Governor Kulongoski wants us to stop all this incessant chatter about what the Columbia River Crossing Bridge is going to look like. "We have lost sight of what the bridge is really all about -- jobs, lots of jobs," said Kulongoski this morning at a press conference staged at the Expo Center light rail stop. "We could debate this bridge and what it should look like until 2012. We will never see the benefits if the conversation remains mired in discussion of design."
Rather than wasting time jibbering and jabbering about lanes and potentially cave-like bike facilities, the governor says we should secure funding now so the state can break ground ASAP on the $4.2 billion project. Construction unions are big backers of the big bridge - the governor says the 12-lane bridge will create 25,000 jobs, a windfall when Oregon's construction industry currently has 18 percent unemployment.
The press conference comes hot on the heels of the revelation that the legislature's transportation committee may erase $30 million in funding for the CRC from its budget. The governor also seems to be directly responding to a heated meeting two weeks ago where the bridge design advisory group essentially told the Columbia River Crossing committee to go back to the drawing board - and this time actually incorporate their design suggestions.
Mara Gross, policy director of Coalition for a Livable Future says continuing a discussion about the bridge's design is essential. "We should be talking about what design helps us build the kind of region we want to live in and the current design doesn't do that," says Gross. "It's oversized, overpriced and it'll lead to bad development. Also, it'll lead to increased pressure to spend more on more projects." Gross points out there there are plenty of construction projects in our region that the state could fund to create jobs — like replacing the Sellwood Bridge and building sidewalks in East Portland. "We don't have our basic infrastructure in place in urban areas."
Teamster Bill Elzie is a former cement truck driver whose union is pushing for the bridge to break ground now. "I can tell you, watching traffic as a truck driver for 17 years, those on/off ramps are a bottleneck. What we want is to have good companies locate here knowing they can get their freight onto the highways," Elzie said this morning, sipping coffee in his Local 162 jacket before the press conference started. Elzie thinks the 12-lane design is "brilliant." "If you've got traffic jams and thousands of cars idling, you're putting a lot more [emissions] in the air. We can improve our environment by having clean flowing traffic."
"The project does predict free flowing traffic until 2030," counters Gross, "but then what you end up with is just more cars stuck in traffic."