Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 27th, 2008 at 9:45 am
The Columbia River Crossing project — A $4.2 billion plan to improve safety and relieve congestion on I-5 between Portland and Vancouver — continues to hit speed bumps.
On Friday, a coalition of 13 groups issued a press release calling for a 60-day extension to the official comment period currently in place for the project’s recently published, 5,000 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). And today, the Oregonian reports that three (of seven) Metro councilors are set to introduce a resolution that calls for tolling the existing bridge (versus going forward with the 12-lane, replacement bridge plan).
Signed on to the statement requesting an extension of the comment period are the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and other advocacy groups that represent issues like land-use, conservation, the environment, and public health.
The current comment period is set to expire on July 1st and the extension would push that date out to September 1st.
The letter (which was sent to directors of the CRC project, the Federal Highway Adminstration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)) states that, “The current 60-day comment period is wholly insufficient for the public to analyze the massive DEIS and provide meaningful comments on the CRC.”
On the surface, the call for an extended comment period might seem like just a common, process-oriented measure. But the move is also a clear sign that the project’s direction is raising alarm with a growing — and increasingly organized — circle of opposition. An extended comment period could also lay the groundwork of a legal challenge, and, if granted, could throw a wrench into the project’s funding timeline.
Councilors signed on to a resolution
opposing the current direction of
the CRC project.
(Photo © J, Maus)
Making matters worse for the CRC, the Oregonian reports that three Metro councilors (just one vote shy of a majority) are set to oppose a new bridge altogether in a resolution to be introduced at Metro Council this afternoon. The three councilors (Carl Hosticka, Carlotta Collette, and Robert Liberty) instead want the existing span to be tolled.
According to Oregonian reporter Dylan Rivera,
“The resolution calls for charging tolls on the current bridge between Portland and Vancouver, generating money to earthquake-proof the structure, make on-ramps safer and boost mass transit. The tolls would discourage use of the bridge at rush hour, relieving some congestion. Then in a few years, officials would consider a new bridge with additional lanes for cars and trucks.”
Tolling the existing spans is also the first phase in an alternative plan put forth by the Smarter Bridge coalition.
Metro is one of eight agencies who have veto-power over the project and they are slated to vote on the resolution June 5th.
For a project of this size (the planning alone has gone on for over seven years at an estimated cost of $60-80 million), any controversy or speed bumps like these could ultimately spell its demise.
The smell of controversy (real or imagined) attracts the attention of newspapers editors (Nigel Jaquiss at the Willamette Week, Amy Ruiz at the Portland Mercury, and Dylan Rivera at the Oregonian all have this project under their magnifying glasses), and it also provides political cover for local elected officials to oppose the project when it comes up for key votes in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned for more coverage and browse my CRC archives here.