During the legislative session, our elected representatives in Salem cut $30 million in Columbia River Crossing bridge funding from their strapped budgets. But that didn't keep the state from handing over the big bucks to the bridge—Governor Kulongoski got the appointed group the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to approve the $30 million from his budget anyway.
That move pissed off some politicians who say the bridge is receiving taxpayer money without going through the rigorous debate and scrutiny of most transportation projects because it skipped over the floor of the legisalture. Reps Brian Clem, Jules Bailey and Cliff Bentz penned an editorial in The Oregonian yesterday titled, "Where's the Debate?"
"I think there's been an almost, by design, maneuvering to get this thing done without having a public debate in the legislature," says Clem, explaining why he felt compelled to write the editorial. "I need to voice my opinion and it's obviously not going to be on the floor of the legislature. I'm sure there were not 36 votes for this project, so if this was railroaded to get it through, that's a problem."
Clem says he supports an improved bridge that gets freight moving between states quicker and easier, but does not want to subsidize single-occupancy commuter car trips from Vancouver to Portland. "I don't think we need to feed the growth machine. If Vancouver commuters want to get into Portland, they should have to figure out how to carpool, get on the light rail or get on their bikes."
Jules Bailey says the OTC was within their legal right to approve the money, but that statewide elected officials need to have a debate NOW about the bridge, "We as a legislature scrutinize a huge array of projects that had funding specifically allocated to them. And we did that because we wanted to have a debate about the best way to create jobs and improve our transportation system."
And recently, the local elected officials who have been able to debate the issue have been suggesting we cut the number of lanes on the 12-lane $4.2 billion span.
At a meeting of the Project Sponsor's Council last week, reports The Columbian, Mayor Sam Adams uttered these words: "Given the financial realities we face, I think we need to change that to six to 10 (lanes)."
What? Was that perhaps the sound of angels singing "I told you so!" in tiny voices? Metro Council President David Bragdon, who sits on the Council, agrees with Adams that the CRC staff needs to start cutting lanes or interchanges from the bridge project and fast. His analysis is devastating.
"It's clear that the version the DOTs [dept of transportation] are pushing is not fundable at its current size. It's also unpopular. They're in a real jam, because they've cooked up this project which is unfundable," says Bragdon. With tolling a controversial topic, the feds unsure if they can put as much money toward the project as the CRC staff wanted and the "near death experience" in the Oregon legislature, says Bragdon, "They've basically overestimated and been overly optimistic on all three revenue streams. How they've gotten this far and spent as much money as they've spent without being realistic about the revenues is beyond me."