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The Columbian: Congressman says financial reality of CRC “may mean fewer lanes”

Posted by on April 7th, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Front page of The Columbian newspaper today.

U.S. Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA) is featured in a front page story in today’s edition of The Columbian newspaper expressing his concerns about the “fiscal reality” of the new I-5 bridge (the story is only available in their print edition).

Echoing a sentiment shared by economist Joe Cortright at Sunday’s rally in opposition to a 12-lane Columbia River Crossing (where Cortright compared the CRC staff’s accounting to Bernie Madoff), Baird told The Columbian that “he has longstanding concerns about how to pay for a project expected to cost $3.5 billion” and that he has “received few answers”.

Story continues below


Baird reportedly said that projections of how much of the bridge’s tab could be paid by tolls made by CRC project staff in the draft environmental impact statement, “didn’t provide much information to back up those calculations.” “For lack of a better word, it didn’t show the work,” he told The Columbian.

Here are a few more excerpts from the article:

“…Baird went a step further and criticized engineers and planners for not paying enough attention to the numbers…

Baird…said members of Congress will demand more financial details.”

Baird didn’t hide his disdain with plans developed by a Tallahassee, FL architect hired by the crossing office that envisioned a bicycle-pedestrian path lined with mosaic tiles.”

(Mosaic tiles on the bike/ped path? I hadn’t even heard of that yet.)

And, in what will be welcome news to smaller bridge proponents, Baird’s concerns about the bridge’s cost led him to say that scaling back the budget might mean building it with fewer lanes.

The article pointed out that while Baird was “critical of almost every aspect of the CRC’s financial plan” he also said “the region must act.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • peejay April 7, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Cautious optimism. Again, another politician understands that the cost is too high, but doesn’t get why the whole idea of more traffic lanes is flawed. We can work with such people, but we need to help them along on the path to enlightenment.

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  • Nickey April 7, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Jonathan, do you have permission to put up that PDF? It strikes me as rather unethical (and illegal) for you to scan and make available something online that another news source chose only to include in their print edition.

    I do appreciate the summary of the article. I’m glad to see a newspaper reporting this. Anyone who cares knows the money isn’t there.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 7, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    hey nickey,

    no. i didn’t get permission. you’re right, I probably should not have done that. I’ve removed the link and will only put it back up if i get permission from them.

    thanks for the comment.

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  • Refunk April 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Oh, yeah. Those stupid tiles on the path really struck me as dumb beyond measure when I saw an illustration of ’em. Another wasteful, unsafe concept from a non-cyclist/non-pedestrian.

    I’m all for art! Only don’t [unsafely] screw up the riding/walking surface with it. Maybe put the non-Pacific Northwestern Floridian’s clumsy ideas on the bridge railing or other wall/structure, where they can appropriately be covered over by local grafitti writers with better taste…

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  • chriswnw April 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Currently, the state is financially squeezed to lavish spending and a sclerotic economy. IF the economy recovers, such a project will be equally unaffordable due to global competition for fuel and building materials. We will have to adapt to a world that will eventually force us to use our resources a little bit more efficiently. We might as well start now.

    Congestion would be reduced if the suburbs added greater connectivity among their surface streets, allowing traffic to disperse, rather than adding or expanding new supercorridors, which causes traffic to concentrate along the entrances in addition to triggering new trips that wouldn’t have previously been made.

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  • Hart April 7, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    There won’t be a 12 lane CRC.

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  • PdxMark April 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I was looking forward to having gilded tiles so that, instead of the convoluted bike access to the I-5 bridge now, we could just say…. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” to Vancouver…

    As for the financing… let’s do some number crunching… assuming the Feds give $1 billion cash, and the $3 billion balance is financed at 6% for 50 years:

    that gives a monthly payment of $15.8 million. With about 125,000 vehicle crossings a day (I think), that gives a toll of $126 for each vehicle. If we toll the I-205 bridge, and assume it has as many vehicle crossings, the toll on each bridge should be $63 for each vehicle cross.

    See… we CAN pay for the bridge with tolls!

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  • metal cowboy April 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    This is very encouraging news. I want to believe this won’t be the last elected official speaking out about the cost of and concern about the need for a megabridge. I also want to believe that elected officals would not be making their feelings known in public if we weren’t making noise and offering a change for alternatives to be looked at. I could be deluded, probably am, but it’s still a very encouraging indicator. So let’s see this as the beginning. We need to keep up the pressure… start calling all your elected officials, join us at future actions and let’s create a better future for this region.

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  • Suzanne April 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Well said peejay, but this is certainly a hopefully sign…

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  • Common Sense April 7, 2009 at 3:18 pm


    I’m not super savvy with calculating compounding interest…but if your math is solid it shows very clearly the “hidden” costs of a construction project of this magnitude. Nicely done. $126 per crossing? Yikes.

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  • PdxMark April 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Common Sense,

    It’s easy. Just find an online mortgage calculator and enter the numbers….

    It look likes the I-205 bridge actually has a few more vehicle crossings a day (135,000). With that corrected number the toll on both bridges for a 50 year repayment of $3 billion is a BARGAIN:


    Low interest rates might let us get a 3% rate, having a $9.7 million monthly payment and and even BETTER BARGAIN toll of:


    on both bridges for 50 years…

    I suspect tolls that actually paid for the bridge would drive up lightrail ridership … but then the tolls would have rise a corresponding amount…

    Who said tolls would cover the cost???

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  • peejay April 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    $126 per crossing? Yikes.

    And well worth it!

    If they charged that much for a toll, I’d support a 12-lane bridge. ‘Cause about 10 of them would be open, and I could ride my bike in style. If I had the money.

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  • Q`ztal April 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm


    No, frivolous Form that sacrifices Function and safety will never be tolerated here in Portland.
    Something like this has never happened here.

    It might be too late to slap some sense into the mall’s stainless steel rack designer but whoever is dreaming up counter-productive and outright unsafe design elements can still be stopped.

    Just don’t let them replace slick tile with a painted surface.

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  • jim April 7, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    this whole thing is just so wacko I hope they don’t do anything at all

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  • John April 7, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    This is something that’s crossed my mind! The rest of Washington State government outside of Vancouver may be predisposed to the side of a lower cost bridge project.
    The costs will impact the entire state’s budget. Vancouver can’t pay its share. The real statewide benefits of business and employment which may or may not result from this project will be largely lost over the border to Oregon. (we don’t have an income tax) Sales tax down here just gets dodged with a quick trip over the border anyway. Our property taxes largely go towards the local budget; much more so if an overpriced bridge needs paying for.

    Vancouver’s government might benefit from a gigantobridge, but at a cost to the state. Time to talk to friends and advocates up north! Let’s make Vancouver’s overambitious leadership stick out! It wouldn’t be the first time a proud nail’s been hammered down here.

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  • Dan Kaufman April 7, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Even considering this boondoggle while we are in the middle of a budget crisis (cutting services – like bus routes) it just seems stupid, insane, or criminal.

    Brian Baird is a smart cookie – we are finally giving him cover he needs.

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  • Spencer Boomhower April 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I had to see the tiles for myself:


    Found here:


    Wow. I’m imagining riding on that surface when it’s wet. Yes, there’s a roof over that tile work, but this is the Columbia river we’re talking about. You can just picture the rain blowing in through those windows, and making the tiles awfully slick.

    And Q`ztal, I too immediately thought of the wildly overpriced (four times as much money as normal!), paint-scraping (my bike has the scar to prove it) stainless-steel staples.

    Both designs are both spendy *and* impractical, and have the (hopefully) unintentional side effect of making bike amenities seem like overpriced flourishes.

    I have to wonder if maybe these things were designed with no real appreciation of the value of biking, which then led to the desire to pretty up the designs.

    But bike amenities don’t need to be prettied up because they’re intrinsically beautiful. Old, sticker-covered blue staples, bike corrals, bike boulevards, and that bike/ped bridge slung under the Steel Bridge are some of the most beautiful things in Portland.

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  • bike militia April 8, 2009 at 8:12 am

    This is great! Time to start harassing Oregon politicians people. Obviously Earl Blumenauer isn’t going to come out and say everything that we’re thinking here, but the cost of the project is one easy way for politicians to kill this turd.

    Cost could be an especially effective talking point for Republican reps from the south metro..their traffic problem is much worse than Vancouver’s

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  • RyNO Dan April 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Accompanying editorial, I think

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  • bahueh April 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    and in the end, its not about fish…its not about urban sprawl or congestion or park rallies….

    its all about money.

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  • peejay April 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm


    Great editorial. That a very conservative paper like the Columbian is against this bridge is the kind of leverage we need to make our movement broad-based. Of course it’ll make agreeing to an alternative that much harder, but that’s another story.

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  • PdxMark April 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    The venomous attitude in the editorial comments toward Portland and Portlanders is striking.

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  • carless in pdx April 9, 2009 at 4:56 am

    If you look closely, they are also completely idiotic. Some of the arguments lambast spending money on a bridge but think that the congressman shouldn’t have brought up the point; one guy doesn’t believe a bridge will even last 50 years, others complain that it costs money to commute from Vantucky in Portland… :\

    Like as if billion dollar bridges grow on trees now?

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  • PdxMark April 9, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Oops – My math was wrong… I left out the number of days in a month… The toll each way to pay the full $4.5 billion is $7….

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