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20 Oregon legislators sign letter calling for pause on CRC project

Posted by on March 29th, 2011 at 10:37 am

“We believe that there are important unresolved questions that demand further scrutiny before the commitment of additional public dollars to this project.”

20 Oregon legislators — 8 Republicans, 12 Democrats — have issued a letter of concern over the Columbia River Crossing highway expansion project. The letter, dated March 28th, comes on the heels of a public hearing for House Joint Memorial 22, a bill that would have urged the federal government to fund the controversial CRC project.

Here’s the opening of the letter (download PDF here):

“… We believe that there are important unresolved questions that demand further scrutiny before the commitment of additional public dollars to this project.”

While the letter raises serious questions about the project, its signatories are careful to not come off as being opposed to the project. “Raising questions should not be construed as opposition to a new bridge.” (It’s too bad they refer to the project as “a new bridge” when the bridge is just a small part of the overall project.)

That being said, for a project that ODOT and WashDOT say must move forward to not lose its place in the federal funding queue and who portray it as having broad political support, this letter is a significant development.

Here’s the list of Oregon House Representatives that are signed onto the letter (there are a total of 60 members of the Oregon House):

The three issues/questions raised in the letter are the “true cost” of the project, the traffic projections and tolling revenue, and cost overruns. The House Reps question the official $3.2 -$3.6 billion estimates of the project’s cost. They point to a report that says the actual cost could be closer to $10 billion.

They also question the CRC’s traffic projections, saying that, “in the few years since the CRC’s projections were issued, traffic over the bridge has not only failed to increase as forecast, it has actually declined.”

On the issue of cost overruns, the letter points out that “cost overruns are a fact of life.” While not a reason to oppose the project on their own, the House Reps say that, “the magnitude of possible overruns should be considered in conjunction with the significant questions about the CRC’s traffic and tolling projections.”

The final line of the letter says it all: “We are not satisfied that this downside risk has been fully digested.”

CRC project watchers fear that HJM 22, while it doesn’t commit the state to any financial obligation, could be taken as a symbolic endorsement of the project.

During the public hearing yesterday, Rep. Ben Cannon testified against it, saying, “Oregonians are not united in support of this project. They are not convinced it is justified to spend $3.6 billion for the benefit of Vancouver commuters and for a project that will just move a bottleneck south.”

Rep. Mitch Greenlick also testified against HJM 22 yesterday, saying the CRC is “A steamroller headed off a cliff” and that it’s time to “take a serious chance to debate this issue.”

Due to time overruns yesterday, the public hearing on HJM 22 has been held over. It will be in front of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development again tomorrow (3/30) in Hearing Room D.

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  • Evan Manvel March 29, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Being in Salem yesterday was electrifying. It’s rare to have legislators testify against a bill in committee, yet four legislators (Rep. Cannon, Rep. Greenlick, Rep. Eyre Brewer and Sen. Telfer) did just that. Rep. Cannon mentioned it’s the first time in his history that he’s testified against a bill in committee.

    But 20 votes doesn’t get us to victory (and signing the letter isn’t a commitment to vote against HJM 22).

    It’s time to keep up the pressure.

    If we can get four people on the committee to vote against this bill, only extraordinary measures will get it passed.

    To contact committee members via email:


    Key things to remember:
    – Copy your own representative, too – that’s the most important connection you have in Salem.
    – Be respectful
    – Mention the bill number (HJM 22)
    – Make one-three key points
    – If you’re a constituent, mention it. If not, you’ll still be on the hook for the CRC costs (and its impacts) and are an interested party, so don’t be shy.

    Word is that the Committee may only allow testimony from those who were at Monday’s hearing and didn’t get to testify, so don’t make a big plan to travel down to Salem without calling Rep. Bentz first (he’s one of the co-chairs, and will likely chair Wednesday’s hearing).

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    • Gregg Woodlawn March 29, 2011 at 6:41 pm

      Thanks Evan. I emailed all of them a few hours ago.

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    • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:30 am

      Ben Cannon is the type of person we need in politics – go Ben!

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  • Gabriel Amadeus March 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Great news! Thank you everyone for bringing much needed attention to this issue, and thank you legislators for listening to your constituents’ concerns!

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  • 9watts March 29, 2011 at 10:55 am

    It is curious that the double issue of climate change and Peak Oil and their impact on the future of transport make no appearance in this letter. Extrapolations of observed declines in traffic volumes across the existing bridge don’t begin to capture what’s in store for fossil fueled transport.
    Hello, legislators! Are you paying attention? Can you imagine an end to fossil-fueled transport? If you can’t, you might challenge yourselves to articulate a scenario that has us continuing to use cars and trucks as we’ve grown accustomed to. In that scenario please include a discussion of where the fuel is going to come from, and what prices we will be paying for that fuel. Or, if fuel doesn’t tickle your fancy, how about the realization that if we hope to maintain a habitable climate, hope to avoid large scale disruptions to agricultural production, hope to avoid the loss of our coastlines and the sites of habitation which abut them, we’d do well to LEAVE ALL FOSSIL FUELS IN THE GROUND, starting a generation ago?
    Not to be all negative about this, but it really is high time we faced the music when it comes to how we hope to fuel our transport system in the near future. Decisions about infrastructure are a very important piece of this.
    There will be no cars and trucks to speak of to use this bridge within a generation.

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    • q`Tzal March 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      There are (philosophical / religious / fanatical / moronic) reasons for opposing Peak Oil, Global Warming, Induced Demand or any of the other arguments that the “Church of Green” has used to refute the “need” for the CRC.
      These are hot button issues that serve only to shunt these people’s brains straight over to enraged defensiveness.

      The simple fact of the matter is that all politicians respond fairly similarly when publicly confronted with the idea of government waste. This is ultimately the only argument that will work on Democrats, Republicans, all the extremists at either end of the spectrum and all the normal people in the middle.

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      • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:33 am

        can’t we ban trucks on the I5 bridge and force them to use I205? then, just add a congestion toll for rush hour on both bridges – and presto, people will respond to what they call “price signals”. This ain’t rocket science, this is simple economics

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        • Matthew Denton April 1, 2011 at 5:49 pm

          We could force trucks to use 205, (the reason they don’t now is because I-5 is generally faster, even at rush hour. I-205 goes way out of the way,) but why? All the truck traffic that passes over I-5 and I-205 would easily fit over the bridge of the gods, (okay, except the oversize/weight,) with no delays for the drivers, (other than the detour out there and back,) as long as two employees were working the tollbooth! One tollbooth employee could handle the average traffic volume, but of course, there would sometimes be a queue…

          The fact is that there is 7 lanes in each direction across the Columbia in Portland right now, and at rush hour more than 6 of them are filled with single occupancy commuter vehicles. (The HOV lane ends just before the bridge.) Fix that and the buses will flow, the trucks will flow, the carpools will flow, in other words, the system will function for its intended purpose: moving people and freight. But double the size of the bridge, and instead of more than 6 lanes of traffic sitting there, there will be more than 9 lanes of SOV commuters sitting there. Why bother?

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    • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:36 am

      slow down there, greenie – trucks can be run on all sorts of fuels – and, in fact, since our shipping and rail industries are awful, we need these trucks to deliver crap to REI and Cabela’s.

      Personal driving will continue to decrease in urban centers – but if you try to take trucks from rednecks(I love rednecks, that is not a derogatory term) you will have trouble. If you live in a small town where, literally, the grocery store is 20 miles away, it is different than living 8 blocks from New Seasons(like I did in portland)

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  • Jim Labbe March 29, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Jonathan: Thank you again for your excellent coverage of this issue.

    To the elected officials who signed the letter:

    Thank you for standing up against this freeway juggernaut. I hope in the future that more elected officials can speak in opposition to the proposed CRC
    and in support of viable alternatives to a massive freeway expansion.


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  • 9watts March 29, 2011 at 11:14 am
    • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:37 am

      this is true – but remember, you can convert coal to diesel – I know, isn’t chemistry hard to wrap your head around?

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      • 9watts March 30, 2011 at 7:54 am

        This is the response from many who acknowledge that Peak Oil is real. Technically you are correct, but if you pause to remember that Peak Oil is not the only threat, but Climate Change has advanced even further/represents a much bigger threat to our future, squeezing diesel out of coal doesn’t look like such a good idea. Not that some/many won’t try, but we shouldn’t lose track of the larger picture. Politicians I think can and should be held to a higher standard than the desperate economics folks keep bringing up. We elected them to lead, to rise above these squabbles, to chart a prudent course. The letter above is a most timid and narrow interpretation of the folly of the CRC in my view, salutary though it may be.

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      • spare_wheel March 30, 2011 at 8:26 am

        you can convert puppies into oil but this does not mean its ever going to happen (or become economically feasible).

        the subsidization of oil in the usa is the principle reason for our underinvestment in clean and efficient modern transportation. the chinese and europeans are spending many hundreds of billions building transportation infrastructure while we BLEED away trillions fighting wars for our patriotic oiled glory.

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  • Spencer Boomhower March 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    This is excellent news, great to see.

    It was getting to be pretty baffling, the number of elected leaders so blithely supporting a project that would pour such an immense amount of public money into such a relatively tiny area, in an attempt to solve transportation challenges with such an obsolete approach: massive freeway expansion through the heart of an urban area. As if, because their constituents don’t generally find freeways all that engaging and big budgets all that easy to grasp, elected leaders were willing to just roll with whatever the armies of lobbyists were telling them, and forgo trying to do the grasping themselves.

    Good to know there are at least twenty exceptions to the rule.

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  • dan March 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Are these 20 all Dems, or are some Republicans actually being fiscally conservative?

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    • Evan Manvel March 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      Eight are Republicans, twelve democrats. Yet there are many different reasons people are talking about voting against the CRC, from fiscal conservatism to dislike of light rail to concern about all the money going to the Portland area to all the reasons we know about: health, pollution, salmon, good planning, strong land use, equity, priorities, etc.

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  • john March 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    It’s just amazing to me that this CRC even came about. Why is the obvious so hard for people to see. The current bridges are great!

    Redo the turn on the vancouver side, get rid of the Oh-my-god that exit/entrance ramp is short on both ends. At the very most go to a truck only lane, and small local bridges to jantzen beach. Plus when the big one hits, those old steel bridges will be standing, while the concrete bridge will be at the bottom of the columbia.

    Those that want the bridge should be forced to live alongside I-5 and its exit and entrance ramps.

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    • gumby March 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      It won’t take much of an earthquake to knock those bridges out. The counterweights will tumble them right into the water. The concrete bridges may not fare any better.

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      • Matthew Denton April 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm

        That is completely untrue, they fixed that problem in 1996.
        Structurally those bridges are “fair” to “satisfactory.”

        Compare that to the Marquam, (which is newer than the new span on the Interstate bridge)
        Structurally parts of it are “Poor” and the overall rating is “Structurally Deficient”

        True, the Interstate bridge is considered “Functionally Obsolete” So is the Freemont:
        (less than 40 years old,) as is the Burnside, Hawthorne, Broadway, and Ross Island. (The Steel bridge is structurally deficient as well, which is a large part of the reason TriMet has two MAX depots, one on each side of that bridge.)

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        • Spencer Boomhower April 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm

          @Matthew Denton

          That bridgehunter site is great, very handy.

          There’s a factoid I’ve heard, along the lines of: there are something like 20 bridges on I-5 in Oregon that are in worse shape seismically than the Interstate Bridge. But I’ve never quiet been able to track down that list. Is that anything you’ve ever come across?

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  • jram March 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    do we have any knowledge of how much the other options (i.e. some of the ones from spencer’s animation, among others) have been investigated by the powers that be? I may have missed a big part of the discussion, but it sounds like the decision was made to push this huge thing through, and that was that. i would like to know that the cost and feasibility of these options have at least been followed through before we try to get funding for this thing. Or i would least like to know that the governors and DOT heads are asking the same questions, but it doesn’t sound like they are.

    Also, couldn’t help but notice 2 committee members signed the letter, so that’s a good sign.

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  • dan March 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    We could save a few billion in construction costs and get bridge traffic to manageable levels if we would just slap about a $7 toll on both the I-5 and 205 bridges. Have a toll-free lane for trucks and transit, everyone else pays. Bet we could cut daily vehicles over the bridge in half!

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  • rhoneyfi March 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I agree with Dan. Why can’t we explore a toll option? Probably political suicide….but it would make a big impact on traffic flow!

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    • J_R March 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      Tolling is permitted for new facilities or for upgrade, expansion, or replacement of existing interstate highways under federal law. Title 23 CFR Section 129. The only other possiblity is an approved “demonstration project.”

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of toll facilites all over the place, or better yet a $5 per gallong gas tax.

      By the way, you can actually find out lots of good stuff about tolling on the CRC project website.

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      • Matthew Denton April 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

        Summary: tolling is permitted. It would take some federal government action, but less than it would take to build a new bridge because congress wouldn’t have to allocate any money towards it.

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        • Matthew Denton April 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm

          Also: We have to toll I-205 at the same time we build this bridge, or else the traffic will just move over there, and this brand new bridge will be 12 lanes empty of cars. To do that, is no easier than to toll this bridge today.

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  • Charley March 29, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Mitch Greenlick is definitely winning back some cred from this reader. Tina Kotek. . . not so much.

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  • 9watts March 30, 2011 at 7:09 am

    There are (philosophical / religious / fanatical / moronic) reasons for opposing Peak Oil, Global Warming, Induced Demand or any of the other arguments that the “Church of Green” has used to refute the “need” for the CRC.

    I must confess I don’t understand what you are saying. I agree with the defensiveness, but not the ‘reasons for opposing’ language. Peak Oil isn’t something you oppose, any more than gravity is something you oppose. Why is that so hard to grasp? Why is this a problem only in the US? One can be outraged at the implications of Peak Oil or Climate Change, but it is hard to see how an oppositional stance to the concept is going to get very far.

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    • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:40 am

      money. money is why people won’t acknowledge facts. how do you think Sam Adams affords to fly to copenhagen but cannot pay his mortgage?

      check the financial papers, turns out, finding, drilling, exporting, refining, delivering then pumping gas pays alot of bills. it won’t stop until the price signals dictate it. even then, rich people will drive SUVs.

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    • q`Tzal March 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

      I am a scientist by heart/mentality and the way I was brought up: question first, find theories, rule out incorrect theories with fact and rational thought.
      Logic and empirical fact are the basis of reality.

      This logical rational thought process interacts poorly with matters of faith where people of faith have based their world view around beliefs that have no basis in fact, rationality or reality.
      I have no issues with freedom of religion or belief as a private matter. When those with non-reality based belief systems attempt to impose their faith on reality the heavy hand of the State must be brought to bear.

      These people deny global warming.
      These people deny over-population.
      These people deny resourse scarcity.
      These people deny evolution.
      All with empirical, verifyable FACT but their faith sustains them.
      I hope it does not require an extinction level event to wake them up to the reality in front of them.

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      • 9watts March 30, 2011 at 11:45 am

        q’Tzal, are you talking about our legislators in Salem? I know some of them on the list and they don’t fit your description. Or perhaps you are talking about their constituents?

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  • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 7:29 am

    don’t you get it? what $alem wants is really unimportant to Washington(state and DC). the fact is that oregon depends on the federal government for money because Oregon State has no money(take away nike and intel, there is nothing there) so even though the Mayor of Portland is a borderline pedophile and Rep David Wu is a pill head – really, everything is cool.

    just build the unnecessary bridge and cry about it, oregon style.

    Sorry if you find the truth hard to understand or hear, honestly, I feel sorry for alot of people in portland with their secret trust funds and drug habits. now, get on your bike and ride.

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  • ginseng March 30, 2011 at 11:13 am

    One of the major drivers of the perceived need for the new bridge are the traffic projections…ie, how crowded will our highways be in the future.

    Quoted from the story***
    They also question the CRC’s traffic projections, saying that, “in the few years since the CRC’s projections were issued, traffic over the bridge has not only failed to increase as forecast, it has actually declined.”

    The traffic projections used on this project are crap. Metro is responsible for this. Their base dataset, is from a outdated regional survey from…early 1990. They claim a new survey is too expensive and hard to accomplish. Rubbish. Their perspective is to be lazy and vague.

    Also, during the beginning of the CRC ‘modeling runs’ Metro suffered from an extreme departure of Principal and Senior Transit planners…Practically everybody that knew what they were doing. During the MONTHS after, there were many, many problems that plagued their transportation models. And, it is not just CRC. The Eastside Streetcar, LO and Milwaukie projects got the same crappy data justifying rail projects. The planners at Metro know their numbers are bunk, Just call over to the transportation modelling department and ask…call HR an get the public records of how many people departed Metro during the modeling time period.

    Metro lies with their datasets…they ‘massage’ their numbers to tell the story they want heard. Regardless of how much nonsense it seems like.

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  • Marid March 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I guess I’ll be the voice of the opposition here. Build the bridge and let’s move on to more important issues. Seriously, folks. On OregonLive there is nothing but complaints about government spending on infrastructure we need and want. Portland is growing, and growing fast. After that excessively long anti-police thread recently, I’m beginning to think that while OregonLive posters throw stones, Bikeportland posters throw bottom brackets. They feel pretty much the same.

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    • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      madrid – you, quite simply, have no cred here. go back to your cave and watch the shadows.

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  • adamdoug2011 March 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    there is no “there” there, it is mainly a boondoggle, imagine if 4 billion were put toward bike infrastructure. heck, I am thinking of running for mayor unless tonyt or jmaus steps up?

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