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Days before possible vote, Senators in the dark about CRC project

Posted by on March 1st, 2013 at 11:48 am

“I have not seen any renderings at all, and yet I am going to be asked to vote on it.”
— Oregon State Senator Betsy Close

On Tuesday we pointed out that despite $170 million and years of planning the largest public works project in our state’s history, realistic visual representations of the Columbia River Crossing project are not available to the public. Detailed renderings showing the widened lanes on the freeway, interchanges, and the bridge deck — the type of imagery that’s standard practice across the country to illustrate proposed transportation projects — are not available on the official CRC project website. When asked repeatedly to see such images, CRC staff has shared only cartoon sketches and plan drawings buried in PDF documents.

Visualizations like this one created by
Wisconsin DOT (taken from a video animation
of a project) are standard practice for
major projects; but the CRC does not have them.

Given the powerful and ethically questionable lobbying going on behind this project, it appears this is not an oversight but rather willful deception by ODOT and CRC staff who want everyone to think this whole debate is simply about “building a bridge.” The politicians, lobbyists, and consultants pushing this project know that massive freeway expansion projects are not just an outdated way to manage a transportation system, they are also very unpopular with Oregonians — especially residents of the Portland region.

With a vote on the CRC bill (HB 2800) possible on Monday (3/4), I was curious if Oregon’s 30 senators have a good idea of what they’re voting on. Have they seen complete and realistic visualizations of the project? Or have they only seen the ubiquitous side-view of the new bridge design that ODOT and CRC staff prefer? I contacted each Senator and asked a simple question: Have you seen detailed visuals and renderings of the lane expansions and interchanges planned for the CRC project (besides the ubiquitous image of the new bridge)?

In the past few days, I heard back from seven Senators. Every one of them said they hadn’t seen such images. I’ve pasted each of their responses below:

Senator Betsy Close (R-Albany)

I have not seen any detailed visual renderings. I have not seen any renderings at all, and yet I am going to be asked to vote on it. I watched the hearings on TV and I testified there. I did not see any visual renderings there, either when I was in the committee personally or on TV while watching it in my office. They did provide me with a map of the area, a very nice map of the area that the existing bridge is in in the surrounding communities… My answer is no. I have not seen it. I don’t think anyone in our caucus has. Maybe Sen. Starr?”

Senator Brian Boquist (R-Dallas)

[I have] not seen any of the drawings in detail. [I've seen a] couple at a distance… The present bill is not friendly to my district so I’m a No vote.”

Senator Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland)

The answer to your question is no, I have not seen the rendering but I did not specifically ask for it. I can follow up with ODOT to see if they will send it to me… the photo that was delivered does not show the rendering but I did only asked for the aerial photo.”

Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene)

“I have not seen any “official” visual renderings, but I’m not on the committee. Further, I had not heard that the affected area was five miles in length. I’d be surprised to learn there were no visual renderings presented during the committee’s hearings. (There weren’t.) I have seen a friend’s mock up computer image he put together to show me an alternative bridge design.”

Senator Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls)

“I have neither seen nor been able to obtain anything other than vague conceptual renderings of the proposed bridge and interchanges. Our latest briefing were during the noon hour today when the presenter was unable to provide the requested visual renderings.

I have deep and ongoing concerns regarding the potential total cost of the project, the funding sources, and the detail of how the debt will be structured and how it will be repaid. The total cost appears to be limited in the proposed legislation but in my opinion that limit is not realistic because once the project is under construction it is highly unlikely that it will be abandoned due to cost overruns regardless of the total final cost.”

Senator Chip Shields (D-Portland)

Via his legislative aide:

“Sen. Shields has not seen a full design rendering. He thanks you for bringing this to our attention, and he has asked me to look into it…”

Note: When Sen. Shields’ office asked ODOT for some renderings, they brought over the same vague, cartoon sketches, images and overview drawings from their website that do not offer a realistic vision of the freeway proposal (images taken by Sen. Shields’ legislative aide):

Senator Mark Hass (D-SW Portland/Washington County)

“I probably don’t disagree with you. I’m a visual learner; but I haven’t been on the inside. I do share your sort of, curiosity about, why at this stage we don’t have some renderings? I’ll talk to Chip [Shields] and [Senator] Lee Beyer. You’ve piqued my curiosity.”

While I only heard back from seven of 30 Senators, they all reported that they haven’t seen complete and realistic renderings of the CRC project. That 7-0 record leads me to believe that many other Senators who didn’t respond would say the same thing. This seems like a big deal, given the fact that these elected officials could be asked as soon as this Monday (3/4) to move this project forward, potentially obligating Oregon to a $450 million loan that will cost $27 million a year for 30 years to repay.

Whether or not this purposeful deception makes Senators uneasy enough to vote against HB 2800 remains to be seen.

For background on this issue, read our story, Will the real CRC project please stand up?.

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Comments
  • spare_wheel March 1, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Brilliant journalism and activism.

    Recommended Thumb up 44

  • o/o March 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    i dont think any bank would consider my construction loan request without house plans?

    Recommended Thumb up 17

    • o/o March 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      I just emailed to my state senator Diane Rosenblaum about this….

      Recommended Thumb up 9

  • PorterStout March 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Rock on, 1st Amendment!

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • jeremy March 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Wow. Awesome journalism. I love that you made a powerful point mostly by asking a very reasonable question. Any senator that answers the question with “No, I haven’t seen any renderings” and doesn’t find that odd is shirking their responsibility as an elected official. This makes me wonder if Kitz has even seem any realistic renderings….any idea Jonathan?

    Recommended Thumb up 15

  • Stretchy March 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Good work Jonathan. I’m pretty agnostic on the bridge expansion (or, whatever we’re calling it these days) itself. However, I’m very interested in the corruption, waste and incompetence that seems to surround this project. This is, after all, our hard earned money that has paid for this thus far and will pay for it decades into the future. That our ‘representatives’ seem so cavalier about throwing it around is an outrage.

    Thank you for your good work.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Chris I March 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I emailed Dingfelder asking for her to consider her vote on this project, and how it might affect her constituents. Her district contains I-84 and I-205 in NE Portland, so I pointed out that we will see huge increases in congestion and traffic diversion onto neighborhood streets, adversely affecting our health and well-being. I have not received a response.

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    • Eric March 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I also emailed her right after the house voted. I haven’t heard a reply either. Hopefully it’s because of too many emails.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • Justin March 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        I emailed her as well and no reply yet.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

          RE: Dingfelder position on the CRC. Here’s what she shared with me:

          Regarding my concerns about this project, the remaining ones for me are the unmitigated potential air quality and traffic impacts to my district, NE/SE Portland especially on increased traffic on I-205 & I-84 and local arterials. In addition, I’m concerned about the funding mechanism which is to utilize existing ODOT reserves to pay off bonds for the bridge. Since there is no new revenue source associate with this bill, we may eventually be deferring much needed improvement projects that are already on the STP.

          sounds like she has major doubts. Calls and emails to her could prove the difference.

          Recommended Thumb up 9

        • RJ March 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm

          Same.

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  • Brian Willson March 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Very good reporting, Jonathan.

    Recommended Thumb up 9

  • joe kurmaskie March 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    “We don’t have any realistic renderings of the megabridge and exchange project we want the public to spend billions on, but here’s picture of a Cat.”

    Recommended Thumb up 11

  • Stretchy March 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    It might also be handy to contact your house representative and, assuming they voted yes, ask them why they voted yes.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Nate March 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Sadly, in my case, that’s Ms. Kotek, and this blog and Mr. Buel have pretty well covered why she did. I suppose it would be interesting to hear from her…

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Hart Noecker March 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    At the OLCV event last night the amount of liberal climate change denial and cognitive dissonance around the CRC was disgusting. Repeatedly the audience was told not to speak about the CRC, was told that OLCV wasn’t going to waste “political capital” opposing it, and that ‘sometimes you have to realize you’ve lost’ as though nothing could possibly be done to stop it simply because OLCV had decided to throw in the towel before even getting in the ring. These people should be ashamed of themselves. This is Oregon. We didn’t get a rep as the greenest state in the nation by caving in to coward legislators and ineffectual bureaucratic “nonprofits”. Call you state senators and demand better for Oregon.

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • BURR March 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      David Brower spent most of the later part of his life regretting that he and the Sierra Club cut a deal with politicians back in the 1950s, thus allowing the Glen Canyon Dam be built, which flooded some of the most beautiful parts of the Grand Canyon.

      It’s more than embarrassing that OLCV is now going to repeat the same mistake when they should know a whole lot better.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • 9watts March 2, 2013 at 8:11 am

        “David Brower spent most of the later part of his life regretting that he and the Sierra Club cut a deal with politicians back in the 1950s, thus allowing the Glen Canyon Dam be built, which flooded some of the most beautiful parts of the Grand Canyon.”

        Silver lining?
        Lakes Powell and Mead will soon be dry again thanks to Climate Change:
        “In some key areas, including the Southwest, parts of California, and the central and southern Great Plains, ‘important reservoirs are left with little or no water”’ in some scenarios. In the Colorado River Basin, for instance, ‘Lakes Powell and Mead are projected to drop to zero and only occasionally thereafter add rather small amounts of storage before emptying again.’”
        http://tinyurl.com/b6lcdbh

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        • Dan March 3, 2013 at 7:40 am

          Dry yes, but buried under decades of silt and debris. It would take massive cleanup (with REALLY heavy equipment) to “restore” to it’s former glory…

          Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Anthony March 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Awesome Jonathan. Thanks so much for doing this.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Dan March 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you for fighting the good fight, Jonathan!

    I e-mailed Jules Bailey (I’m one of his constituents) a few days ago to ask him to explain his reasons for voting in support of the CRC. No response yet…pretty disappointing, though not surprising. Didn’t take long for the young liberal idealist to become a cynical part of the machine.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Scott March 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I heard it is actually a landing strip for aliens. We are going to be taken to labor camps on the moon.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • David Sweet March 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Outstanding investigative series on this, Jonathan. Yours is the best reporting we have on the CRC highway mega-project.

    It’s amazing that ODOT and the Democratic leadership are not only hiding the design of this monster, but also the financing. They won’t put forward a revenue measure to pay for it, because they know that they could not get the three-fifths super-majority they would need to raise gas taxes or registration fees or both. Also, such a measure, if it did pass, could be referred to the voters and would surly be defeated. I really hate to see the Democratic caucus acting so irresponsibly. It seems that we have to rely on Republican senators to save us from fiscal disaster.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Dan March 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    In case people are interested: the Willamette Week has an excellent feature article this week on Patricia McCaig, an strategy consultant to Kitzhaber who is being paid by David Evans and Associates, the company tasked with project planning for the CRC. The article presents evidence of unethical and possibly illegal conduct – definitely worth a read!

    http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-20317-the_woman_behind_the_bridge.html

    Recommended Thumb up 16

  • Jim Lee March 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    And I have heard that Steven Spielberg has been hired to make a (very expensive) movie with Kitz, McCaig, Kotek as volunteers to be removed from earth.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • maxd March 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Find your state legislator:
    http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Gracie March 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I just called my State Senator, Diane Rosenbaum’s office about this. Thanks, Jonathan!

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Steve B March 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Brilliant work, Jonathan.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Robert Ping March 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    The one image we have seen floating around is of a bridge (only) that is about 5 stories high, but the bridge is going to be 116 ft high over the river – an 11 story image of that monstrosity would certainly be an eye opener, not counting images of the off ramps, etc. And to further put this into perspective, we should be looking at images of what the bridge and southern mile or so of freeway would look like under normal rush hour conditions, AND an image of the rose quarter back up to show that the trip from Vancouver to downtown Portland would still include a major backup after spending 4-10 billion on this freeway expansion. Perhaps even worse if projections about increased I-205 trips would send more cars and trucks into downtown via 84.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Granpa March 1, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    This is indeed journalism, but the questions cherry pick to select the desired outcome. Computer simulations are not plans. There are plans a-plenty. Plans are being drawn from which the project can be built. Was the question asked “have you seen plans?” Have you investigated things you are asked to have an opinion about? If the questions were asked differently is might turn out that the legislators didn’t bother to look at information that was available to them. Or that they were not capable of understanding plans which would change the result of the question from “CRC is lying and hiding information” to “Legislators are not capable of doing their job or they just don’t care”

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Paul Cone March 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      The plans are only at 30% design level.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Granpa March 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

        Yup they are not complete, but it is construction documents that are being drawn. Regardless they describe the intent of the project and interested persons who can read plans, or legislators who are paid to be informed should be able to understand the breadth and scope of the project from information that is available. For legislators to plead ignorance is the kind of honesty we can expect from government.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

        • Paul in the 'couve March 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm

          Grandpa, you presume that the CRC has released any such plans for public review. I have seen detailed maps of where property needs to be acquired in Vancouver, but they are extremely difficult to read. Certainly very difficult to get a visual idea of what it means. Sorry, the public isn’t supposed to need to be as skilled as architects and engineers in reading land plots and blue prints. Even the professionals have to work to visualize what a project will actually look like.

          Further, one of the biggest issues is how this project is (IS NOT) going to integrate into the surrounding environs. The visual impact of height and footprint are not something that comes across from planning diagrams.

          Finally, it is the CRC that is trying to sell this to the public. You can be certain that if they thought full color renderings of the project would make people happy, they would be distributing them far in wide. The fact is that they don’t want to show people what a monstrosity this has become.

          Recommended Thumb up 11

        • Chris I March 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm

          If you have access to these plans, I would be happy to review them. I have searched the entire CRC website, and have found nothing.

          Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Doug Allen March 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Do the Senators also know that HB 2800 allows ODOT to immediately start condemning or purchasing property using their current budget? When I talked to Sen. Diane Rosenbaum’s assistant this morning, she seemed to think that money could only be spent after Washington and the Coast Guard approve. I told her no, that ODOT can start spending money on property as soon as the bill passes. This is the old Robert Moses approach — getting something going on the ground, so that the decision-makers feel compelled to appropriate more money in the future.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • michael downes March 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Dan, I read that article about Patricia McCaig in the WW…… disturbing example of conflict of interest especially as she is not registered as a lobbyist but is clearly lobbying on behalf of David Evans and Associates who will profit nicely from building it. This whole affair is developing a ripe smell to it.

    Again, excellent coverage of this issue Jonathon.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • dwainedibbly March 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    What is sadly interesting to me is that these elected officials haven’t already, on their own, asked to see more detailed information than has been made public.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Chris I March 2, 2013 at 6:16 am

    The sequester is official! This will cut $150 million from the $1.9 billion FTA New Starts program. This is going to make funding the $800 million light rail portion much more difficult…

    Overall, I would say this is a bad thing, though. New Starts is a great program that helps build transit around the nation. Of course, the Highway Trust Fund is exempt, because it isn’t funded every year, it just gets bailed out regularly when they run out of money…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Gasper Johnson March 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks Jonathan, I enjoyed reading their responses. I guess in fairness no one knows what they are doing because nothing of this scale has ever been done before. We should consider ourselves to be modern pioneers, bravely bankrupting our children so we can send a rocket ship into the sun to find out if it really is hot.

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  • mark kenseth March 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Great article. I’m astonished a MAJOR decision is being decided upon without accurate/detailed project drawings. Also, I’d like to see the record be written as 0-7 to make it seem like it’s a losing record.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dan March 3, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Have to love that the main view shown of the bridge has no reference objects near to show actual scale. If they had shown a representation of what Hayden Island will look like with this thing 116 feet above it, it would never fly…

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Paul in the 'couve March 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Exactly, beside being a 5 year old conceptual drawing of a bridge that doesn’t even appear to be 95 feet high (can’t tell no references) not 116 Feet, it only shows the bridge in the context of the river and bank with no reference to the the any of the existing structures. And it is shown from somewhere like 1/4 mile up river (again hard to say without any visual reference. There is no perspective, even conceptual giving what it would look like from places where people actually experience viewing the bridge much less being next to or under it, or the huge ramp of banked earth that will be required to get onto it or the sprawling on ramps.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

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