(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Many of you where surprised and disappointed when Oregon State Senator Chip Shields voted in favor of HB 2800, a.k.a. the CRC bill. Shields is a Democrat who represents the north and northeast Portland district that will be most immediately impact by this massive freeway expansion project.
Shields’ vote was surprising because many of his constituents urged him to vote no and he is someone who understands the impacts this project will have. No one knew why Shields voted yes because he hadn’t responded to any constituent emails about the bill. Until now. Several BikePortland readers have just sent me a note from Sen. Shields that explains why he voted yes.
Read Shields’ full email below (emphases mine):
“I made the best choice I could at the time, and it was an incredibly close call. I didn’t go against your wishes and the wishes of many of my constituents lightly.”
Thank you for writing to urge my No vote on HB 2800-A– the Columbia River Crossing bill.
I apologize for delay in responding.
Here’s what was happening behind the scenes that resulted in my Yes vote.
In the legislature, our vote is our leverage. To increase that leverage, I banded together with two Senators leading up to the vote. They also wanted to change the direction of the project for the better. One wanted assurances that rural transportation projects, including a bridge in his district, wouldn’t be hampered by the CRC’s debt service. The other shared my concern that the low span would cost living-wage manufacturing jobs across the river in Vancouver. Additionally, I was working with the Coalition for a Livable Future on creating a real environmental mitigation/community enhancement fund. I was also pushing for congestion pricing to reduce carbon emissions. Finally, I wanted to make sure residents of N/NE Portland had equal opportunity to build the bridge as apprentices, skilled tradesmen and women and as contractors, so I pushed for bigger investments in pre-apprenticeship training for outfits like Oregon Tradeswomen, Constructing Hope, Portland Youthbuild and the Margaret Carter Skills Center at Portland Community College.
The three of us Senators decided that we would stick together and negotiate as a bloc.
It had some effect. I am pleased to report that on Monday morning, on the day of the Senate vote, I was able to confirm the Governor’s support for Speaker Kotek’s efforts on the environmental mitigation/community enhancement fund, as well as his support for increased funding for pre-apprenticeship training. I will be submitting a bill shortly to appropriate $4.5 million for pre-apprenticeship training focused on women and people of color. The effort will be funded through what’s called federal transportation flex funds.
I wanted more, but that Monday morning, I polled a few key Senators and it was clear that HB 2800-A proponents had the votes to pass the bill no matter how the bloc voted. Our votes would not affect the outcome. The bloc decided to disband and vote independently. The negotiation was over. It was time to vote Yes or No.
I considered that I had neighbors on both sides of this issue. The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods was strongly opposed to HB 2800-A and had filed a lawsuit in partnership with Coalition for a Livable Future to block the CRC. The overwhelming majority of Northeast Portlanders who wrote me opposed HB 2800-A.
But I also now represented Hayden Island and neighborhoods along the Columbia River. These neighbors– the Bridgeton Neighborhood Association, the Hayden Island Neighborhood Network, East Columbia Neighborhood Association and several other groups close to Hayden Island supported HB 2800-A. As Ron Schmidt of the Hayden Island Neighborhood Network wrote:
“The I5 bridge is the only way for our over 2000 residents to get home and for thousands of employees and thousands of customers to the businesses on our island whether it be by bike, bus, boot leather or buggy so when I5 stops, our lives do too. Portland police get delayed trying to get to us when traffic stalls or stops, neither ambulances nor backup fire trucks can. We have no hospital nor medical facilities on the island. Not only do we support the I5 bridge replacement, our lives depend on it. Please build the bridge.
“As this project is being delayed, we have families and businesses who don’t know when they will become condemned but live in constant fear if and when they will. We have businesses and families unwilling to invest or build in our community because of the uncertainty and we fear the crime that has struck our island and the degradation of the properties surrounding the bridge is in part from the delays in the project. Our state and our region suffer economic and environmental damage from the transportation blockage that has existed for years.
“We have a unique perspective of the implications of plan design and a vested interest for a great plan design. We support the $450 million project plan. We hope to continue to work together with the CRC and others and we ask to continue to have a place at the project development table. Please build the Bridge right.”
In the end, I decided to vote for HB 2800-A in solidarity with Hayden Island residents. I also hope that my “Yes” vote will give me an opportunity to stay at the negotiation table in order to shape the design and implementation of the project to mitigate the environmental and fiscal implications and to ensure residents of N/NE Portland had equal opportunity to build the bridge as apprentices, skilled tradesmen and women, and contractors.
I have promised you, my constituents, that on this and other matters I will: 1. Listen to you. 2. Tell you the truth, and 3. Vote my conscience.
Here’s what I said about the CRC to the League of Women Voters during the 2012 primary election, which was featured in their candidate guide:
“I support early tolling on today’s bridge so that we can make a down payment and see how tolling affects traffic flows. Residents of N/NE Portland must have equal opportunity to build the bridge as apprentices, skilled tradesmen and women and as contractors. The bridge should meet the needs of Hayden Island residents. Environmental impacts should be mitigated and the size constricted to what we can afford. I support an up or down vote on bonding for the bridge.”
I was able to advance some of those items. Others I could not. I made the best choice I could at the time, and it was an incredibly close call. I didn’t go against your wishes and the wishes of many of my constituents lightly. I am proud of my 94% Oregon League of Conservation Voters lifetime rating, and though we came to different conclusions on this bill, I thank you for your feedback and for taking the time and effort to contact me on this important issue.
Please don’t hesitate to contact my office if I can assist you and your family in the future.
The length of this explanation shows how important this vote was to Sen. Shields. It also provides fascinating (to me) insight into how legislators weigh their votes. Many of the reasons cited here I’ve heard before, and they all lead to the same thing: They require a level of trust from ODOT/CRC staff that I don’t think they deserve. And what’s this about flex funds going toward apprenticeship training? That’s news to me and that’s not the type of expenditure ODOT has typically given those funds to.
Also, for Shields hang his decision solely on the (supposed) support of the CRC from Hayden Island residents is also interesting. Hayden Island residents are not all supportive of the project; they are simply going along with HB 2800 out of fear that if they oppose it they’ll lose their seat at the table in planning its final design. That’s a big risk for them — and this vote was a big risk for Shields.
What do you think?