon House):
The three issues/questions raised in the letter are the "true cost" of the project, the traffic projections and tolling revenue, and cost overruns. The House Reps question the official $3.2 -$3.6 billion estimates of the project's cost. They point to a report that says the actual cost could be closer to $10 billion.
They also question the CRC's traffic projections, saying that, "in the few years since the CRC's projections were issued, traffic over the bridge has not only failed to increase as forecast, it has actually declined."
On the issue of cost overruns, the letter points out that "cost overruns are a fact of life." While not a reason to oppose the project on their own, the House Reps say that, "the magnitude of possible overruns should be considered in conjunction with the significant questions about the CRC's traffic and tolling projections."
The final line of the letter says it all: "We are not satisfied that this downside risk has been fully digested."
CRC project watchers fear that HJM 22, while it doesn't commit the state to any financial obligation, could be taken as a symbolic endorsement of the project.
During the public hearing yesterday, Rep. Ben Cannon testified against it, saying, "Oregonians are not united in support of this project. They are not convinced it is justified to spend $3.6 billion for the benefit of Vancouver commuters and for a project that will just move a bottleneck south."
Rep. Mitch Greenlick also testified against HJM 22 yesterday, saying the CRC is "A steamroller headed off a cliff" and that it's time to "take a serious chance to debate this issue."
Due to time overruns yesterday, the public hearing on HJM 22 has been held over. It will be in front of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development again tomorrow (3/30) in Hearing Room D.