At a Metro Council meeting on Tuesday November 2nd, Councilor Robert Liberty introduced a little amendment to the group's regional transportation plan that could actually turn out to be a bombshell.
The amendment "Sunset the Columbia River Crossing Project by September 1, 2011" (pdf) proposes that the Metro Council's 2008 vote supporting the $2.6-$3.6 billion bridge project expire in 2011 if the project has not secured local, state and federal funds. Metro's straw poll vote on the amendment at the meeting showed overwhelming support for the idea: six thumbs up and Rex Burkholder's thumb sideways.
The notes from the meeting are revealing:
(1) What was the purpose of the amendment; to kill the project by subterfuge or to force a realistic assessment of the prospects for funding the project and the tradeoffs it would require to not advance other projects? For most of the Councilors the answer was the latter.
(3) What would be the legal impact of the amendment, near term? Might the amendment have an unintended consequence? Staff could give no clear answer to that question. Staff did note that there was a precedent for removing a major highway project from the [Regional Transportation Plan] after it had been approved, the Mt. Hood Freeway.
(4) What would be the political impact of the amendment? Would it compromise the agency or region’s ability to secure Federal funding for the project? Different Councilors had different perspectives on this issue.
(5) Why was this amendment appropriate now coming 14 months after the project had been endorsed by the Metro Council? The subsequent events that some Councilors found persuasive in this regard were the failure of the Oregon Legislature to identify funding for the project, despite earmarks for other large highway projects; critical statements made by Congressman DeFazio and Baird and the recent mayoral election in Vancouver.
After listening to the CRC staff pitch their slimmed-down 10-lane bridge to state legislators yesterday, Environment Oregon's Brock Howell noted that having Metro's support for the bridge project sunset in 2011 would effectively kill the project. Howell says the funding timelines for the bridge looking grim. Here's why: to get a lot of the federal funding on board, the CRC needs to have its light rail funds secured. But funding for light rail will come from a Vanouver area sales tax, which Vancouverites will vote on in 2011 at the earliest, though the vote could be pushed to 2013 or 2014.
If the project doesn't have the light rail funding in the bag by 2011, it can't get the federal funds in the bag by 2011 and the expiration of Metro's support would send the project back to the drawing board.
The Council decided to table the amendment for now, but will bring it up at the CRC bigwig's Project Sponsor's Council meeting in two weeks.