George Orwell, Meet the CRC

Evan Manvel

When the source of information being used for oversight is inaccurate or deliberately misleading, no adequate oversight can exist. And this is for the most expensive project in the region’s history.

Winston Smith must work for the Columbia River Crossing. Not that you could find him on the audited payroll, but I’m sure he’s there.

Smith is the protagonist of 1984, George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel. In the book he works for the Ministry of Truth, spreading propaganda and pushing historical revisionism. Now, apparently, he’s gone to work for ODOT.

Until a couple of weeks ago, ODOT’s official website reported the current I-5 bridge spans were healthy. Now that fact has been “disappeared” from the web, dumped down a memory hole.

The inconvenient fact appeared on a page reporting on a 2005 bridge maintenance project. Here’s the key passage:

“This personalized care, combined with large maintenance projects, has kept the [I-5] spans healthy and free of weight restrictions. With ongoing preservation, the bridges can serve the public for another 60 years.”

On June 29th, I tweeted about this, which linked to an article of mine. ODOT replied, “That is not true!”

Confronted with the fact — from their own engineers, no less — did ODOT retract its claim that the bridges are in bad shape? Of course not: ODOT altered the web page to delete the inconvenient admission that the bridges would last another six decades. They claim it's not true, without providing any evidence to the contrary.

While reasonable people would be proud of maintaining the bridge spans so they’re healthy and can last another 60 years (much longer than scores of Oregon bridges), we’ve moved well beyond rationality with this boondoggle of a mega-highway project.

Apparently, any fact that contradicts the pro-megaproject narrative must be exterminated.

Our tax dollars being used to deliberately erase the truth and hide it from the public. You have the right to be outraged.

One wonders if ODOT will next disappear the ODOT Bridge Condition Report showing dozens of other bridges are in worse shape than the I-5 spans, or the Seismic Vulnerability Report showing Highway 101 is more threatened by earthquakes, or their Annual Crash report that shows the Fremont Bridge has more crashes, or their traffic model demonstrating the CRC doesn’t fix the traffic problem, or their Independent Review Panel’s report finding the mega-project of questionable worth without another billion-plus dollars for a Rose Quarter fix. Or their admission last month that "the bridge today is safe."

Already they ignore these facts, but perhaps they’ll now erase them.

ODOT and the CRC have long been running a multi-million dollar propaganda machine funded by the taxpayers. Yet they’re hiding any inconvenient facts, as reporters have continually found. The truth about funding problems, bridge design, traffic congestion, safety, viable alternatives, etc. all disappear when the CRC presents to legislators.

ODOT has mastered Orwellian doublespeak, simultaneously acknowledging they’re broke while planning to go deeply in debt to finance the most expensive project in the region’s history – a project which their own traffic reports models show won’t solve traffic congestion. WSDOT has done the same.

Yet the legislative oversight committees in Oregon and Washington overwhelmingly rely on the CRC, the joint venture of ODOT and WSDOT, for their information. At oversight hearings the CRC parades project proponents and paid lobbyists for the contractors, while avoiding presenting opponents or anything that would help legislators exercise their independent judgement.

When the source of information being used for oversight is inaccurate or deliberately misleading, no adequate oversight can exist. And this is for the most expensive project in the region’s history.

A more accountable oversight model would listen briefly to CRC project staff and then bring in truly independent evaluators.

Instead, the CRC and its backers are relying on the hope that our part-time citizen legislators will fail to realize they’re stuck in the middle of Orwell’s Oceania, with a highway-fetishizing agency offering up their conveniently scrubbed version of reality. In Oceania, as Winston Smith was forced to accept, 2+2=5.

Boondoggle, thy name is CRC.

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    Disclaimer: I've done some paid work against this boondoggle in the past. I speak only for myself.

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    Oh, and costly risky highway mega-project.

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      Still, Jefferson Smith had best stay away from ODOT headquarters, lest he be bound to a chair with a cage full of hungry rats lowered around his head.

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    Good work,Evan.

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    When I think how much new double-tracked high-speed railroad (including a high-level Columbia River rail bridge to eliminate bridge lifts) could be built for what the CRC is proposed to cost, it just makes want to puke.

    I want to see some studies on how much freight that is currently moving by truck could be more efficiently moved by rail. The Interstate highway system was built primarily to allow trucking to out-compete the railroads. Oil-rubber-concrete-Detroit trumped the once-powerful railroads after WWII. Now that the taxpayer-built freight highways are too crowded, the trucking industry wants the rest of us to cough up another huge subsidy for their profits.

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    Evan -- your writing on this subject should win you a Pulitzer. How about summarizing the CLF lawsuit against the CRC Environmental Impact Statement next. So far, no one in the press here has covered it.

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