Four traffic engineers, the Oregon State Governor and 15 reporters walk into the kitchen of a tugboat. It smells intensely of bacon. This is not a joke.

Instead, it is a well-planned media stunt (well, except for the bacon part) to raise support for the embattled Columbia River Crossing (CRC) I-5 replacement bridge before a major meeting of project bigwigs this Friday.

The Project Sponsors Council, a group that includes Portland and Vancouver's mayors along with Metro Council President David Bragdon and the heads of both states' transportation departments, will vote Friday morning on whether to support $650 million in cuts to the CRC design. Grassroots environmental activists from are planning a protest outside the meeting (121 NW Everett at 9:30 AM) and so today the Governor called a press conference on a tugboat.

At the helm: Governor Kulongoski views the I-5 bridge from the captains cabin.
  • At the helm: Governor Kulongoski views the I-5 bridge from the captain's cabin.

"Doing nothing is not an option. There's a challenge because a lot of people have a lot of different views about what this bridge should look like, but this is the opportunity to show the nation how to build a green bridge," Governor Kulongoski said, squeezed against the tugboat's kitchen sink. Governor K and CRC project chief Richard Brandman led the quick tugboat tour of the current I-5 bridge to Vancouver to point out how badly it needs to be replaced. The Governor called a similar hop-to press conference eight months ago, when the legislature threatened to not approve $30 million in planning funds for the project (when the legislators wound up erasing the CRC from their transportation budget at the end of the session, the Governor found a way to slip it back in without a House vote).

This time around, traffic engineers set up posters on a frigid dock next to the I-5 bridge, demonstrating the $20 million in repairs the bridge needs and the apparent fact that the current structure may collapse in an earthquake (along with the Marquam Bridge, perhaps, though they didn't say it).

TUG OF WAR: Are the options really only to CRC or not to CRC?
  • TUG OF WAR: Are the options really only to CRC or not to CRC?

Rep Kotek: Pro-bridge, anti-heights
  • Rep Kotek: Pro-bridge, anti-heights
While the Governor and friends headed to the steering room on top of the tugboat, N/NE Portland Representative Tina Kotek went down to the hold. Turns out Kotek is afraid of heights. I asked her if she thought the Governor was setting up a false dichotomy: build this imperfect, $3.6 billion, 10 lane bridge or suffer the failures of the current one. "Isn't there room for a better option?" I asked, amid barrels marked "Emergency Oil Spill Kit." "I think the project team has put together a good project," replied Kotek. "I'm not expecting everyone to be 100 percent happy with all the details of the plan, but it will be a project we can live with. This is the proposal that's on the table and it's the one we can get funded." Rep Kotek is optimistic that if the bridge team works out a tolling structure that takes most of the funding burden off the state coffers, local legislators will support the bridge.

After the tugboat had cruised under the green I-5 bridge, winning a stunning view of Mt. Hood on this clear, cold December day, two other reporters cornered Richard Brandman in the same Emergency Oil Spill room. "What issues will you be looking at in the final EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]?" asked the Columbian's Erik Robinson, "What are the red flags you'll be looking at?"

"There are no red flags that have been brought to my attention," replied Brandman. Hmm... that comes as news to environmentalists.


The big Project Sponsors' Council meeting is this Friday, 10 AM, at the Port of Portland (121 NW Everett). Public comment period is at the beginning of the meeting, but the outside protest starts at 9:30 AM.