HB 2800, the bill that will give a green light (at least on the Oregon side) to the Columbia River Crossing I-5 freeway expansion project, will likely be voted on by the Oregon House when they convene at 11:00 am on Monday (2/25).
After years of what has felt like very slow progress, the project has flown through the legislative process this session. It’s clear that Governor Kitzhaber — who was opposed to massive highway expansion projects during his former stint as Governor, but for some reason this time around he’s become a champion of the largest freeway expansion in Oregon history — has seized the opportunity of having a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate.
While lawmakers talk about “jobs!” and “economic development!” and repeat project talking points that have been expertly massaged into them with a $170 million PR and lobbying machine, a scathing article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss in the Willamette Week details how Kitzhaber and his legislative soldiers have put HB 2800 on the fast track:
“The [Joint I-5 Bridge Replacement] committee [that held two hearings and voted to support the bill] was carefully stacked. Of 16 members, most favored the bridge. Only two had been on record as harboring doubts. And four were freshman lawmakers put in the position of and saying aye, lest they cross the governor, Democratic leaders and major business and labor interests on their first big vote.
And legislative leaders sent the bill out without the requisite stop at the Ways and Means Committee, where the expert staff might sniff out the financial challenges underlying it.”
And amazingly, even though this project is very close to moving significantly forward (at least politically), it’s difficult to find images showing the lane expansions and new interchanges. Project backers have tried their hardest to convince the public and lawmakers that this is a “bridge project.” But it’s not. The vast majority of expense comes from widening I-5 and adding massive interchanges. I’ll share more about this in a separate story; but for now, check out the GIF below that I put together based on renderings created by a consultant hired by the CRC a few years ago:
Conventional wisdom is that the bill is very likely to pass Monday. After that it would need to passed by the Senate before being signed into law by Governor Kitzhaber. If it does become law, there are several “triggers” in the bill (such as a Coast Guard permit to satisfy the bridge height issue, a funding commitment from Washington, light rail funding from the feds, and so on) that would have to be reached before the State Treasurer could officially green-light the bonds to finance the $450 million Oregon share of the project.
The CRC is deeply flawed and I remain concerned that the massive political lobbying effort pulling strings behind the scenes to finally make it happen is getting way too close to carrying out their plan.
If you still haven’t contacted your state representative about this project, the time is now. Stay tuned for more coverage.