Last February, local economist and activist Joe Cortright submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Columbia River Crossing task force, requesting any documents or analysis they had done on "traffic projections, tolls or financing of the CRC" since 2007. The reply? "They said they had no publications of that kind," says Cortright. That's unsettling, since the financial landscape has changed quite a bit locally and nationally since 2007.
Disappointed environmentalists are talking about that missing research, as well as other big unanswered questions about the Columbia River Crossing, after City Council approved the biggest option for the $4.2 billion commuter bridge last night.
"The council had promised that they wouldn't move forward without a report on increased traffic demand and greenhouse gases on both sides of the bridge and yet they moved," says Eric Stachon of 1000 Friends of Oregon. "We find that deeply disturbing."
"What's going to happen to that report - is it still in the works?" I asked.
"I think it's not going to happen," replied Stachon frankly.
Cortright and other environmentalists point out that it's an expensive project to have such big, unanswered questions. The CRC's price tag is the same as "80 OHSU aerial trams," noted Cortright last year, which "works out to nearly $2,000 per capita from each of the region's two million residents."
Instead, that money could build 14,000 $200,000 apartments to ease the indefinite waiting list for affordable housing in Portland. "There's a lot of things you could spend that money on and what you're using it for is basically subsidizing people commuting from Clark County subdivisions to jobs in Oregon," says Cortright.
Jill Fuglister, co-director of Coalition for a Livable Future, is disappointed in the Council and somewhat surprised:
"Mayor Adams and [Metro Council President] David Bragdon were as recently as a week ago trying to talk about a smaller footprint. What I think happened is that they didn't think they could get to that and didn't want to hold up a process that had been going on for years... We've seen [the CRC] as a lead project and test case in terms of political will and politicians having to make those tough calls."
It's surprising, actually, given the importance of the CRC as a political will test case, how few environmental groups are willing to publicly criticize Adams for his vote in favor of the 12 lanes. Mayor Adams is supposed to be their man in city hall, right? His big economic plan for Portland's next five years is making Portland "America's most sustainable city" and this morning on our blog, his staff defended the 12-lane bridge as a pro-environment option.
While several environmental groups think that calling a 12-lane freeway "green" is absurd, none have yet called Sustainable Sam out by name for supporting the widest, most expensive, most car-friendly option for the biggest public works project in our region's history. Then again, I think it's tough to criticize one's allies, especially when Sam's under a lot of heat already.
When I asked Joe Cortright whether Adams could still be considered a "green mayor," Cortright responded, "I'm not going to go there. Let's just say it's not a green decision."
Same thing with Jill Fuglister - "no comment" on whether she is disappointed in Sam specifically.
Eric Stachon on whether whether Sam can consider himself an environmentalist: "no comment."