Ah, another morning spent in Vancouver’s Corporate Woods, the meeting place of the mighty Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Project Sponsors Council. You know what I love about CRC meetings? There is always free Starbucks and bottled water. These items flow freely in Corporate Woods.

Over a dozen protesters biked to the meeting this morning, but no one was allowed to give testimony on the plan.
  • Over a dozen protesters biked to the meeting this morning, but no one was allowed to give testimony on the plan.
Four members of the 10-person Council signed onto a strongly-worded letter to the governors this week saying the current bridge plan would create “unacceptable impacts” on local communities. It’s an unusual coalition: Metro President David Bragdon and Sam Adams have trouble supporting a bridge that increases greenhouse gasses and car capacity, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and SW Washington rep Steve Stuart don’t think their constituents can stomach the planned tolls. Where all four find common ground is in agreement that the big bridge is too expensive.

The budget plan the CRC staff put forward at the meeting today estimates Oregon and Washington will put $1 billion toward the bridge, tolls will raise $1.25-1.5 billion and the federal government will be asked to earmark $400 million. Mayor Adams is in DC so he couldn’t make it in person to the meeting, instead he tuned in via a speakerphone that projected his occasional interjections across the meeting room like the voice of God.

“Mayor Adams is in DC, maybe he’s going to come back with a bag full of money?” joked Washington Department of Transportation secretary Paula Hammond
“I will also be riding a sleigh,” intoned Adams, from above.

With no toll, the CRC team estimates there will be seven hours of traffic jams over the new bridge every day, an increase from the four to six hours traffic jams today on the bridge. A $3-6 toll each way would reduce that to just one hour of daily congestion, cut the number of cars crossing both the I-5 and 1-205 bridge by 20 percent and raise $1.2-2 billion for the bridge budget.

Still, newly-elected, anti-toll Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt told the group that tolls are not the most reliable form of funding and perhaps the committee should consider other options for digging up money for the project.

“Maybe a tax on mayors?” suggested chair Henry Hewitt.

Though Hewitt tacitly told the group that they would create a “workplan” to address the four critical leaders’ concerns, an email exchange between Adams’ office and the CRC staff seems to show that the bridge-backers are not taking cost-reduction ideas seriously.

This November 30th email exchange between Adams’ transportation director Catherine Ciarlo and CRC chief Richard Brandman is telling. Ciarlo asked a series of questions about how to reduce the cost and impact of the bridge, including, “What would be the cost savings of going to an 8-lane bridge capable of accommodating 10 lanes? A 6 lane bridge that could accommodate 8 lanes?”

Bradman responded: “An 8-lane facility was analyzed in the alternatives analysis phase and rejected by the Task Force and then by the Project Sponsors Council. Neither a six nor eight lane facility meets the project’s purpose and need.”

So in short: Don’t even bother asking how much money a smaller bridge could save. We’re not even going to tell you because we’re building 10 to 12 lanes, baby!