Columbia River Crossing dialogue heats up

Roll On Columbia! ride
(Photo © J. Maus)

As key decision points approach for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project, chatter about how we move forward is heating up in Portland. Local media, bike and environmental groups, and Portland’s City Council are beginning to make their voices heard about the estimated $4.2 billion project.

On Monday of this week, Portland City Council held its first public work session on the CRC. As reported in a story in the Oregonian, several commissioners made it clear that they would not support a new bridge unless it was guaranteed to include light rail (and a bike facility, but that’s a foregone conclusion, unlike light rail).

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has announced that they will hold a forum on the CRC at the office of the Portland Development Commission in Northwest Portland. The BTA’s Emily Gardner, who sits on the CRC’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, says the forum will be held to, “inform our members about what’s going on with the project.”

The BTA will also be seeking feedback and guidance. So far, the 5,000+ member strong organization has not reached internal consensus as to what extent they support (or don’t support) the project.

Portland Mercury reporter Amy Ruiz published an in-depth critique of the CRC project last week. Her article included quotes from many of the key local players and touched on important issues on the table with this project.

Ruiz didn’t hide her skepticism of the project; the sub headline of the piece was, A Proposed New 12-Lane Bridge over the Columbia River Will Cost $4.2 Billion, Increase Traffic, and Do Little to Alleviate Climate Change. What the Hell Are We Thinking?.

UPDATE: Ruiz’s latest “Meet the contenders” question focuses on the CRC. Check out what City Council Seat #2 front-runner Jim Middaugh thinks about it.

The Portland Mercury, along with the Bus Project, has announced that their ongoing Debate Club series (which featured Bikes vs. Cars back in August) will focus on the CRC. Panelists will include Metro Councilor (and CRC Task Force member) Rex Burkholder, Economist Joe Cortright, Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart (also on the Task Force), and representatives from the Coalition for a Livable Future and CRC project staff.

The Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF), a Portland-based non-profit that represents over 90 organizations working toward, “a just and sustainable region”, wants to build support for a “Climate smart” CRC project. They call the current CRC effort, “an outdated freeway expansion project that will increase global warming pollution, harm people’s health, and undermine our region’s vision of a sustainable economy.”


The next step for the project is the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which is due out in April. The DEIS will provide analysis on all of the five crossing options still on the table. Once released, there will be a 60-day public comment period. Also in the next few months, the three local groups that have veto power over the project – Portland City Council, Metro, and TriMet — will vote on the “locally preferred alternative” put forth by the CRC Task Force.

So far, there has been very little public opposition of the CRC project by important politicians or bureaucrats (Metro’s Robert Liberty being the lone voice so far). This is such a huge project, and the political stakes for stopping the snowball are very high. I can’t imagine anyone putting up a significant road block unless they feel adequate political cover from their constituents. I have heard a lot of misgivings about this project from the community, but unless those concerns are organized and directed to the right place, at the right time, they might never have an impact.

Stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in on the CRC and watch for more coverage of the project in the weeks and months to come.

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