Why I Support Rex for Metro

By Martin Burch of Portland, Oregon. Martin describes himself as a long-time active and extremely liberal Democrat interested in the local effect of environmental, infrastructure, transportation, energy, and defense policies.

I’m for Rex for Metro president. I’ve met and spoken with all three candidates and personally like them all. Bob has a solid reputation after his 1000 Friends of Oregon tenure, Tom has the experience and insight from the suburban regions of the Metro area, and Rex has experience with the Metro way of doing business and clientele. All of the men share my extremely progressive views concerning urban and rural usage and planning, the environment, and the quality of life we have and aspire to here in the Portland metro area.

But Rex is the best choice for me. Here’s why.

The Columbia River Crossing: Let’s cut to the chase on this. Somehow the notion of a 14-lane mega-bridge serving primarily combustion engine vehicles has come to be the symbol of the CRC. Thing is, no design has been picked for the bridge yet. And this is NOT the bridge Rex wants. But more importantly, Rex understands that the CRC isn’t about a bridge. The crossing is a series of bridges and transportation modalities. From West Hayden Island down to I-205, there are a number of river crossings we already use. There’s the Port and the ships that dock on both sides of the river. There’s a vibrant private marine industry and capacity in the area where fishermen and boaters ply the river every day. There’s a heavy rail bridge (more about this in a minute), the almost 100-year-old Interstate Bridge, there are two airports, and then the I-205 bridge. The Columbia River Crossing isn’t a bridge, it’s a corridor.

Rex understands that and has consistently resisted my earnest and constant pleading that he take the bridge as a political lever and use it. He’s told me personally on several occasions, as has his staff, that there’s more to Metro than the bridge and while it’s of paramount importance, it’s more vital to take the time to explain the details than make an issue out of something that IS NOT EVEN PLANNED. Rex won’t engage in misleading voters on this topic. “Metro is more than the bridge”, he explains.

My recommendation for everyone concerning the bridge is this: Walk it. Before you go vote, go walk across the Interstate Bridge and see for yourself. The 1917 side is in far better shape than the 1958 side. It’s a dirty and congested bridge, there is rampant surface corrosion, but more importantly, it’s just too damn old and small for today’s needs. That we have to replace it, to me, isn’t an issue for discussion. Our infrastructure is, for want of a better word, archaic, whether it’s our roads, our sewers, our water system, or our rails. Like it or not we here alive in 2010 have the task of building the infrastructure for our descendants to use as the US Tricentinial approaches; yes, we’ll have to pay for it and use it, but we’re building it for them. And we do indeed have to build these crossings.

We all love the notion of using light rail as a primary means of moving people, and Bob’s notion of smaller buses is noteworthy. But a hard truth is our real railroad problem is in heavy rail. Light rail moves people, heavy rail moves freight and far more freight moves in and out of Portland than people. There’s no doubt in my mind we have to improve and expand our already almost world-class light rail system. We need more public transportation not less. But we’re being short-sighted to focus entirely on light rail. Rex knows this.

There’s another truth we have to face: We already have urban sprawl. Most of us delight in our neighborhood structures here in Metro. Even in the suburbs one can find small centers of business and schools around which our houses and apartments are built. My wife and I love that we can walk to the grocery, to a wide choice of restaurants and entertainment venues, or to get our morning coffee. But we’re not going to get away from single-occupancy vehicles. In fact, if we’re more successful with alternative sources of energy and new technologies for engines and drive-trains, we’re going to see MORE SOVs as the years go by, not fewer. Aptera, for example, and Smith Electric Vehicles are already in mass production of electric cars and commercial trucks (well, Aptera is set to go into mass production this month, May, last time I checked). The internal combustion engine using gasoline is going to disappear, but not the cars and trucks on the road. Metro is a 40-some-odd mile wide conglomeration. Even with the most rigid urban growth boundaries, even with utopia we’re going to require SOVs. A lot of them.

What I’ve pushed for is not one bridge, but a series of crossings that deal with heavy and light rail, pedestrians and bicycles, SOVs and commercial trucks, and of course maritime and aviation.

Now, about the environment; the downstream effects of construction are my biggest concerns about the Columbia River Crossing corridor. Whatever construction we do has to take in to account the ecosystems of the Columbia, both in the area and downstream. On one hand, it does make more sense to build one bridge than several, as it will be more cost-effective and more environmentally sensitive. One set of pilings to drive, one construction project to finish, and wham, it’s over.

But on the other hand building two or even three specialized crossings, instead of one megaproject, also makes a lot of sense. Put the rails, heavy and light, together. Perhaps a people-powered transportation bridge for pedestrians and bicycles, like the bridge over the Thames (you know, the one the Death Eaters destroyed in Harry Potter’s “Half-Blood Prince”) should be a stand-alone project. And a bridge for SOVs and trucks could also be built for those specific requirements.

Rex understands the Columbia River Crossing corridor concept even if he doesn’t necessarily support my ideas. He sees it not as a political football with which to misinform people, but sincerely wants to make sure he informs the electorate, the citizens of Metro, of the details of what is proposed, why, and keep getting public input about what we need both today and tomorrow.

More importantly, Rex also understands that Metro is still a relative newcomer in the political realm, still cutting its teeth as it were as a governmental agency. I’ve said this to his face, but I like Rex as Metro president because he’s a “nerd”, or perhaps a nicer word is “wonk”, the public policy equivalent to a computer geek. Rex knows Metro in and out: The people, the policies, and the players. He’d not have to come in and learn the ropes. Maybe in 10 years we can afford to have Metro president be a role for newbies, but not yet.

I’m voting for Rex Burkholder for president of Metro.

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    Martin, I have biked and walked on the existing I-5 bridges across the Columbia. They're not ideal. That doesn't, however, mean that we should launch the most expensive public works project in the region's history.

    I simply don't think we should spend the $3,500 to $4,000 million - an average of $6,000 to $8,000 for every household in the region - building a shiny new bridge that's going to increase global warming pollution, when we've got so many other transportation needs in the region.

    Is my roof on my house perfect? Is my siding perfect? No. There will be a time to replace them, but right now, just like the I-5 bridges, there is plenty of life left in them.

    So, my recommendation for everyone concerning the bridge is to answer this question: if your household were given $6,000 to allocate to transportation (or other) priorities in the region, would you spend it on the shiny new megabridge, or look for cheaper solutions to I-5 congestion, freeing up the remainder for other projects?

    And that's why I'm supporting Bob Stacey, who has decades of experience understanding and working with various aspects of Metro, from all perspectives.

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    It's easy to say you are going to "look for cheaper solutions". Not so easy to say what those are, apparently.

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