Last Friday we shared an update on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program. That’s the focus-group friendly name of the effort by Washington and Oregon DOTs to widen five miles of I-5 between north Portland and Vancouver. In many ways it’s a repeat of the failed Columbia River Crossing project, hence CRC 2.0.
As our post last Friday revealed, some political leaders around the table are getting nervous because the new project already feels too much like the old project.
At the new project’s Executive Steering Group meeting March 17th, one of the most outspoken critics of CRC 1.0 made an unexpected appearance. It was Robert Liberty. Liberty served two terms on Metro Council before he resigned in 2011. He’s now a consultant.
10 years after he left elected office, Liberty used the public comment period to share a warning with his former colleagues as they consider the project’s all-important “Purpose and Need” statement (a key part of the NEPA process that sets the table for future design alternative possibilities):
Good afternoon steering committee members. I’m Robert Liberty, a private citizen residing in Portland.
The Purpose and Need statement is the single most important step of your process because it defines your objectives and your geography. It will very sharply narrow the range of alternatives to consider and therefore lock you into endorsing the same solution as produced by the prior I-5 widening project, the so-called Columbia River Crossing.
It privileges the shaving of two minutes off the Friday evening commute times for people living in Ridgefield or Battle Ground as the region’s highest priority worth hundreds of millions worth of study and billions of dollars in construction costs, making it clear that other people’s congestion is not worth the same consideration. That is far from equitable.
It doesn’t recognize that congestion pricing should be the analytic foundation for this and all other regional freeway projects. It ignores the land-use causes of congestion on I-5, including the legacy of class-based, racially exclusionary residential zoning still being practiced today. It’s based on assumptions about earthquake vulnerability and priorities that are called into question by ODOT’s own 2009 research. It does not allow for this project’s objectives to be compared with other regional projects in the region that would deliver more benefits for more people at a lower cost.
Finally, the replacement of the interstate bridges is only a small part in terms of cost and length of the total project. It does not augur well for meaningful public engagement when the project’s title does not honestly convey the scope and purpose of the project.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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