The mess that is the Columbia River Crossing.

Carla Axtman

The people that brought you the current hot mess are about to choose a new hot mess.

Oregon's well-publicized budget woes have put us all on alert to expect significant budget cuts and (hopefully) a serious look at changing the revenue structure for the state. At a time when we're told that sacrifices must be made, I'm downright baffled at the hot mess that has become the Columbia River Crossing.

Despite the Oregonian Editorial Board's Pollyanish view of the latest developments, the fact that this monster has just been trashed by the top-dog panel consulting on the project because of safety concerns and out-of-control construction costs is huge. Basically, we've spent tens of millions on nothing more than some pretty rendered drawings of a structure--and bunch of consultants who made them, that has design flaws which cannot be overcome.

Sarah Mirk, The Portland Mercury:

So how did a bad design get this far along? The short answer: At almost every step, in the interest of breaking ground, officials were willing to set aside major concerns about the design's feasibility and cost.

Last year, a 16-person expert review panel determined that the CRC's chosen design—a 12-lane double-decker span supported by girders on each side—had never before been attempted. The panel calculated that the bridge's experimental nature would require an extra three years of work totaling $600,000.

Then, in a report released February 3, the panel offered three other designs for the bridge, each costing $10 million to $100 million less than the experimental design. Deep in the report is a scathing assessment of the design the CRC project took years to craft: "There is no technical or aesthetic advantage justifying the considerable risks associated with this design."

The CRC staff and the Project Sponsors Council, a group of state and local leaders in charge of the bridge, hammered out the seriously flawed design in 2008 and 2009. After four politicians on the council (Portland Mayor Sam Adams, then-Metro President David Bragdon, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart) raised a stink about the cost and impact of the bridge in winter 2010, the governors pulled together the expert panel. Last August, the council wound up slicing the bridge from 12 lanes to 10, but pushed forward with the flawed design despite concerns. And now the entire bridge will be reworked.

The three alternative designs for consideration were laid out and the Governors of Oregon & Washington have decided to push forward. The weird thing is, they've decided to do so on a three week timeline. They want the two Departments of Transportation to present them with a new plan for the bridge by February 21. Just a couple of weeks ago, both of these Departments were assuring residents of their state that the just-debunked design was feasible and cost-effective.

In other words, the people that brought you the current hot mess are about to choose a new hot mess. And won't a new design potentially present significant changes to the way the bridge will impact residents, the environment, costs to taxpayers, etc? There appears, at least so far, to be little in the way of engaging the public. It's a train that seems destined to roll on no matter what.

This project's cost, by ODOT's estimates, are roughly $4 billion over the next 30 years (assuming there are no cost-overruns). This includes capital,but not interest and operating costs., which will certainly add significantly more. It also doesn't include the work likely needed to resolve identified issues in the Rose Quarter.

As Mirk notes, this project's hallmark has been the setting aside of major concerns for the sake of moving forward. Now the Oregon Legislature is going to be asked to fund this new design, decided by two agencies with a history of screwing it up, with money that we clearly don't have right now.

I would love it if someone could explain to me how this isn't a recipe for disaster.

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    I wonder if the desire to push something through has anything to do with the possibility of securing federal funds. If Obama is successful at passing some sort of transportation infrastructure program, then there's a chance federal money could help finance a project. Not sure if that's the case, but I do wonder.

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    "I would love it if someone could explain to me how this isn't a recipe for disaster."

    It could be done, Carla, but it would be complete bulldropping. Columbia Crossing has never been about wise infrastructure investment. It has been about those who want a big construction project getting us to pay for it. Transportation infrastructure is good investment if it is appropriate infrastructure. ThMegaga-bridge plan represents bad planning, foolish resource allocation, and it seems, incompetent engineering.

    Epic fail! It's time to reboot with competent, forward-looking planners.

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    I've been around this project for a while, and occasionally people ask me what I would do to promote it. Here's what I recommend:

    (1) A clear, easy-to-read website filled with FACTS!

    (2) The goals of the new bridge - PRIORITIZED!

    (3) The bridge options that were considered.

    (4) CONCRETE arguments against the other proposals.

    (5) A NO LIGHTRAIL option.

    (6) What are the demands from each side: Portland vs. Vancouver.

    (7) A toll schedule.

    (8) An unequivocal guarantee that the 205 bridge will NOT have tolls.

    (9) A list of who benefits and who loses from their plan.

    (10) Who goes to jail or is impeached if they make a promise that is a lie?

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    Much needed infrastructure expansion on a major U.S. Interstate arterial. Why wouldn't it be federally funded? Where are our congressional delegates on this?

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    What would China do? Would they dither and whither and dilly and dally over a mile and a half long bridge to be build over a flat river with minimal tidal reach, or would they "Just Build It" (apologies to Nike).

    Per NPR today, in 5 - 8 years China will be the largest economy in the world. I suggest we stop waiting for them take control of all of us and just build the damn bridge,

    Quit Talking. Start Digging. (TM)

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    Lest we forget that Portlandia's predilection for "iconic" designs is one of the main reasons we got here, a blast from the past:

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    We need to simply kill the project. Shut it down and fire everyone involved. Start from scratch with a completely new committee that isn't vested in pushing a predetermined project, and will instead give serious consideration to alternatives. The hundred million dollars of study will provide a little bit of a head start to an honest process, but we need to look at less expensive options that keep the existing bridge and enhance it, rather than ripping out and replacing it.

    We already have six lanes across the Columbia. Why waste them, when the cost of removing the bridge isn't much different than the cost of fixing it up?

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