Maybe the deepest recession in decades is not the time to embark on building a $4.2 billion bridge—news from the last week shows that tight budgets are making both voters and policymakers consider axing essential pieces of the planned Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge between Vancouver and Portland.

A primary election shows incumbent Vancouver mayor Royce Pollard is only 1.1 percent ahead of his challenger in the upcoming election. The underdog, City Council member Tim Leavitt, "has banged and banged on the toll issue and wants to place the blame entirely on me," Pollard told the Oregonian. That's scary news because Leavitt sits on the CRC Project Sponsor's Council, a group including Pollard and other regional bigwigs that is the key adviser to Oregon and Washington's governments on all CRC design details.

During public hearings about tolls in July, Pollard was worried about voters' negative perception of tolls. "I hate tolls, but without tolls, we will not get this project done," said Pollard at the time. All cost estimates for the bridge so far have relied on tolls from $1-$8 and tolls also cut back on the number of people driving along across the bridge—which is essential to keep traffic and greenhouse gases in check.

  • Zack Soto

In an editorial last week, the Oregonian came up with a similarly bad idea for saving money on the big bridge: cut its bike and pedestrian lanes. The $100 million pricetag for the lanes that analysts estimate 3,000 people will use a day deserves a "hard look," says the O:

"The core purpose of the project has been and, we predict, will remain getting trains, cars and trucks across the river more quickly. Sharp and careful "value engineering" and political planning must keep that thought at the project's center."

Uh, cars, trucks and light rail ARE at the center of the project and in little danger of losing that position. Policymakers chose the maximum number of lanes possible for the bridge, bumping the cost up to $4.2 billion to accommodate 12 lanes of cars, trucks and light rail. The numbers show it all. As Jonathan Maus at BikePortland points out, the $100 bike/ped lanes are only two percent of the overall cost of the bridge.

Worse, the editorial contradicts advice the O foisted on bike advocates from its own pages months ago. In an editorial last March, the O took the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to task for speaking out against the size of the bridge. The editorial ended with: "Instead of working to destroy the bridge, the BTA should be putting its muscle toward the far more difficult task of completing a bridge that is a source of pride, economic strength and swifter transportation for all."

Five months later, "swifter transportation for all" should still include people who don't drive cars.