Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 6th, 2011 at 11:44 am
Local scrutiny on the controversial, $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project is heating up again ahead of a key Metro Council vote on the project Thursday.
At stake with the vote is whether or not to grant full approval of the locally preferred alternative Metro adopted back in 2008. At that time, Metro adopted the plans for the project; but there were several issues they said had to be addressed before they’d give it their full blessing.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and the Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF), advocacy groups who have been tracking the project for years, both claim that those issues have not been addressed and now they are rallying troops in hopes that Metro will vote no on the project.
The BTA is urging their members to take action against the project, writing on their blog that the project is “irresponsible and costly” and that if it moves forward it would, “burden future generations with billions of dollars of debt for thirty years.”
The CLF has written Metro Council with a summary of the issues (initially outlined by Metro themselves) that project staff has failed to address. Mara Gross with CLF told us this morning that,
“Metro made clear that ODOT and their consultants needed to address a range of issues for Metro to approve the project. That hasn’t happened. Metro should stand their ground. The CRC cut community improvements, has a very risky financial plan, and can’t assure the region that other priorities won’t get cut.”
If Metro votes yes on Thursday, Gross fears they’d lose the authority to stop the project.
It’s not only activists that are sounding the alarm on the CRC.
Last week, the Willamette Week’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss published a scathing cover story on the project. In, A Bridge Too False, Jaquiss reported that many of the most important justifications for the bridge are “myths” that fall apart with greater scrutiny.
Two state lawmakers, Representatives Lew Frederick and Ben Cannon (both Portland Democrats), penned an editorial in The Oregonian this morning which called out major concerns with health impacts of the project:
“Now we’re proposing to make the situation even worse with massive new highway interchanges and a bridge that will funnel cars and trucks — and their pollution — into a traffic jam in North Portland. It is no wonder that a recent study characterized the proposed Columbia River Crossing project as “An Environmental Injustice.”
As the project reaches key regulatory milestones, even Metro Council seems to be aware of the magnitude of each decision from here on out. Metro’s own Nick Christensen reported on a Council work session on the CRC just last week.
At that meeting, Councilor Barbara Roberts likened the Thursday vote to a leap of faith, saying the project has reached a point where, “There is a requirement that you have some faith before you step off into the canyon.”
Councilor Carlotta Collette talked about the need for community enhancement funds to be set aside within the project budget (the CLF says the current CRC proposal includes no such funds). Collette also voiced concerns over a lack of confidence in tolling projections, which could fall sharply if vehicle traffic volumes continue to decline.
Metro Council President Tom Hughes is also worried about the funding picture and how Oregon’s $400 million share of the project could come at the expense of other transportation projects in the region.
The questions that have plagued the CRC project for years remain; but are those questions enough to muster the political will to say stand up and say “no”? So far, no regional agency has done that. All eyes will be on Metro Council Thursday. Stay tuned.