[Update, 6:30: Council has voted unanimously to support a replacement bridge crossing (with light rail) as the Locally Preferred Alternative. Read the full lowdown at the Mercury blog and read my report from City Hall below.]
(Photos © J. Maus)
The Columbia River Crossing is up for a crucial vote at City Hall this afternoon and a capacity crowd has turned up to voice their opinions and hear what the experts and the elected officials have to say about it.
Outside council chambers, an activist group with “Oil Enforcement Agency” written on their shirts was issuing citations to supporters of the bridge.
Inside City Hall, a standing room only crowd and a gaggle of media cameras are here.
Before the hearing started, I bumped in Jill Fugilister from Coalition for Livable Future. She said Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Commissioner Randy Leonard have both reported a record level of communication (in the form of emails and phone calls) from Portland residents about this issue.
The hearing started out with Commissioner Sam Adams reading the same statement that was published in the Oregonian today.
Adams introduced ODOT director Matt Garrett and TriMet GM Fred Hansen. Garrett said he “fully subscribes” to Adams’ statement and spoke about the long process and partnerships that have led to this point. He said “when all is said and done, we’ll deliver a bridge that the citizens and this nation can be proud of.”
“When all is said and done, we’ll deliver a bridge that the citizens and this nation can be proud of.”
–ODOT Director Matt Garrett
After his comments, Commissioner Adams — wanting to calm fears that Portland will lose control of the project if they vote yes today — asked Garrett, “Will ODOT forward a request for funding of this project over the objections of a majority of City Council?”
“No,” said Garrett, “that would be a failure of leadership… as we work on these issues it is important to find consensus.”
TriMet’s Fred Hansen also shared his support for Adams’ position.
Robert Liberty offered compelling testimony against the CRC project. He encouraged Council to make sure they have a “Plan B and Plan C” in order if/when funding for the project doesn’t materialize (many skeptics see funding as the CRC’s Achilles heel). Liberty then got a warm round of applause when he ended with, “This is a project based on 1960 ideas but that’s charging 2030 prices.”
Leslie Carlson from the City of Portland’s Sustainable Development Commission said the project is working on poor assumptions. “We think there is a paradigm shift going on… and that people’s behavior in 25-30 years will be much different than it is now. Our concern is that the LPA is not built on what will likely happen in the future but on predictions from the past [when gas was $1.25 a gallon].”
Speaking in favor of the project were representatives from Schnitzer Steel, labor unions, and freight interests.
In total, 79 people have showed up to testify (they each get two minutes to speak) and City Council will vote on their “locally preferred alternative” (LPA) after all the testimony has been heard.
The CRC will most likely gain the support of a majority of Council tonight. Adams is clearly going to vote in favor of it. Commissioner Leonard and Mayor Potter will likely follow suit, giving it a majority. The only two wild cards are Commissioners Saltzman and Fish. Saltzman has already shown his distaste for the project and Fish — facing the biggest vote of his short tenure — is reportedly still weighing the issue and could go either way.
Once the locally preferred alternative is approved (as I assume it will), the big question is whether or not Portland will have ceded its ability to have significant oversight on the project going forward. Adams has offered every assurance that he will remain “vigilant” and that Council will remain in a position to shape the project to meet Portland’s sustainable transportation goals — but skepticism remains.
Will Council’s support of the LPA put the CRC project on a smooth path to a 12-lane “mega-bridge”? Will ODOT, WashDOT and CRC project staff work in good faith with Portland leaders to make the bridge something everyone can live with? Will a “yes” vote tonight help coalesce even more opposition to the project and a possible legal challenge that could derail the whole thing?
Speaking to Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF) director Mara Gross outside council chambers a few minutes ago, she says a legal challenge (at least from them) is not likely any time soon. It would come later in the process, she said, if at all. Characterizing the general vibe from advocacy groups who have opposed the project, she says after tonight’s vote, things will, “go from a boiling point, back down to a simmer.”
For now, CLF will focus their attention on Metro’s LPA vote which is coming tomorrow. “But we already know how they’re going to vote,” said Gross.
Stay tuned. There are many more twists and turns in store for this bridge.
For a blow-by-blow account of the hearing, check out the Portland Mercury’s coverage by Amy Ruiz.