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CRC labeled as “The Mt. Hood Freeway of this year’s mayoral race”

Posted by on May 31st, 2012 at 12:35 pm

“With the Columbia River Crossing increasingly looking like the Mount Hood Freeway of this year’s mayoral race…”
Jack Roberts in The Oregonian

The recent spate of bad news for the Columbia River Crossing Project — which was documented in detail on the Blue Oregon blog last week — reached new heights today.

In a guest column in The Oregonian, former Oregon Labor Commissioner and respected businessman Jack Roberts reflected on the current Portland mayoral race. In assessing how candidates Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales compare to former Portland mayor Neil Goldschmidt, Roberts wrote:

“With the Columbia River Crossing increasingly looking like the Mount Hood Freeway of this year’s mayoral race, pro-development individuals and interest groups may want to start cultivating a relationship with Smith to see if he has the capacity to grow into a Goldschmidt-style economic leader.”

Did you catch that? To my knowledge, it’s the most high-profile statement yet that draws a direct line between Portland’s defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway and the currently planned Columbia River Crossing.

In the latter stages of the recent primary election, Jefferson Smith used his clear opposition to the CRC — and Hales’ inability to clearly define his position on it — as one of his top appeals to voters. He even made a commercial about it. With the controversial project being elevated into the election by someone like Jack Roberts, it’s sure to play an even larger role in November.

Will the CRC suffer the same fate as the Mt. Hood Freeway? A lot has changed since 1974 and the projects have as many differences as similarities. But one thing that hasn’t changed are the values that the citizens of Portland hold near and dear. The CRC project is a test of those values and the results of our mayoral race could depend on which candidate does the best job appealing to them.

— Read the Jack Roberts’ column here.

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  • Jason S. May 31, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Yes. Yes. Yes. A million times yes! Roberts is correct. A mayor needs to do the detailed stuff, but also needs to show leadership in making the right decisions. Jefferson is doing that.

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  • browse May 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    This single issue (the CRC) was the biggest factor in my decision to vote for Smith.

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  • peejay May 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    One parallel between the two projects that stands out: Mount Hood Expressway : Gresham voters :: CRC : Vancouver voters. That is; the natural constituency for both these projects was/is outside of Portland. Those seeking citywide office should heed that political reality. I believe there was a mayoral candidate during the Mt Hood Expressway era who put up billboards that said (and I paraphrase) “If you voted for me, you’d be home by now.” His problem was that the people that sign appealed to were not able to vote for him. The people whose neighborhoods that project would have destroyed certainly voted against him.

    For the neighborhoods along I-5, most of the damage is already done, but the added capacity could make life even worse for them. The people there will not likely vote for a pro-CRC candidate, and Hales is aware of this. He doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the pro-CRC establishment, however, because they have the Oregonian in their pocket.

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    • Rol May 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      This is true of EVERY freeway project. It benefits those who want to pass through place, at the expense of those who live in the place the freeway passes through.

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      • Rol May 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm

        Through *a* place

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      • Spencer Boomhower May 31, 2012 at 2:47 pm


        “This is true of EVERY freeway project. It benefits those who want to pass through place, at the expense of those who live in the place the freeway passes through.”

        Exactly. I think of driving a car on a freeway as the ideal form of urban transport for people who hate cities.

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    • Phil Kulak May 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Here’s a great read on it:

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  • Dave May 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two is that Jefferson has put a blurb on his website about it, and said he likes some specific alternatives. Charlie meanwhile has said he doesn’t think it’s buildable as is, but hasn’t offered his own alternative. Which I think speaks to why I like Charlie a little better – he seems to get that the mayor doesn’t get to do things like design bridges and dictate urban planning. The mayor’s job is to work the political machine and try to get the right people to the table who CAN design a buildable project. Especially in Portland where an ambitious but under-whelming mayor like Sam can quickly irritate the wrong people and find themselves locked out.

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    • Jason S. May 31, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      There are many differences. But on this issue alone, Jeff has been the only candidate to be a strong proponent of the CRC from the beginning even though it has cost him corporate and union support. The other guy has not.

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      • Spencer Boomhower May 31, 2012 at 4:50 pm

        I think you mean “opponent,” in which case you’re absolutely correct. 🙂

        This video from the AFL-CIO mayor’s forum is one of the best illustrations of the three original front-runners’ positions on the CRC, and remains relevant even now that there are only two:

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      • John Lascurettes May 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm


        You’ve used this word, but I do not think this word means what you think it means.


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    • 007 June 3, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      I like Jefferson Smith because he has brains. He has said that if the CRC is built, we (Portland/Oregon) will spend the next 30 years being highway builders (in the aftermath of the CRC).
      Has Hales ever mentioned that? No, because he’s been busy pandering to those poor deprived drivers who are burdened with and suffering from potholes in their streets! What a schmuck!

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  • Zach May 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Politically speaking, Roberts may be right.

    But it’s asinine to put the projects in the same category. Even if the CRC goes through, it will do an order of magnitude less damage to the region than the Mt. Hood Freeway would have. What it will do is cost lots of money and increase traffic on I-5. A combination of replacing an antique bridge (good), greatly improving transit/bike/ped access (very good) and widening a freeway (bad) is not in the same ballpark as bulldozing an entire central-city neighborhood to build a freeway.

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    • Evan Manvel June 1, 2012 at 10:01 am

      The “antique” bridge has 55 years of life left in it. And half of it was built in 1958 – so that piece at least is much newer than almost any other major bridge in the region.

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      • Spencer Boomhower June 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

        And the older half of the Interstate Bridge was built in 1917, making it newer than the Hawthorne Bridge (1910), the Steel Bridge (1912), and the Broadway Bridge (1913). I don’t think there’s any plans to tear down those bridges anytime soon.

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    • 007 June 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      The CRC will not be the end of the destruction — if it ever gets built. Bike improvements and light rail were only to appease Oregonians. Light rail into and throughout Vancouver hasn’t even been approved. Vantucky is still in denial about tolling.

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  • Zaphod May 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    The CRC is handily as ugly in terms of irreversible damage as compared to the Mt Hood Freeway. My vote will be determined by a number of factors but the CRC is a leading one. I appreciate a *leader* who *leads* versus just is a gear in the system. I’d rather see a few things stood up for and lost while maintaining a particular ethos versus being very flexible such that their actual viewpoint is obscured by political game.

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    • Zach May 31, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      No, it is not. It is bad, but it’s not as bad.

      Tell me what irreversible damage the CRC will do that is as big or bad as bulldozing six lanes from OMSI to I-205 would have.

      Show me data indicating that slightly shortening commute times for people who live in Vancouver’s northern suburbs will cause as much development as the Mt. Hood would have.

      Imagine the difference between having an extra one lane coming from this area:

      and three lanes coming from this area:

      Hyperbole does not make arguments better. The CRC is what it is, and it sucks. It also would not be earth-shattering.

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      • Gregg June 1, 2012 at 11:07 am

        Tell that to all of the hundreds of people who will have their homes destroyed if the CRC highway expansion project (And all of its on ramps/ off ramps) gets built.

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        • 007 June 3, 2012 at 10:36 pm

          And expansions down the road.

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  • GlowBoy May 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Of course the mayor doesn’t exactly get to decide everything. Seattle elected Mike McGinn as mayor, yet the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement juggernaut/boondoggle is still happening. After the infamous Seattle Process rejected every possible option that might have been less expensive, they’re going to get that platinum-plated tunnel reamed through their downtown no matter what.

    Of course Seattle’s agony could be our gain, since that $4.2 Billion project (that’s the estimate – mark my words, the final tally will break $7B) is a giant black hole sucking every potential Washington state dollar away from the CRC.

    Could Portland really be on the cusp of another Mt. Hood Freeway moment? I haven’t held out too much hope until now, but given the financial predicaments of the two states and the federal DOT, maybe the stars are aligning …

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    • Wells June 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

      The infamous Seattle process is a ruse designed to discourage public participation. Up til 2007, Wsdot had no intention to build anything but a bigger AWV. Before and after the voter revolt of that year, all cut/cover tunnel studies were rigged to appear intolerably disruptive. Surface/transit studies were likewise “rigged for rejection” as options that incorporated 27 to 30 stoplight intersections were studied but not options with 9 to 13 stoplights. Neither the deep bore tunnel nor many dozens of buildings directly above can survive even a minor earthquake without significant damage.

      Wsdot is to blame for the CRC mess as its lead agency, and because ODOT only fininshed the Marine Drive and a more ideal Hayden Island access design (Concept #1) in the 4th year of planning. Wsdot prefers the initial high-impact braided weave interchange for Hayden Island though it is NOT safer as we’re misled to believe. I suspect the switch from single-level bridge in 2008 to the impossible double-deck bridge is Wsdot’s dirty work to eliminate MAX light rail the same way Wsdot opposes light rail in Seattle.

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  • 9watts May 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    A lot has changed since 1974

    When it comes to the CRC I wish more had changed since then. Notwithstanding Zach’s attempt to differentiate the damage the two would (have) caused, I’m inclined to think the CRC is every bit as bad if not worse in the grand scheme of things. This is in no way to minimize the social cost of having gone through with the Mt. Hood Freeway, but rather to suggest that the CRC as I understand it is as bad for our times (climate change, Peak Oil, recession) as the Mt Hood Freeway would have been for the Portland almost forty years ago.

    What hasn’t apparently changed is the powerful interests that keep pushing for these Cold War era infrastructure projects. I hope Smith prevails and the economic floor drops out from underneath this and we will have (only) lost the $130M so far spent on studies.

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    • peejay May 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      That $130M figure is at least a few weeks old. It’s probably $150M now.

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  • Spencer Boomhower May 31, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    This is really cool to see.

    One big difference between what happened with the Mt. Hood Freeway and the CRC could be the way in which popular opinion might be thing that brings down the CRC. Whereas with the Mt Hood Freeway, while there was definitely some citizen opposition to it, from what I understand it actually wasn’t all that unpopular. I read somewhere that had the Mt Hood Freeway been put to popular vote it probably would have been approved, so it was left to political leaders to stop the Mt Hood Freeway from bulldozing a path through SE Portland. With the CRC, it might actually end up being popular sentiment that puts on the brakes. While our less inspired leaders keep plodding along on the assumption that it’s a done deal and simply too big to dare oppose, the public – the same voting public that gave Jefferson Smith such a big boost in the polls – might end up being the force that calls for a halt to that massively wasteful and risky project. A project that, as you suggest, bears little resemblance to, “the values that the citizens of Portland hold near and dear.”

    It’s heartening to see popular opinion leading the leaders in the right direction. I hope it happens with the CRC.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 31, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      I read somewhere that had the Mt Hood Freeway been put to popular vote it probably would have been approved, so it was left to political leaders to stop the Mt Hood Freeway from bulldozing a path through SE Portland. With the CRC, it might actually end up being popular sentiment that puts on the brakes.

      That’s exactly right Spencer. It’s fascinating to compare the two projects… I’ve also heard that there was a lot of public sentiment in favor of the Mt. Hood Freeway and that it was really the visionary advocates/activists/politicians that put a stop to it.

      In some ways, I think this difference has a lot to do with the new media environment. Sure people liked the Mt. Hood Freeway, because how much about it did they really know and understand? They couldn’t have read about it on blogs and such. Give people people the facts and information and it’s amazing what kind of sentiment will take hold.

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      • peejay May 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

        Jonathan, I hope you’re right that the populace is better informed now than they were back in the day. I hope that the Oregonian’s relentless boosterism of this project is being countered by lots of reasoned arguments from many sources, and everyone is exposed to this information. But I just know too many people (outside of our circle of informed advocacy) whose only sources of information are the local teevee news and the O. And I doubt they even know that there IS an opposition to this project.

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        • 007 June 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm

          Unfortunately, key state politicians really want it.

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    • Wells June 2, 2012 at 9:13 am

      The Mt Hood freeway could NOT intersect with the Marquam Bridge as proposed, its downfall as I understand it. ODOT was caught pants down, but able to save face by turning their attention to the more practical Banfield freeway rebuild and MAX.

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  • Hart Noecker May 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    The CRC is a nightmare, come ride in solidarity against this disaster on June 24th:

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  • Ted Buehler May 31, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Zach wrote:
    “Even if the CRC goes through, it will do an order of magnitude less damage to the region than the Mt. Hood Freeway would have. What it will do is cost lots of money and increase traffic on I-5. ”

    The CRC, if built as planned, will cause tremendous damage to N/NE neighborhoods.

    2 lanes of the 5 lane freeway will be diverted onto surface streets.

    I-5 will be jammed from I-405 to Marine Drive, southbound, for the entire morning.

    Greeley, Interstate, MLK and Vancouver/Williams will absorb those two lanes of freeway traffic.

    This is dramatically different than the Mt. Hood Freeway, which would have removed commuter traffic from surface streets like Powell, Division and Foster.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Jason S. May 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      In addition, building CRC means we cannot use those same resources to do other, more important, things for Oregon and Portland.

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  • stevetothekizzo May 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I live in SW Vantucky, and all I care about it getting Max across the river. Well, that and an artillery bridge. Leave everything else as is. The problem is that this is about politics and labor jobs rather than what is best for the community. You can see the 5 step alternative here:

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  • J_R May 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    I see more differences than similarities between the Mt Hood Freeway and the CRC projgect. The MHF would have opened up a whole new corridor and connected lots of east Multnomah County to Portland. It would have displaced hundreds if not thousands of people. It made no provisions for transit or non-motorized traffic. In fact, the MHF’s cancellation led directly to the MAX line connecting Gresham to Portland.

    The CRC project improves an existing corridor with some increased capacity for autos, but also deals with severe safety problems (I’ve personally seen plenty of fender benders on I-5 near the bridge). More importantly, the CRC project extends the MAX to downtown Vancouver and beyond and I improves what can only be described as an awful, scary, shared bicycle-pedestrian facility (and, yes, I do ride it many times per week).

    The CRC will also implement tolls; the MHF had no provision for tolls.

    I think Roberts’ description was not the physical similarities of the projects, but the positioning of the candidates on an issue.

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    • stevetothekizzo June 1, 2012 at 7:28 am

      Yes, we need a solution for the crossing. However, what is currently proposed is a disaster. Did you take a look at this? We don’t need new interchanges, more lanes, or a bridge replacement. We need an additional, non-freeway bridge and light rail. This is all.

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      • GlowBoy June 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        The Common Sense Alternative has a LOT of good ideas in it. Ultimately costs less and does more than the CRC, and is even probably more ambitious than it needs to be.

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        • Spencer Boomhower June 5, 2012 at 1:25 am


          “The Common Sense Alternative has a LOT of good ideas in it. Ultimately costs less and does more than the CRC, and is even probably more ambitious than it needs to be.”

          Possibly, but one thing to remember about the Common Sense Alternative is that its designers stress that it could be done in a phased approach. So if, say, steps 1-3 were to succeed in fixing the problems, steps 4 and 5 could be skipped, saving that much more money.

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  • Doug Klotz May 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I agree with StevetotheKizzo. Besides Max, Oregon needs an artillery bridge to Hayden Island, so we can get our howitzers out there to defend our northern border! 🙂

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    • Wells June 2, 2012 at 9:17 am

      I think it meant “auxillary”.

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  • john May 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    MHF was spearheaded by Robert Moses and the Federal government and foisted on the region. CRC was a project hatched by local and state governments in OR and WA.

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    • Evan Manvel June 1, 2012 at 10:00 am

      I’m pretty sure the CRC highway mega-project was hatched by the corporate/freight lobby.

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      • stevetothekizzo June 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

        Yeah, and then the municipal workers’ union lobby is fiercely backing the project. It’s job security for 5+ years. It’s too bad the average user of the bridge crossing doesn’t have a lobby.

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        • Gregg June 1, 2012 at 11:16 am

          Ahh, but we do have a lobby- neighborhood associations. And from what I can tell, EVERY neighborhood association is against that monster.

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          • stevetothekizzo June 1, 2012 at 11:44 am

            Yeah, but the neighborhood associations don’t have the funding to buy off politicians or at least fund their future campaigns.

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  • Dude June 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    The crc has much to do with light rail being crammed down our throats if we want it or not. Vancouverites have voted it down a couple of times, Portland voted the yellow line down. The cost of these light rail tracks are horrendous. If we built just another bridge to carry cars with out light rail, mega off ramps ….. It would be a fraction of the cost and would alleviate the congestion on I-5. Isn’t that the proposed problem? The traffic jamb? I hope Smith can stand up to these people and show them what common sense is all about. We can’t afford the proposed bridge with all of it’s bells and whistles. It has turned into a political boondoggle.

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    • Hart Noecker June 5, 2012 at 1:16 am

      Wow, everything you just typed it totally opposite of reality. Vancouver doesn’t deserve a bridge to Oregon to help them cheat on their taxes.

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    • stevetothekizzo June 5, 2012 at 9:11 am

      The more sensible option is to get cars off the road. Build light rail and enclose the stations so people actually pay to use it. Forget a new freeway bridge and ramps. Vancouverites are married to their cars much like the rest of the country. It’s time to shift the paradigm a little. Vancouver is stereotypically “conservative”. Progressive thinking doesn’t make one a “liberal”.

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    • Wells June 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

      In 1995, Vancouver wisely voted down the route to Clark County Fairgrounds. The route on the table today is improved to also serve the VA hospital and Community College. An eventual extension to Vancouver Mall creates an economic dynamo that will reduce commuting to Portland jobs.

      Portland likewise wisely voted down the North/South MAX line in 1998. The Interstate MAX Yellow Line was an improvement that eliminated property takings of 119 apts & homes, added 3 stations (Kenton, Delta Park, Expo), installed the line where the neighborhood supported, and spurred desired development.

      The lead agency Wsdot departed from sensible planning in 2008. Bridge designs then were single-deck and since then have been double-deck despite Coast Guard opposition as impossible for navigation clearance.

      Why gum up the works with the double-deck bridge design? Were light rail installed as proposed on the west side of southbound bridge, an auxilliary emergency access lane is created. This important safety feature was ignored, possibly to hamper effort to include light rail. Wsdot conducts planning their Seattle area planning in this same manner. The so-called “Seattle Process” is a delay tactic that discourages participation.

      The problem with the CRC is the Hayden Island ‘braided weave’ or ‘spagetti ramps’ interchange because it is dangerous. High speed traffic exits onto poorly-visable downhill ramps with “T” stops. Extremly severe rear-end pileups are predicted. Also, both entrances are a noisy uphill climb that generates more air pollution. Wsdot can be blamed for the terrible design because ODOT didn’t produce an alternative until the 4th year of planning, 2010. ODOT’s Marine Drive interchange design, then made public, appears respectable and offers ideal access to Hayden Island with the Concept #1 option. Of all CRC Commission members, only the Port of Portland has credible reason to oppose Concept #1 Off-island Access, but their concern can be addressed. Otherwise, Concept #1 is the safest access, least impact, least cost, most ideal redevelopment potential and riverfront restoration along Marine Drive.

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  • DK June 5, 2012 at 8:59 am

    We are broke and we have two serviceable (and very attrractive) bridges already in place.

    Want to reduce traffic? How about we take a 21st century approach to the problem and encourage/enable tele-commuting. …Or smaller personal vehicles? …Or a more comprehensive/robust public transportation option to serve sites across the river?

    Bottom line is that there are several low-cost things we could be doing if we had leadership that had spine enough to shake off the election-cycle myopia that most politicians are stricken with. Spending buckets of borrowed money on (the eyesore that is the proposed) CRC is not the answer to anything that ails us. …Our priorities are effed up!!!

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  • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 5:21 am

    I just returned from a 3 week trip in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and it has really opened my eyes about projects like the CRC. The only common thing I discovered between all of the cities I visited? Not a single one had above-ground urban freeways. Nearly all of them had no urban freeways at all. And guess what, cars were moving around just fine. Sure, they weren’t able to fly through the city at 60mph. I’m sure that 20 mile commutes from one suburb to another were not practical due to the slower speeds, but I never saw massive gridlock similar to I-5 north in the afternoon.

    This is how we define the future of our city. This is how our children will be getting around in the future. The first step is to stop all freeway expansion. The second step is to remove/bury the ones that remain and establish alternatives.

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