The CRC: I've Got a Highway Expansion to Sell You

Evan Manvel

The state’s own records show [the mega-project] relies on faulty assumptions and won’t fix the traffic problem.

Wednesday’s Willamette Week has an article debunking several myths spread by proponents of the CRC highway mega-project. The article explains the project won’t solve congestion, it will be a huge financial risk because I-5 traffic levels have flat-lined, there are scads of higher safety priorities, and we have no clear plan to pay for the boondoggle.

Reporter Nigel Jaquiss leads the article by noting the determined opposition to the mega-project from Katie Eyre Brewer, a freshman Republican legislator from Hillsboro:

If anyone should love the idea, it’s… Eyre Brewer, a former leader of the local chamber of commerce… She won her House seat with big campaign checks from lobbying groups such as Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Business Association and Associated General Contractors.

Eyre Brewer, 45, is also a CPA for Harsch Investment Properties—the Schnitzer family real estate empire—and has plenty of experience analyzing complex financial deals.

Eyre Brewer is standing up to the project’s backers for a simple reason: She thinks the arguments for the Columbia River Crossing are flimsy, ill conceived and often untrue.

You should read the article. The punchline? "The state’s own records show [the mega-project] relies on faulty assumptions and won’t fix the traffic problem."

We know ODOT has a poor record of predicting costs, as its last three big projects are coming in at over twice their original cost estimates. And as I’ve previously written, mega-projects like the CRC almost always go significantly over budget (if the CRC is average, expect about a billion dollar overrun).

What’s perhaps more disturbing is Jaquiss' documentation of the pattern of falsehoods repeated by ODOT representatives. We’re paying the head of one Oregon’s largest agencies over $165,000 a year, and he's falling down on the job. Part of his work is to brief our state legislators, who rely on his information to decide whether to fund the most expensive project in the region’s history.

The statements from project backers aren’t complex facts that one could argue are true. They’re simply, pardon my language, bullshit. Anyone spending some research time can debunk them, such as the idea the area has the worst congestion in the I-5 corridor, or that this project is motivated by safety or seismic priorities. They’re often statements that are disproved by ODOT’s own databases and documents. And a quick internet search turns up a list of worse congestion on I-5 (plus, have you ever driven in Los Angeles or Seattle?).

The facts are clear: the CRC is a costly, risky, highway expansion mega-project, which happens to include a bridge. ODOT and their high-priced contractors have been peddling it as a bridge (which is less than half of the cost), and telling simple falsehoods about it to our representatives.

Hopefully our elected officials from Congress to the Governor’s office will start demanding a higher standard, just as Representative Eyre Brewer has. Because $4+ billion ain’t chicken feed, and our decisions today will have huge repercussions for generations to come.

Some other tidbits for those following the CRC:

UPDATE: A Bicycle Transportation Alliance blog post explains how to send testimony to the Metro Council (or go to the hearing).

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    Disclaimer: I've done some paid work for the Coalition for a Livable Future on this issue.

    I speak only for myself.

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    The big warning flags flew up for me when they ignored public input. People who live and work in the area had some good issues, and then people asked to have light-rail and pedestrian/bicycle lanes put in, and were quickly ignored in favor of putting more lanes in. Sorry, but this has less and less resemblance to a bridge between communities, and more solving a non-problem.

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    Great article, Evan. Keep 'em coming.

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    Evan, I thought we needed it because of all the Jags, BMWs and Mercedes clogging the current bridge by pulling U-Hauls to Clark County to avoid our income tax?

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    Sorry, I fully support the CRC which has to be built for potential traffic capacity for the nect 100 years.

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    I'm I being totally naive or isn't much of the increase of traffic in recent years to/from Vancouver from Washington County? So has anyone looked into extending HWY 217 over the Columbia into Vancouver and perhaps creating another loop route like I-205? Wouldn't three major routes over the Columbia be better than two, especially if an accident or other problem effectively shuts one bridge down?

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      Unless you are talking about a very expensive tunnel, I think that would mean cutting through Forest Park or a major wildlife corridor from the Oregon Coast range to the heart of the region.

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    I predict that just by tolling the bridge, people in Clark County would be a lot more willing to "shop local" instead of driving to Oregon for tax-free purchases and therefore, heavily cut down on the bridge and Rose Quarter traffic. Sorry for the run-on sentence.

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      Well I'm sure the employees of those Oregon businesses will be totally onboard with discouraging customers from spending money here in or state.

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        And employees of those Washington businesses will be totally onboard with encouraging customers from spending money in their state. So the sum is zero, as far as effect on support for tolling.

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    There is a plan, which is known as the "Common Sense Alternative", which would cost $1.8 billion less than the CRC, would solve the congestion problem and, also, will facilitate more alternatives to auto-commuting than does the CRC.

    It can be easily located by googling: Common Sense Alternative CRC

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    Urban planners cite the long established tendency for new highway projects to invite even more traffic and more congestion as more development occurs along feeder routes in response to the highway construction. The answer to congestion is to create alternatives. If this issue is a public works project to increase employment, there are much better projects. The problem here is attracting right wing support. The GOP never say a highway or freeway they didn't love.

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    Actually, Bill, much of the opposition to the CRC in Vancouver is being driven by activist Republicans. I strongly urge anyone opposed to this to attend Thursday's Metro council meeting at 2 p.m., where that body will be considering a resolution about this issue.

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    Someplace a few months ago I saw a well-thought out proposal that augmented rail for freight and built several smaller bridges to handle more traffic. It seemed far less risky and more productive than the massive CRC proposal is now.

    Portland residents are going to have to live with our decisions for the next 100 years. Let's make sure it's the right one.

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