By Evan Manvel of Portland, Oregon. Evan is a long-time alternative-transportation advocate and the legislative director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
The largest public works project proposed in Oregon history has thus far been little discussed on BlueOregon. Why aren’t we discussing the $4.2 billion mastadon in the room?
I refer, of course, to the Columbia River Crossing. Or as I prefer to call it, the Columbia River Megabridge.
We must ask ourselves: is a huge new I-5 bridge the most important project in our region’s history, the best way to improve safety, or the best way to move freight and people? And is it responsible to fuel suburban sprawl and increase climate change, given our collective goal to decrease global warming emissions by 80%?
In short, is the bridge worth $4,200,000,000?
In case you can’t get your mind around that, it’s $2,000 for every resident in the region – roughly $8,000 for a family of four.
When the City Council is struggling to decide whether we can afford the $463 million Safe, Sound, and Green Streets effort, or the $50 million Grey to Green Initiative, and decided the $5 million I-405 bike-pedestrian bridge was too expensive, it seems foolish to sign off on a $4.2 billion bridge. While not all the pots of money involved are perfectly fungible, project backers avoid the fact that there are real trade-offs, and building this project means many, many, many others go un-built.
Given the project’s scale, we deserve better data about it. As The Oregonian recently reported, the project models presume an expanded new bridge would have no land use impacts.
Forty percent more cars, and no impact on land use. That’s not the sort of model I’d bet $4.2 billion on. Would you?
Tomorrow, the Portland City Council will vote on whether to sign off on the project (the LPA, or locally preferred alternative), based on scant and sketchy information about global warming impacts, financing, and bridge design. If they do, their role becomes advisory. They no longer have any decision-making power on the project. They can ask nicely for the bridge to look pretty, to have bike lanes of a certain width, and so forth. But they can’t make it so. So make no mistake – once local governments sign off, they’re done.
The responsible alternative? Require an independent study on the land use, transportation, and global warming impacts of the project before making a decision. It would be foolish to rush the decision about the largest public works project in our history.
Commissioner Saltzman has started to consider asking for such action, and he needs to be encouraged. Now’s the time to contact your City Commissioners and the Mayor and ask them to not sign off on the LPA until we can make an informed decision, including information about global warming impacts.
Call 503-823-4000 for the City Council switchboard, or click here to send an email.