With only days to go before the city council votes on an initial Columbia River Crossing project, I'm disappointed in Mayor-elect and current Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams.
While Adams is usually Portland's visionary when it comes to transportation projects—pushing for things like hundreds of miles of bike boulevards and streetcars—he's taken a back seat on the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. As the city's representative on the CRC task force, he hasn't been using his clout to push for a truly stellar project, one that builds on Portland's reputation for thinking outside of the box when it comes to transportation. Instead, he seems content with a monster 12-lane bridge that'll wreak havoc on North and Northeast Portland, screw with our plans to reduce global warming emissions, and eat up $4.2 billion in funding resources.
I understand that standing up against a project like this is tough. It's backed by two governors, two state departments of transportation, years and millions of dollars' worth of staff work, plus a political ball that's been rolling for years. This project is Goliath, and Adams would be David—if he would just accept the role.
He could jar a council that's currently looking too narrowly at the project, where commissioners are focusing on whether it has light rail and "adequate" bike and pedestrian facilities (which earned the project a green light from Commissioner Randy Leonard) and wondering what the future light rail fare will be (Commissioner Nick Fish's concern).
Adams could really go out on a limb, advocating for a study on implementing transit and tolls first, to alleviate congestion and give people options. He could look to our neighbors along the West Coast, like San Francisco, where they're currently replacing the Bay Bridge to Oakland with one that doesn't add any lanes. Or Seattle, which may go on a road diet, if activists succeed in replacing a waterfront freeway with nothing but surface roads (the option is under serious consideration).
Instead, Adams is the guy who gets his council colleagues to sign a tepid June 18 letter outlining the council's priorities on the project (weeks before public testimony, might I add; can't you guys at least pretend to care what we think?), in advance of his June 24 task force vote in support of the big bridge option. The council's letter calls for light rail and begs for oversight on the project, but ultimately green lights an option that doubles auto capacity.
By way of contrast, the city's own Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) didn't mince words in their June 2 letter, saying that the project potentially "conflicts... with local policies on sustainability and climate change," and calling for an independent review of the project's data and analysis before the council votes on it.
SDC Co-Chair Justin Yuen talked to Adams and the rest of the council on June 26, backing up the letter with pointed questions: Why weren't repair options studied, or a phased option that explores tolling and transit first, before adding lanes? And Catherine Ciarlo of the city's Planning Commission added that "we may not have the right bridge for the right time here."