Esplanade closure begins February 1st

CRC update: Kitzhaber drops “CRC” moniker, activists heat up

Posted by on January 24th, 2013 at 12:02 pm

John Kitzhaber acceptance speech-2

CRC? Never heard of it.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Controversy and opposition has dogged the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project for many years. That controversy — along with a daunting price tag estimated at $4 billion — has made it extremely difficult for politicians to vote in support of funding the five-mile freeway widening and interchange building mega-project.

Now, with increasing pressure to move forward after several years and over $100 million spent on planning, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber has teed up a bill (H.B. 2260) in in the legislature that would make the project an official state priority and would give the state authority to raise revenue through tolling (something they’ll desperately need to come up with Oregon’s $450 million (without interest on bonds or cost overruns) share of the project). But, as the Willamette Week pointed out yesterday, there’s one thing missing from the bill: the Columbia River Crossing.

Project rendering shows scale of just one part of the proposed highway expansions. But pay this no mind, it’s just a “bridge replacement project.”

Instead of the name the project has been known by since Day One, the Governor refers to the project in the bill text as, “The Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program.” Here’s more on the name change from the Willamette Week:

“The rebranding surfaced at the Oregon Leadership Summit in December, when the Oregon Department of Transportation handed out buttons with an I-5 highway sign and the motto “Build That Bridge.”

Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), chairman of the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee and a strong supporter of the project, says the new name is aimed at clarity, not shaking off controversy.

“What I’ve found is, that name ‘CRC’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything to people,” Read says.”

(Interestingly, Metro also used the “replacement Interstate 5 bridge” term in a story about the project on January 7th. That wording earned them some quick criticism from several people via Twitter.)

This name change is troubling to me on several levels. First, it seems like an obvious move to confuse the public and cleanse some of the toxicity around this project. I’m not sure who Rep. Read talks to, but I think the vast majority of people in this region are aware of what the “CRC” is and that moniker is arguably more descriptive than “The Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program.” And secondly, the new name is simply (purposefully?) misleading.

While project staff and boosters want everyone to think this is just about replacing an old bridge, the reality is that the bridge is a relatively minor portion of the project. Estimates put the cost of the bridge replacement at just $800 million. The real money is in the massive new highway interchanges that must be renovated and/or built. Estimates put the highway elements of the project at $3 billion. The highway expansion and new interchanges on the Vancouver side alone will cost about $800 million.

Project backers seem to understand that selling the public, politicians, and the media on “a new bridge” is much more palatable then selling five miles of wider and louder freeway expansions that will lead to even more tailpipe emissions right in our backyards. If this was just a bridge replacement project, it would likely have been done by now. It’s the massive highway and interchange elements that will cost the most money and do the most damage to our way of life.

It’s a point activists have been trying to hammer home for years…

Regardless of what CRC supporters in Salem call the project, it’s future looks no brighter than it has in recent months. The outlook for the project from Washington is getting worse by the day. And, even with a sense of urgency to move forward this session, activists are heating up to make sure it goes nowhere.

On Friday, February 1st, political action committee Bike Walk Vote (who supported mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith in large part because of his opposition to the CRC) is hosting an event dubbed, We Can Do Better: A night of information & democratic action to stop the CRC. The event will be a chance to learn more about “the realities of the CRC,” get an update on where it stand in the legislature and take action. Volunteers plans to kick-off a statewide letter-writing campaign aimed at “flooding the mailboxes of our representatives.”

The forces working to push the CRC along are powerful; but there are also many forces pushing back. 2013 will likely be defined as the year we find out which side is stronger.

Please support BikePortland.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Will Radik January 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Stop the I-5BRP just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’m getting so tired of this kind of disingenuity, but seems like that’s just how things are done these days.

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    • MPP January 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      If you want something catchier, just call it the BuRP or I5-BuRP. Maybe iBuRP.

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    • She January 24, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      I don’t know – I-5 Burp sounds like a good name for a bad project that should not happen.

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  • Ross Williams January 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    This is a Patricia McCaig project. The name was changed on a whim or because the public didn’t understand it. It was changed because polling and focus groups showed the CRC moniker was toxic to the project.

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    • Ross Williams January 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      That should have been “was not changed”

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  • Spiffy January 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    has anybody of authority ever directly addressed the “A Common Sense Alternative to the CRC” video that’s been circulating? it seems politically inept to ignore such a thing…

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      • Nate Young January 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm

        If I understand correctly, Federal funding would be somewhere on the order of $400 Million. If they can save $1.8 Billion, doesn’t that still mean they are $1.4 Billion ahead?

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    • Todd Hudson January 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      1 – Federal funding structure is such that it won’t pay for the “local bridges” suggested by the CRC. It DEFINITELY won’t pay for a light rail bridge across the Columbia that will serve ONE stop.

      2 – The Columbia Railroad Bridge is privately held by the sovereign nation of BNSF and there’s no way they’ll agree to have it shut down for a year to be modified. It’s the main rail corridor for the west coast.

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      • Todd Boulanger January 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm

        Todd “H”…a correction to your item #1…the LRT portion of the project currently plans for 5 sets of stops (includes 1 in OR).

        …but who knows how many will be funded given all the signature collecting up here to kill the transit portion of the project.

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        • Alan 1.0 January 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm

          Not to mention Madore and Mielke:

          But then there’s LaHood sticking around at Transpo. Wonder if would support light rail without a full-on highway project attached? Clark County could sure use it, even though it’s not popular with some. Seattle went through the same denial process from the sixties up to the aughts. Sigh.

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      • Alan 1.0 January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm

        Re: The Columbia Railroad Bridge & BNSF

        I would not be surprised if their (back-up) plan to deal with its seismic (and other) obsolescence is to wait until it collapses and then ask for emergency federal bailout funds.

        OTOH, maybe a creative deal could be worked with fed and local funding to build a parallel bridge so that they would not suffer any downtime and would be prepared for a “big one.” Perhaps part of that horse trading could be considerations for Sullivan’s Gulch and NoPo Greenway access.

        Of course, if no local officials will even touch that proposal (i.e. CSA) then it will never happen and we’ll all end up paying for the disaster relief, and an extended time with no service after the collapse.

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        • Chris I January 25, 2013 at 8:31 am

          This is what I would love to see happen. Buy off UP and BNSF by funding a pair of rail bridges, one paralleling the current Willamette bridge in NW Portland, and another paralleling the Columbia river bridge. This would expand capacity to 4 tracks between Portland and Vancouver, enabling a dedicated line for intercity and commuter rail, and providing a backup for the existing main line. This would provide UP and BNSF with an insurance policy on their main line, and provide alternate routing for track and bridge maintenance.

          In trade, the city would get rights to build the NPGW and Sullivan’s Gulch trails. My guess would be around $500 million for the whole deal. You get two fantastic new trails, 10-minute commuter rail to Vancouver, faster intercity rail, and a more robust and safer rail network for the metro region.

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  • Andyc of Linnton January 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Ooh! New Coke! Okay, I’m totally buying this project now, since it has a different name and all.
    Could we get some more millions of dollars thrown at it as well? TASTY!

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  • dan January 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I’m disappointed that Tobias is a strong supporter of this mismanaged boondoggle. If he remembered his microeconomics, he’d know the thing to do is toll the current bridge to manage demand, not use tax dollars to build a new bridge.

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    • Marid January 24, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Toll the current bridge to manage demand? Like that will make everyone happy. The current bridge has been inadequate for decades while Portland continues to grow. Build the bridge. Please.

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  • Evan Manvel January 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the article, Jonathan.

    Folks – channel your outrage into the public sphere. Write/call your legislators. Write/call the city council. Write letters to the editor. Attend your legislators’ town hall meetings. Speak up!

    Contact info for legislators (and contact yours to get on their town hall lists)

    Keep up the pressure.

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    • Joe Rowe January 26, 2013 at 11:42 am

      Evan is correct. Please call. As Spiffy noted, people who support the CRC will not utter the words CSA ( Common Sense Alternative )

      When you call, demand a written letter on their position that explains why they will not support the CSA.

      Here’s a list of phone numbers _and_ a way to report your call results. Click the link below

      Link above….

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  • Chris I January 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    What a load. A simple bridge replacement would be under $1 billion. Calling it a “bridge replacement” is a bold-faced lie.

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  • Peter W January 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    The bridges have 60 years of life left in them, but the CRC (McCaig) doesn’t want you to know that.

    Thanks for this article Jonathan!

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    • Marid January 24, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      In less than 50 years the Portland area is expected to have a population of 3.85 million people (Metro study). Think the present bridge can handle that?

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      • Ryan Howard January 25, 2013 at 8:08 am

        Certainly, if additional capacity is built by adding light rail, bike ped access, and perhaps a couple extra lanes which can switch directions depending on the time of day. All of that can be handled with a third bridge though and would avoid the costly interchange enhancements.

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      • Eric January 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

        Depends on if the additional residents will be forced to burden themselves (and all taxpayers) with their single-occupancy cars or not. If 21st-century planning is allowed to work, then more efficient means of transportation will win out. The fact that a bridge is not sufficient to handle unnecessary SOV traffic is no fault of the bridge.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    As for the name change, I wonder if it is also a way of potentially accessing any future bridge toll funding to help repair other I-5 bridges leading to the CRC zone? (Perhaps Mapes can delve into this question.)

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  • Champs January 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I came from Minnesota, where CRC meant “Cars R’ Coffins”. Still seems fitting.

    We’re just one change of heart away from our “cool temperamented” mayor away from beginning a massive, unfunded freeway expansion from the Columbia to the Willamette.

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  • Hart Noecker January 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Please attend the Bike Walk Vote event, and invite you friends.

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  • Nate Young January 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    This project and the potential coal train/export terminal will define whether or not Portland and Oregon are willing and able to step forward or backward into the 21st century. The reality is that CRC/BuRP is a waste of resources to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. AND it is increasingly clear that the math doesn’t add up. Tolling won’t generate the padded revenue as predicted, and while the bridge will fill with Single Occupant Vehicles stuck in traffic, that doesn’t mean it is more efficient.

    Sadly, I also believe the city and state will only fight for PBA-approved proposals so light-rail and bike-specific infrastructure will quickly (have already?) be dropped from the plan.

    It is also increasingly clear that the city is run by people who don’t live within city limits, and don’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions. (This is also recognized, if not talked about, within the city according to some folks I’ve talked to.) The negative consequences of this plan wouldn’t matter to someone who doesn’t have to deal with the herd of WA residents that clog NoPo neighborhood streets every day while they use the area as a park-n-ride.

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  • CaptainKarma January 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I would suggest everyone short circuit this doublespeak rebranding by henceforth saying “CRC/BRP” or “BRP/CRC” every time. Or CRC-BuRP!

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  • Joe January 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    not cool!

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  • maxd January 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    I am thrilled to see your continuing coverage! thanks for keeping us informed and providing a place to get the information they need to get involved!

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  • GlowBoy January 24, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    A turd by any other name …

    … still smells the same.

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  • Craig January 25, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I don’t think this project would ever be considered if it were entirely paid with user fees (tolls and gas taxes). It’s only possible because other funds are being considered. Requiring road construction and maintenance to be paid entirely out of user fees would be a huge incentive to prevent unnecessary construction.

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  • Bill Stites January 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

    This is really outrageous. The CRC project is so wrong on so many levels, it makes you wonder what the motivations are to keep this going. Is Kitzhaber really convinced that we need this project? I thought he was smarter than that.

    See you at the BikeWalkVote effort on the 1st. Thanks to Crank for hosting.

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  • Alan 1.0 January 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    ‘Grats, Jonathan! Headlined at Streetsblog:

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  • 007 January 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I’ve written to the governor months ago about my disappointment in his pro CRC stance and got no reply. I don’t think letters to legislators are going to help because they are all for it. There is something political going on and only those in the know know. Washington state may be our only hope as they are against light rail and tolls. LOL.

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  • Evan Manvel January 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    007 – it’s not true that all legislators are for it. There are a lot of legislators against it (Frederick, Greenlick, Shields, and many others), and a lot of folks who don’t care much either way who citizens speaking out could shift. This is a basic vote-counting exercise, and while the highway lobby has the lobbyists, our side has the people. And at the end of the day, legislators represent constituents, and voters decide if legislators keep their jobs, so we have some real leverage.

    The strategy of the pro-CRC folks is to get people to believe it’s greased to go. Don’t believe it.

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  • Justin January 28, 2013 at 11:51 am

    For what it’s worth, when I was covering this project in Vancouver, the CRC staff consistently asked us not call it a bridge replacement project, but rather a five-mile project of freeway, interchange, light rail and bridge work. The project is officially called the CRC, the website is still Not sure what this all means, but it’s interesting to watch.

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