Part 2: No Oregonians on Columbia River Task Force

Carla Axtman

A few days ago I blogged about the fact that the Governor had appointed no Oregonians to the Columbia River Crossing Task Force, which seemed inexplicable at the time. After a few elapsed days since that post, I wish I could say the skies have cleared and it all makes sense.

This even after spending time talking it over with Kulongoski spokesperson Anna Richter-Taylor, who did her best to make me see their side. "This is a panel brought in for a review of the work to date," Richter-Taylor said. "It's not about decision making yet to be done." She went on to say that the Task Force will be looking in to concerns raised having to do with the modeling used for the project as well as transparency. She said that 300 names were pulled together before whittling down to the eight who will do the job--and if folks take time to look at their bios and expertise, they'll understand why they were chosen. Further, all meetings will be public and will solicit information and input from Oregonians and Washingtonians.

At least one reporter has already taken Richter-Taylor's suggestion to dig into the Task Force members. Sarah Mirk at the Portland Mercury discovered some unsettling information on the chair, Tom Warne.


For the past nine years, Warne has traveled around the country chairing expert review panels like this one but for projects like the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, the Hood Canal Floating Bridge and Seattle's 520 Floating Bridge.

But before that, at the Utah Department or Transportation, he got the ball rolling on two big freeway projects: the I-15 and the Legacy Freeway. Warne brags on his website that as chief in Utah, he was "responsible for the $1.59 billion I-15 Reconstruction Project which has become the benchmark for >large highway construction projects."

In some Oregonians' opinions, that project was the benchmark for how NOT to plan a freeway. In a case called Davis v. Mineta, the I-15 freeway project wound up getting slapped by a judge for having a flawed environmental assessment: the freeway planners had not looked at enough alternatives to their freeway plan, said the judge. That's exactly the criticism local officials have of the CRC. Freeway planners were set on building the big bridge and refused to seriously evaluate smaller, more sustainable alternatives.

While I understand that the task force isn't going to make decisions, it's disconcerting that someone involved in such a sloppy project is now going to be the chair of the group scrutinizing ours.

This is a project that should reflect the values of Oregonians. A giant cement slab that appears to have enriched the pockets of a bunch of consultants seems far from those values. The CRC Task Force is in a quandry, too. If it rubber stamps the bridge and process as is with no substantive objections, skeptics won't take it seriously without at least one reputable Oregonian and the Governor will have wasted $750k (the budget for the Task Force) trying to convince us everything is hunky dory. If they find problems, then what? All these folks bug out and none of them actually has to live with the consequences.

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    Note: Sorry about the formatting in the Blogtown excerpt..still trying to work out the kinks in using the new system. Please hang in there with me.

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      I was also amused to see that when you hit the "save and continue editing" button, it posts your piece. My first one was crazy, too. But we'll figure it out...

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        That could be a feature, like restaurants with glass partitions so you can watch them cook!

        The one that's been throwing me is when you post, and get a "server 500 error" with a message that it didn't post, but when you go back it has. 3 times it had, once it hadn't.

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    $3-4 billion is a whole lot of money. Oregon has many higher priorities both inside and outside the transportation sector for these funds. Cheaper alternatives to improve and provide Columbia River crossings in the Portland-Vancouver area have been put forward and rejected for no clear reasons. The charge to this new task force is too narrow. I find it hard to interpret these recent words of Anne Richter-Taylor as suggesting a broader review. “Modelling” and “transparency” are not the major problems, considering alternatives and reducing costs are. So the CRC remains largely an outright boondoogle. Oregon would be better served by just dumping the dollars being spent on this task force into the Columbia River.

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      “Modelling” and “transparency” are not the major problems, considering alternatives and reducing costs are.

      David, I couldn't agree more. These sound like the perfect people to solve the wrong problem. If you're a highway builder, every problem looks like it can be solved by a new highway.

      For chris'akes. Didn't we figure that one out in the 1970s, with the Mt. Hood Expressway and replacing Harbor Drive with Waterfront Park, and in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s with the West Side Bypass?

      Sometimes it seems like the ghost of Robert Moses is alive and well.

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    as i commented on Sarah's piece at Blogtown, the I520 in Seattle is more of a mess than the CRC. leave it to Kulo to get this exactly wrong.

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