With just hours to go before the city council's Wednesday, July 9 hearing and vote on the $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing project, lobbying around city hall was frenzied. Opponents of the massive, traffic-inducing bridge between Vancouver and Portland threw together a press conference to showcase their criticisms, while the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was reportedly bullying the council into voting for the project—or ELSE.
(An aside: By the time you read this, the council will have already voted one way or another. Check out Blogtown for my geeked-out blow by blow of the Wednesday afternoon hearing, which happened after we went to press.)
In Southeast Portland's Piccolo Park on Tuesday morning, July 8, a conglomeration of environmentalists and land-use wonks made the case that the council shouldn't approve the "locally preferred" 12-lane bridge option. The setting was apropos, as the park's land would have been part of the Mt. Hood Freeway, had that disastrous project gone forward.
The city council "needs to ask tough questions before we move forward on the Columbia River Crossing," explained Jules Kopel-Bailey, who's running for state representative. Those questions include how the project meshes with the city and state's climate change goals (answer: it currently doesn't).
After the press conference, Jill Fuglister of the Coalition for a Livable Future raced to city hall on her bike for a meeting with Commissioner Randy Leonard. The group had met with Commissioner Nick Fish the day before. Neither commissioner seemed likely to oppose the bridge.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Dan Saltzman floated his concerns last Wednesday, July 2—he was "strongly considering" not supporting the project until the city had a chance to do a greenhouse gas study to measure the new bridge's impact, and unless the bridge significantly decreased how much people drove. By early this week, none of his colleagues seemed to be on his page.
That could be because ODOT was also making the rounds at city hall. To assuage Leonard's concerns that the city would lose oversight of the project once they voted on July 9—and Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams shares that fear—ODOT wrote a letter promising Portland's continued involvement as the project moves forward.
"They are not going to approve a project over our dead body," Adams told me on Monday night. ODOT's letter will make it clear that "the goals for the project we have, the concerns that we have, that they will be addressed in this next phase of the process, and that they wouldn't move it forward if Portland has significant objections to whatever comes out in the next phase of the process."
But if the rumors are true, it seems unlikely that the city council will voice "significant objections" to the project: In the final days before the vote, ODOT was reportedly telling council to approve the bridge, or "they won't fund anything else" in the city, according to one source.