Photo by Sarah Mirk

"WE CAN GET A BETTER bridge and it's up to you to make sure we get a better bridge," City Commissioner Amanda Fritz shouted to a crowd of 400 people gathered on Sunday afternoon, April 5, at the waterfront.

At the end of February, Fritz was the sole city council vote against the 12-lane $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) I-5 Freeway bridge plan. On Sunday, hundreds of citizens and several elected officials joined Fritz in protesting the big bridge, criticizing its cost and perceived negative environmental impact.

One of the main questions politicians and activists raised was where funding for the bridge will come from. While the bridge is still in its early planning stages, Metro Councilor Robert Liberty noted that it is the single largest transportation project in our region's history and federal dollars will only cover part of the cost. "The rest will come from taxpayers," Liberty noted, saying the money could be better spent repairing the region's 30 structurally deficient bridges.

"The financing on this could have been done by Bernie Madoff," agreed Joe Cortright, a Portland-based consultant and economist. A month ago, Cortright filed a public records request with the CRC project committee demanding all their reports or analyses related to financing the bridge. The group had nothing to give him.

"That either means they're lying or they're not doing any serious homework," Cortright said. "They're pushing through this $4.2 billion project without having found the funding."

While protesters waved signs reading "Big Bridge or Clean Air," Mayor Sam Adams reiterated via his blog on Sunday morning that with proper oversight and tolling, the 12-lane bridge could be in line with Oregon's green climate goals.

Coalition for a Livable Future Co-Director Jill Fuglister wasn't convinced. "Why not keep it lean and then have oversight?" Fuglister suggested.

Another protester waved a sign reading: "Adams and Leonard: 12 Lanes of Ego."

Democratic State Representatives Nick Kahl and Jefferson Smith took the stage to criticize the impact of the bridge. "No matter how big this bridge is, there will still be congestion," said Kahl, arguing that spending $4.2 billion on the new bridge will subsidize sprawl in Vancouver. "Let's make sure we don't appropriate any money in Salem for this 12-lane boondoggle."