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Legislative committee votes to move forward on CRC project

Posted by on February 19th, 2013 at 1:00 am

CRC hearing in Salem-6

Committee Co-Chair Tobias Read listens to testimony.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Columbia River Crossing project took a step forward in Salem on Monday. After hearing nearly four hours of testimony for the second week in a row, a joint legislative committee voted 14-2 (see votes below) in favor of HB 2800 — a bill that “declares that it is in the state’s interest” to undertake the project.

While an opposition rallied against the bill, it was pushed through so quickly and decisively by the legislative power structure that those against it never really had a chance. In today’s marathon hearing, numerous labor union reps and business interest groups lined up to testify in support of the bill and the project. There were many of smiles and handshakes inside and outside the hearing room before the hearing even began. It was clear many of the movers and shakers had already counted votes and the public testimony would be a mere formality.

CRC hearing in Salem-4

Director of ODOT Matt Garrett (L) shakes hands with Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt prior to the hearing.

CRC hearing in Salem-3

These trades workers were brought in to “put a face on the jobs” the project is promising to create.
CRC hearing in Salem-13

Metro President Tom Hughes showed up with a “Build that Bridge” pin and went on to share with the committee that the CRC is a “vital project for the Portland metro area.” The Executive Director of the Port of Portland Bill Wyatt rattled off a list of major companies that do shipping through properties owned by the Port that are adjacent to the Columbia River. “Subaru, Nike, Intel…” The General Manager of Fred Meyer and QFC stores testified that the trucks that serve his stores sometimes get caught in I-5 traffic on their way north.

It was hammered home by a litany of professional representatives of companies and labor and business organizations that a wider freeway and a newer, bigger bridge is imperative because I-5 is the “lifeblood of the economy,” that it’s “essential to freight movement,” the “key to job production” and so on.

And, while their talking points weren’t nearly as concise and organized, there were many more people who spoke out against the project. One source we spoke to counted 19 people in favor of the CRC and 32 people who testified against it. While nearly all of those in favor represented large companies, unions, or other organizations, many who showed up to testify against the project were private citizens who lived in the areas that will be most impacted if it ever gets built.

Northeast Portland resident Evan Ross said he’s concerned about air quality in neighborhoods near the freeway project. “I urge you to listen to your constituents, not special interests that are pushing this project,” he said. One woman, who introduced herself as a mom and homeowner in northeast Portland urged lawmakers to consider how we’ll be moving ourselves around in the future. “In the next 50 years, single-occupancy vehicles is not what we’ll be wanting to invest in.”

Ryan Howard, a Newberg City Council member, said the design of the project will only, “Fuel our auto-addiction.” Speaking for the emerging low/no-car constituency, Howard asked, “Who are we building this for?” “If you’re building it for my generation,” he continued, “You should know that we’re committed to not needing it.”

Many others who testified against the project pointed out how it will eat up funding for other important projects around the state. Portland resident Carl Larson pointed out the ubiquitous “Build the Bridge” buttons and stickers in the room: “We should be building many bridges,” he said, “Not just this one. If we don’t build this one, there are a lot of other roads and bridges we can build.”

And then there was self-described “recovering politician” Jefferson Smith. The former state rep and Portland mayoral candidate said he’s concerned that this bill is “committing to the dough before getting the dough.”

CRC hearing in Salem-10

Jefferson Smith
CRC hearing in Salem-11

Senators and Committee Co-Chairs Bruce Starr (L) and Lee Beyer.
CRC hearing in Salem-9

Sandra McDonough, President & CEO of the Portland Business Alliance

And the “dough” in this case is a $450 million commitment to the project from the state of Oregon. If a series of conditions are reached (a Coast Guard permit, a commitment of an equal amount from Washington, and so on) than the bill that passed Monday allows Oregon to issue bonds to come up with the $450 million.

The debt service on those bonds would equal $27 million per year for 30 years. For the next two years, ODOT will repay those bonds from their state transportation improvement program (STIP) “Enhance” funds. While House Speaker Tina Kotek (and others) have tried to say they can use these funds “without significantly impacting the state’s other transportation priorities,” that’s simply not the case. Many Oregon communities rely on STIP Enhance funds for local projects.

After raiding STIP for the next two years, legislators are hoping they’ll have a new revenue stream to pull from beginning in 2016 (easier said than done)

Once committee co-chair Cliff Bentz (also the bill’s co-sponsor) and other members of the committee asked an ODOT panel a series of financial and other technical questions, it was time for the vote.

In the end, only two members of the committee voted against the bill: Senators Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), and Fred Girod (R-Stayton). Girod said he thinks the project puts many rural Oregon projects at risk. He also wanted more oversight of the bill in the Ways and Means Committee.

Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) said, “I think this project is probably the most looked-at project in the history of the state. I think if we step out of line [for funding], we won’t get back in line for another decade or two. This is the time to build the bridge.”

Hillsboro Republican Bruce Starr said the bill demonstrates, “The art of the possible,” and that “it ain’t perfect by anybody’s stretch,” but he supports it for the “long-term economic health of Oregon.”

Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) also struck a chord of urgency and wanting to simply be done with this debate. “To the public for the last 18 years that this has been an official state project, your voices have been heard. None of you got everything you wanted… but I would ask that after 1,000 public meetings, how many more design alternatives should we consider?… The easy vote would be to send this back to another study group. We all ran on a platform of getting stuff done.”

From here, the bill will go straight to votes on the House and Senate floors. Stay tuned.

Here are the votes for HB 2800 in the Joint Committee on Interstate-5 Replacement Project:

    Representative Cliff Bentz – YES
    Representative Tobias Read – YES
    Senator Lee Beyer – YES
    Senator Bruce Starr – YES
    Senator Chuck Thomsen – NO
    Senator Chris Edwards – YES
    Senator Fred Girod – NO
    Senator Rod Monroe – YES
    Representative Kevin Cameron – YES
    Representative John Davis – YES
    Representative Margaret Doherty – YES
    Representative Chris Gorsek – YES
    Representative John Lively – YES
    Representative Caddy McKeown – YES
    Representative Nancy Nathanson – YES
    Representative Julie Parrish – YES

More coverage of the hearing and vote:
Willamette Week
The Oregonian

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Hart Noecker
Guest

This is going to be career suicide for these politicians. Next election cycle, there’s going to be no bigger factor of whether they’ll be getting votes. ‘Did they vote for the CRC?’ Then we sure as hell aren’t re-electing them.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the Oregon voting public really notices how much money was spent, at the expense of who knows how many other projects, all in order to build just the kind of sprawling freeway we thought our land-use laws were supposed to spare us from having to build. All under the guise of the comforting, market-tested label, “bridge replacement.”

Just as an aside, unless everything goes swimmingly with the CRC, it’ll be a major anchor around the necks of Oregon Democrats. A Democratic governor and a Democratic speaker are propelling this forward; it’s a Dem project. As a pretty steady “D” voter, that has me a little concerned.

“The Executive Director of the Port of Portland Bill Wyatt rattled off a list of major companies that do shipping through properties owned by the Port that are adjacent to the Columbia River.”

Here’s one thing I don’t get: the current congestion near the crossing is cited as this terrible hindrance to freight bound for the ports, because this 60mph interstate through the heart of town slows to a crawl a couple times a day. Let’s say it’s awful enough that the average speed for these few miles of freeway is 30mph overall. Terrible! OK. Now, freight going to the ports is bound for ocean-going freighters, and ocean freighters travel at an average of 20 knots, but cruise at something like 10 knots (for efficiency), for thousands of miles. 10-20 knots is roughly 13-23 mph. How can it be that our freeway that drags down freeway speeds for just a few miles is considered any real hindrance to freight that spends any time at all on a ship?

“To the public for the last 18 years that this has been an official state project, your voices have been heard. None of you got everything you wanted… but I would ask that after 1,000 public meetings, how many more design alternatives should we consider?”

18 years? This poor project is aging before our eyes. The official Columbia River Crossing timeline lists the start date of the CRC as 2005:

http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/ProjectInformation/ProblemsSolutions/ProjectTimeline.aspx

So more like eight years. There are of course points on the timeline before that, but they’re pre-CRC, more along the lines of reports, recommendations, tasks forces, etc.

Still, that’s a lot of meetings. Funny thing about that, though, is that among all the CRC open houses they held, there wasn’t one I could find that was held south the Expo Center (just on the Oregon side of the river). I went to one open house there, and asked one of the CRC people why this was this case, and he said: because the CRC wasn’t projected to have any impact on points south of the project area, i.e. Portland and the rest of Oregon.

But now we seem to be headed toward throwing in $450 million, just as an ante in the pot, and with no apparent limit on spending for this five miles of freeway. Prepare to be impacted!

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Jonathan: can you list the committee members who voted in favor?

Mrs Dibbly & I will probably change our registrations from unaffiliated to D just to help any primary opponents. I encourage anyone else in the same situation to do the same. I *really* wish I was in Tina Koteck’s district. You can be sure that my friends in her district will hear about this.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

What’s uncanny about this is the $450 million bond debt with no way to pay for it! Besides, it’s still requires approval of the Coast Guard, Washington legislature and the Federal gov’t. Let’s hope that calmer heads prevail and the sequester pushes it so far out as to effectively bury it.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Thanks Jonathan, and all the rest of you great folks who made it to the hearing.

“The debt service on those bonds would equal $27 million per year for 30 years.”

Just think what we could do with just the interest payments!

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

This is really concerning:

“After raiding STIP for the next two years, legislators are hoping they’ll have a new revenue stream to pull from beginning in 2016 (easier said than done).”

So… the politicians have no idea where the money will come from after they steal all the money from the STIP. Which means that other programs will get pillaged, until all funds for all road work (or anything even remotely having to do with roads and road work) will be sunk into this boondoggle of a bridge. So nothing else will get done in Oregon, up to and including some badly needed road repairs across the state.

Awesome. (sarcasm, of course)

Dan V
Guest
Dan V

There is an easy solution. If traffic congestion is slowing freight and the congestion is due to SOVs gumming up the works twice a day, maybe we can solve this by investing in ways for people to commute that don’t require them to hop into their cars for a solo commute. Get them onto buses, trains, or bicycles and they can get out of the way of the freight. BTW, freight is only hindered heading northbound due to the bridge when the Clark Commuters are fighting their way home. More evidence of the need to not cut bus/bike/light rail access across that bridge. I find it a joke that the trades unions (and yes, I am a member of one) are lining up behind this project. Do they really believe those jobs will last or that OR members will get them?

BURR
Guest
BURR

Ah, the good ol’ boy network, voting our money for an extra six lanes of even more expensive gridlock, that’s just F’d up.

maxd
Guest
maxd

sent versions of this to Kotek, Shields, Hales, Blumenauer, Wyden and Merkley.

North Portland is a finite place bounded by the Columbia River to the north, the Willamette to the west and supports a lot of industry, many great neighborhoods, and some great natural areas that just keep getting better. This part of town also has a history of disenfranchisement and being abused by power. The most striking and long-lasting example of this is the condemning of neighborhoods to build the I-5 freeway. Now, after decades of attempting to heal, North Portland still has some empty and neglected land. It may not feel like precious space because the residents are not the wealthiest or most powerful in the state, but every square foot of North Portland is precious! Extrapolate 20, 50, or 100 years into the future and it becomes crystal clear that we will need every piece of land we have for great neighborhoods, thriving businesses, healthy parks and recreation systems. Unfortunately, this is being seriously threatened now by the same powerful coalitions that rammed I-5 through decades ago. I-5 is believed to be a necessary evil, one that is crucial to our state’s economy. However, it is simply not acceptable to ram a giant, mutli-lane freeway through the center of a city. It degrades too much space and brings too many problems for far too little benefit. Freight must be moved across the river, the cities of Vancouver and Portland should be connected, and the bridge should be made safe. However, the CRC is completely unnecessary for any of this! It is too big, and too expensive, it will permanently occupy too much space, and bring too much congestion, diversion and pollution to our city. Please act in your city’s and your district’s best interest and help stop this project.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Charlie Hales has been keeping a suspiciously low profile during these hearings.

Barney
Guest
Barney

I think the biking community’s interests would be better served by helping to steer this project rather than outright opposing it. It seems like a lost opportunity if we dont offer constructive input instead of just opposition. Or maybe “bike swarm” could help.

This thing is going to happen, more delays will only add to the cost.

Okay, now let the flames begin!

Ted Buehler
Guest

Yes, the BTA dropped out of the design process in 2009. Nobody has been representing bicyclists’ interests since. There’s something to be said for opposing a mega-freeway project. But there’s also something to be said for making sure that a new bridge to Vancouver has a good bike route!

Ted Buehler

davemess
Guest
davemess

Again, I’ll ask, was there anyone from Portland on this committee?

Peter W
Guest

A huge thanks to everyone who came to testify (including a student from as far away as Seattle).

“Many people were unable to attend the hearing, understandably since it was at 3 p.m. on a weekday, but I hope that they at least took the step of writing their legislative representatives to make their opinion known. I am 24 years old, the youngest person to testify on February 11th, and I know that if the Oregon Legislature approves House Bill 2800, I will be paying for it for the next forty years.”

http://www.blueoregon.com/2013/02/i-may-not-look-you-my-voice-counts-too/

Now would be a good time to write and call your legislator and let them know how important their opposition is.

http://bit.ly/findmylawmaker

davemess
Guest
davemess

Also find it sad/funny that there is no mention of this story on the Boregonian website. There is another article taking shots at Trimet though.

kww
Guest
kww

Barney is right on. Head in the sand approach will not work with this project (full opposition). The project will happen and needs to happen. I don’t even want to think of what a cluster bomb Portland would become if an earthquake knocks out the I-5 and I-205 bridges.

Let the criticisms be constructive and argue for light rail (to reduce pollution) and equal bike access.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“I don’t even want to think …if an earthquake knocks out the I-5 and I-205 bridges.”

I don’t think the word is ‘if’ but ‘when.’ And I also don’t think anyone is suggesting that a Megathrust 9.0 earthquake would leave any replacement bridge over the Columbia usable either. Let’s not oversell this thing. I (still) support the Do Nothing Alternative.

Brad
Guest
Brad

I’m shocked! Shocked! I cannot believe that business, freight haulers, and union tradespeople came together and effectively lobbied politicians to earmark money for a project that they directly benefit from. But, I am confident that a tersely worded statement from BTA/Gerik Kransky and a bike swarm/disco bike dance party could easily overcome millions of lobbying dollars and billions in contracts and salaries.

Really? Did anyone here doubt the outcome for even a second? I’m no fan of the bloated CRC but, once again, this shows that the combined forces of the environmental/public health/alternative transportation lobbies are no match for the pro CRC forces. Primary the Dems on the committee? Good luck. I wager all of them get re-elected by a populace more concerned with other issues.

As stated above, let’s get some scraps for alternative transportation out of the finished project rather than letting anger and an “all or nothing” mentality see us totally shut out.

was carless
Guest
was carless

It absolutely blows my mind that the city that stopped the Mt. Hood freeway is now planning on building a mega-freeway through the entire city. They are already planning on “upgrading” I-5 through the Rose Quarter, then North Portland, then replace the Marquam, there is also the enlargement and tunneling of I-5 along SE Water that is planned, and then all you have to do is improve I-5 through SW Portland.

Probably only going to cost $20-$25 billion in total. Not too bad for what, 8 miles of freeway?

Dim
Guest
Dim

Tina Kotek appointed the house dems on this committee. She knew what she was doing keeping the metro area no votes as far away from the gavel as possible.

Hugh Johnson
Guest
Hugh Johnson

hooray more taxes and fees coming our way. And union workers can buy shiny new mega cab diesel pickups to impress their friends.

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

If the governor signs this bill, I hope there is a referendum petition filed immediately.

Stan
Guest
Stan

meh.. since Clackamas County started to oppose the project, I feel less offended by it.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

Random thought: This $450 million they just voted on is just shy of the cost of this proposed interchange on Hayden Island:

http://media.oregonlive.com/opinion_impact/photo/columbiarivercrossingjpg-ff128765a84b0a7e.jpg

That single interchange will cost $540 million. And for that money, we’ll see Hayden Island turned into a little slice of Orange County. That’s the kind of purchase decision that’s being made on our behalf here.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

It looks like the Senate can stop the CRC with 15 no votes out of 30 total. I know several Senators that plan to vote no. The heat is on. Turn it up.

Here’s the news that the House has now added amendments and will vote soon. Then it goes to the Senate.

http://landru.leg.state.or.us/13reg/measures/hb2800.html

Call by looking up your lawmaker
http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/

Demand a meeting and your Senator’s stance in writing.

Sign this moveon petition. I send out updates to each house and senate district. Some districts have over 67 signatures just in that district. That’s enough calls to change the mind of a Senator.

http://signon.org/sign/stop-the-5-billion-crc

Do something, please

Jake
Guest
Jake

Nice to see Jefferson Smith testifying against this boondoggle. And meanwhile, Charlie Hales is lobbying for the CRC. Willamette Week sure got it wrong when they said there was no difference on the two candidates stance on the CRC.