THE RUMOR among activists is that the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) is on its last legs. Conversations about the controversial $3.6 billion I-5 bridge to Vancouver have recently taken on a sort of gleeful death watch air, the email messages rife with Death Star references and metaphors involving broken steamrollers.
But the giddiness among environmentalists and smart growth advocates is not thanks to a new protest or an especially effective sign-waving event. It's because of the suits.
Over the past month, uppity-ups in the Oregon and Washington governments have released reports with some damning thoughts on the CRC's finances.
Forget criticisms over the amount the project has so far spent on consultants and planning staff (ahem: $60,000 a day), we're talking about fundamental math problems.
Here's the short version of the freeway expansion's finances: Oregon's state treasurer noted in July that the project's estimate for the amount it can reap from bridge tolls is way off. By Treasurer Ted Wheeler's analysis, the toll proceeds are overly optimistic by 15 to 25 percent, leaving the project $468-598 million short.
The problem is that the traffic projections the big bridge is working with are based on a 2002 employment forecast from Metro. Clearly, times have changed since 2002—you may have noticed something in the news about an economic collapse?—so the employment numbers are way out of date.
Potentially, the project could get a federal grant to cover that shortfall, but it's not a guarantee. A stable funding plan would be a nice touch for a project that's going to cost state coffers at least $450 million.
So with toll money on shaky ground, securing $850 million in federal money is even more crucial for the project. And that federal money is dependent on Clark County residents voting to increase a sales tax that will generate $3 million for the light rail link on the bridge.
Clark County. Tax increase. Light rail. Good luck with that one. These are the people who referred to the MAX as the "crime train" when TriMet tried to connect it to Vancouver.
In many ways, the reports grant legitimacy to the criticisms raised by economist Joe Cortright, who has for two years been a one-man band banging on about the CRC's money problems (though he's had the backing soundtrack of activists shouting, "OMG CRC WTF!"). Of course, Cortright is happy to see some official voices chiming in on the financial flaws.
"The wheels are falling off financially," says Cortright. See what I mean about the metaphors?