Oregon Senate passes CRC bill 18-11

Sen. Chip Shields, who represents
north and northeast Portland, was one
of 18 yes votes.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Senate passed HB 2800 (the CRC bill) today by a vote of 18-11. The vote comes just a week after the House passed it 45-11. The bill will now be signed into law by Governor Kitzhaber.

The bill was carried by Senators Lee Beyer and Bruce Starr, both of whom spoke at length about the project’s benefits and urgency.

Beyer said “the time has come” before rattling of a list of conditions in the bill that must be fulfilled before Oregon can sell $450 million in bonds. One of the questions he offered an answer to was whether or not the $27 million per year bond repayments will impact other transportation projects. That has been a key concern from opponents of the project and has not been clearly answered by ODOT and CRC staff. Beyer said on the Senate floor today that the answer is “To be frank, no and yes.” He said since the project wouldn’t begin construction until 2014, no other priorities would be impacted until then. “On the other hand,” he continued, “the [Oregon] Transportation Commission and the his legislature is always in a position of having to prioritize projects since there’s never enough money. In transportation funding, there’s a sense of everyone taking its turn. And at this point, because of its impact on the entire state economy, the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project is on the top of the list.”

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Days before possible vote, Senators in the dark about CRC project

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

“I have not seen any renderings at all, and yet I am going to be asked to vote on it.”
— Oregon State Senator Betsy Close

On Tuesday we pointed out that despite $170 million and years of planning the largest public works project in our state’s history, realistic visual representations of the Columbia River Crossing project are not available to the public. Detailed renderings showing the widened lanes on the freeway, interchanges, and the bridge deck — the type of imagery that’s standard practice across the country to illustrate proposed transportation projects — are not available on the official CRC project website. When asked repeatedly to see such images, CRC staff has shared only cartoon sketches and plan drawings buried in PDF documents.

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As CRC rumbles forward, major advocacy groups sit on the sidelines

“I heard from a number of people who have expressed concerns about their [legislative] priorities if they were to speak against the bill.”
— Mara Gross, interim director of Coalition for a Livable Future

The Columbia River Crossing project took a big step forward when HB 2800 easily passed the Oregon House this week. But while the project has made a lot of noise lately, major environmental and transportation advocacy groups have stayed quiet.

The bill will likely be voted on by the Senate next week (March 4th) and then Governor Kitzhaber is expected to sign it into law (unless he gets nostalgic and has a change of heart).

As this snowball has gathered size and speed, I have become intrigued by the deafening silence about it from our region’s major environmental, land-use, and transportation advocacy groups. Groups like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the Oregon Environmental Council, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Meanwhile, the relatively small opposition has been led by volunteer grassroots activists with little to no budget and a few organizations pulled together by Coalition for a Livable Future, an umbrella group that has just two policy-related staff. At a house party on Tuesday hosted by CLF and the Facebook-based group Shut Down the CRC, they celebrated a paltry $1,000 fundraising goal to help pay someone to work the halls of Salem to stop the bill.

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Willamette Week vs. The Oregonian on the CRC

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Watch the clip below from Friday’s excellent OPB show, Think Out Loud. It features Willamette Week editor Mark Zusman and Oregonian editorial and commentary editor Erik Lukens discussing the Columbia River Crossing.

For context, the Willamette Week has been dogging this project for a log time and has done more than any other media outlet to raise questions about it. Meanwhile, The Oregonian Editorial Board has written 38 glowingly positive articles about the CRC, many of them simply parroting talking points put out by ODOT and CRC staff.

Watch The O’s Lukens respond to a question about the shaky tolling projections (which he admits are problematic) and then listen how he goes right into the CRC talking points. It sure is an amazing willingness to endorse a project with extremely shaky financial from a paper with a very conservative editorial board:

After this clip, Zusman went on to share that his paper is working on a story about how Governor Kitzhaber — one of the project’s biggest cheerleaders — privately despises the project. I’m really looking forward to reading more about that.

Oregon House passes CRC bill 45-11

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“We can see a return on our investment tomorrow that far exceeds our investment today… This can be our ‘great bridge’.”
— Rep. Tobias Read

By a vote of 45-11, the Oregon House of Representatives voted this morning in support of HB 2800. There was not much debate about the bill, and except for an extremely critical take-down of the project by northeast Portland Democrat Lew Frederick, it sailed through with glowing praise.

Only two Democrats in the entire Oregon House — Reps Lew Frederick (NE Portland) and and Carolyn Tomei (Milwaukie) — voted against the project.

The presentation of the bill in the House chamber began with co-chairs of the Joint Committee on I-5 Bridge Replacement Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) and Tobias Read (D-Beaverton).

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Kitzhaber’s pro-CRC stance belies previous position on highway expansions

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John Kitzhaber acceptance speech-5

In 1997, Governor Kitzhaber said, “It’s time
we challenged the idea that says we
can build our way out of congestion by adding
more freeway lanes.”
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The strong support being given to the $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing highway expansion project by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber represents a u-turn from his previous positions. The two-time governor was once considered a progressive thinker when it came to transportation. Comments made during his first term as Governor now seem at odds with his strong support for HB 2800, the “CRC bill” that passed a vote in the Oregon House this morning.

On February 13th, during the first of two hearings on HB 2800, Kitzhaber sounded like a staffer for the CRC project. He rattled off all the talking points one by one and painted a picture for lawmakers of dire urgency if the project fails to move forward immediately.

“We must seize this opportunity to get a huge return on investment in Oregon’s future,” he said, “It’s time to build a bridge.” Kitzhaber said the project is “construction ready” (even though CRC staff themselves say it’s only at a 30% design) and that it will, “Increase mobility” and “Fix one of the worst bottlenecks of any highway system in the U.S.”

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CRC set for likely House vote this Monday

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Artist’s rendering of the project

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.

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Legislative committee votes to move forward on CRC project

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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.

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Activists see Monday hearing as last chance to stop CRC bill

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Anti 12-lane CRC Ride-6

Scene from a 2009 anti-CRC rally.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

House Bill 2800 — and in some ways the future of Columbia River Crossing project — is up for another hearing at the state capitol on Monday. Activists against the project, who packed hearing rooms this past Monday, hope for a repeat performance in order to “make sure the narrative remains on our side.”

Others see Monday’s hearing as a “last chance” effort to stop the bill. If passed, HB 2800 would declare that it’s in Oregon’s state interest to fund and move forward with the project. The bill would free up the bonding and tolling authority necessary so the state can come up with its share — $450 million — of the project’s $3.6 billion price tag. But critics call the bill a “blank check” that unleashes a series of scary financial obligations.

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Press release: Bipartisan Coalition Forms Against The Columbia River Crossing

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This just in:

Bipartisan Coalition Forms Against The Columbia River Crossing

Today, progressive and conservative organizations, businesses, and individuals announced the formation of a bipartisan coalition to oppose the current plan for the Columbia River Crossing.

Coalition leaders include: John Charles (President, Cascade Policy Institute), Steve Cole (Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods), Karla Kay Edwards (Director, Americans for Prosperity-Oregon), Mara Gross (Coalition for A Livable Future) and Jason Williams (Oregon Taxpayer Association). Joe Cortright, President and Chief Economist at Impresa Consulting, is providing financial and economic analysis for the Coalition, based on several years of examining CRC traffic and financial projections.

Members of this coalition, called “Stop the CRC: A Bipartisan Coalition For a Responsible Solution,” share a broad set of concerns about the current plan for the Columbia River Crossing including, but not limited to:

– The Oregon Legislature is essentially being asked to authorize a blank check for the funding.
– The construction and financing of the CRC will impact the ability to maintain existing roads and bridges throughout Oregon.
– The proposal is based on outdated and incorrect information.
– The CRC will worsen traffic gridlock in other parts of Portland and in residential neighborhoods.

“It is the aim of all members of this coalition to persuade Oregon’s 2013 Legislature not to appropriate further funding for this project,” said coalition spokespersons Mara Gross and Lindsay Berschauer. “Instead, we encourage legislators to take a step back and engage Oregonians broadly in an effort to develop a more responsible solution that Oregon can afford.”

The “Stop the CRC” bipartisan coalition will work to educate citizens and lawmakers on the negative impacts of the current CRC plan on our state and our citizens and to steer the legislature toward a more positive direction. Further details will be announced this week.

Activists hope to weaken CRC ‘signal’ at hearing in Salem today

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-1

A big day at the capitol for the CRC.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A bill that would officially make it “in the state’s interest” to move forward on the I-5 freeway widening project between Oregon and Washington will be given a public hearing in Salem today. The bill, HB 2800, is being pushed by Governor Kitzhaber and many high-profile Democrats and other backers of the Columbia River Crossing project.

A House Joint Committee will hear invited testimony from the Governor as well as Oregon Transportation Commission chair Pat Egan and ODOT’s Deputy Project Director Kris Strickler. If anti-CRC activists are successful, the committee will also hear from dozens of people speaking out against the bill (and the project in general). According to a Facebook page where activists are organizing carpools to attend the 3:00 pm hearing, there are about 40 people so far who plan to make the trip.

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