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Adams, Bragdon call for ‘fundamental changes’ in CRC project

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Metro President David Bragdon.
(Photos © J. Maus)
Portland Mayor Sam Adams

With momentum surging for the Columbia River Crossing and what could be a pivotal Project Sponsor’s Council meeting just hours away, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Metro President David Bragdon have issued a joint “Guiding Policy Statement” calling for “fundamental changes” in how the project is planned.

“A change in direction is needed for the CRC project to be successfully accomplished”

The statement makes it clear that Adams and Bragdon — who both have veto power on the project — are prepared to stymie the project unless there’s a major shift in the planning process. The statement fleshes out a position that Bragdon and Adams alluded to in an article published on the Portland Mercury blog earlier today.

The opening line of the statement lays out their position: “A change in direction is needed for the CRC project to be successfully accomplished”. The two leaders feel the project is “mired in financial challenges” and frame their position on wanting to solve those funding challenges in time for being eligible for federal funds.

Adams and Bragdon are very careful to not make it seem like they want to kill the CRC project altogether. In fact, they seem to be calling for just the opposite. The statement itself is titled, Columbia River Crossing: Road to Construction and Adams and Bragdon distance themselves from recent calls from a coalition of advocacy groups to start the project over, saying:

“In addition, it is important to underscore that we reject calls from project opponents to cancel or “restart” the project, as too much solid work has already been done.”

Adams and Bragdon are smart enough to know that calling for a re-do at this point is political suicide. With this project getting some recent momentum, and with our economy and unemployment numbers in the tank, they simply must be seen as supportive partners. It’s a very tricky balance for two leaders with many constituents who want them to come out completely against the project.

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Also evident in the statement is that Adams and Bragdon are stalling for more time. They say recent project changes (“refinements” that trimmed 15% from the total project cost) lack adequate analysis. Specifically, they call out that the “refinements” were not analyzed according to specific guidelines laid out by the Performance Measures Advisory Group (a committee formed as a bone to Adams as part of a compromise for getting his support of a 12-lane bridge).

“We believe the current proposal contains incomplete and potentially flawed assumptions underlying the original proposal, particularly assumptions about demand forecasts, tax and toll revenues available for the project, and what those revenues can buy… we need to see performance-based criteria used to guide reconfiguration of the project, as the PSC has requested.”

Toward the end of the statement, Adams and Bragdon make it clear that they want the Departments of Transportation to play a less significant role in planning the bridge and that they want the Project Sponsor’s Council (PSC, which they are both members of) to step in and work more closely with CRC staff.

“We are proposing that PSC agency staff work directly with CRC project staff in a short, defined window to continue the current refinement work to create a realistic road to construction that includes:

1. A reliable budget based on realistic revenue projections;
2. A realistic assessment of the relationship between tolls, updated demand forecasts, desired land use patterns and size of the CRC facilities
3. Project elements that are firmly based in performance outcomes
4. Recognition that the interstate system must function in concert with local systems”

So far, the DOTs have played a huge role in driving this project. Adams and Bragdon are well aware that DOTs tend to be highway-centric and less attuned to community concerns. By shifting planning power to the Sponsor’s Council and CRC project staff, Adams and Bragdon feel they are more likely to come up with a bridge design that will be more palatable to them and, more importantly, to their constituents.

This statement will be seen as a blow to Governor Kulongoski. Just yesterday, Kulongoski commandeered a tugboat and invited the media for a press conference on the Columbia River to underscore what he sees as an urgent need to get this project done. That media strategy paid off with an editorial published this afternoon by The Oregonian saying the Project Sponsor’s Council “should move this long-sought project into the fast lane, speeding toward reality.”

I’m not sure of the technicalities, but I assume this “Guiding Policy Statement” could be proposed by Adams or Bragdon at the meeting tomorrow. If adopted, it would mean any major decision on starting the CRC project could be months away. There are crucial federal funding deadlines on the horizon. If the many players at the table can’t reach a consensus in time, the project might never see the light of day.

Are Adams and Bragdon just stalling in hopes that the CRC misses crucial funding windows, and therefore never gets built? Or, are they sincere and just taking a prudent detour on the “road to construction”?

Stay tuned for more twists and turns in the CRC saga and coverage from tomorrow’s Project Sponsor’s Council meeting.

Browse all our CRC coverage here.

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