In the ongoing Columbia River Crossing saga, you’d be hard-pressed to find tighter allies than the Washington Department of Transportation and David Evans & Associates. One is the powerful road-building agency whose staffers lead the CRC. The other is a Portland engineering firm hired by WashDOT to be the CRC prime contractor. Yet, these two organizations seemingly joined at the hip find themselves on the opposite sides of a lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia. David Evans quietly sued WashDOT last month to block the agency from releasing its audited financial statements. Notolls.com, an anti-CRC group, had filed a public records request with the CRC seeking the financial information.
Last Saturday the Antiplanner participated in a conference about the Columbia River Crossing, a government-planning effort aimed at replacing a bridge that doesn’t need to be replaced so Portland can sneak its light-rail system (and associated land-use planning) into Vancouver, Washington. One of the more fascinating presentations at the conference came from Tiffany Couch, a forensic accountant who has been studying the budget of the planning team called the Columbia River Crossing. It is public knowledge that this team has already spent $130 million doing nothing but pushing paper around. Since the bridge itself could be built for less than a billion dollars, that’s a healthy share of the cost. Of course, the planners’ goal is to spend well over $3 billion on the bridge, which would include money for light rail and other bells and whistles that are probably just as unnecessary.
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Lawyers on both sides of a legal challenge hoping to derail the Columbia River Crossing made their case to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals on Thursday morning. A group of Oregon neighborhood and business organizations last month challenged the Metro Council’s decision to give its thumbs up to light rail and freeway improvements planned as part of a new Interstate 5 bridge. The Metro Council, which leads the Portland area regional government, approved a Land Use Final Order by a 6-1 vote.
The first lawsuit aimed at stalling the $3 billion Columbia River crossing project has been filed. The Oregonian reported that the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and the Coalition for a Livable Future contend that the Metro Council on Aug. 11 inappropriately used a light-rail siting statute and gave the go-ahead for what is predominantly a freeway project. Three businesses in Northeast Portland or Hayden Island also are challenging Metro’s decision.
There are many, many things wrong with the Columbia River Crossing project (it doesn’t exactly fix Marquam Bridge congestion or Rose Quarter congestion, for example), but this latest report is one of the stupidest decisions in a long time. The region does not need Jantzen Beach shopping, as evidenced by the struggles of its stores. Washingtonians who want to duck sales taxes can easily drive to the Delta Park big-box center, where Walmart may soon appear, and to what I call the Ikea Corridor, where big-box stores have been sprouting like mushrooms (check it out if you haven’t been there in a couple of years).
Thirty-five floating homes sit directly in the path of the Columbia River Crossing, the massive bridge-freeway expansion. The CRC intends to forcibly buy out the locals as construction nears, a plan that inspires resistance, resignation and hope that project is derailed by its considerable funding woes.
As proposed in the CRC Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), overall construction won’t start until 2013 and could last up to seven years. And there’s no telling how long it would take CRC officials to begin purchasing property in the Shumway Neighborhood.
In the meantime, the Shaubs are stuck with a house that was supposed to be their retirement home, but is now on borrowed time. They would rather sell as soon as possible and get on with their lives.
Last week, on September 8th the Metro Council held a regular meeting, but this particular gathering was more monumental than the usually mundane affair. They approved Resolution 11-4288 “For the purpose of authorizing the Council President to sign the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Columbia River Crossing Project.” I made it out to the meeting. What I saw confirmed a lot about what I have always heard about Metro’s listening skills. The night before, I heard a presentation by the Willamette Week’s famed Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, Nigel Jaquiss, talk about conflicts of interest and deception in the Columbia River Crossing’s (CRC) planning process. This was followed by Tiffany Couch, a forensic accountant, who is auditing the CRC’s books.
The people running the Columbia River Crossing project veered into Orwellian territory last week when they announced they had found $100 million in savings that could be cut from the cost of the giant freeway bridge project. Several media outlets, such as the Portland Tribune and the Portland Business Journal, swallowed the news whole. The Columbian’s headline was taken almost verbatim from the press release: “Update: CRC Cuts $100 Million From Cost Estimate.” That’s not much of a trim from the Interstate 5 freeway bridge and light-rail project’s previously estimated cost of $3.6 billion
The Columbia River Crossing may take two years longer to complete than planners thought a year ago, with recent estimates for a completion now stretching as far as August 2022. The cost of the delay — caused by missing several key deadlines in late 2010 and also the revamp of the bridge design this year — is already included in the current $3.1 billion to $3.5 billion estimate for the project, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Wake up, wonderful people of Oregon and Washington and the Portland-Vancouver metro area. We cannot afford the Columbia River Crossing as it is currently proposed with its $3.6 billion price tag, no matter how much we want it or the engineers tell us we need it. Let’s be honest. We have a crisis on our hands. With trillions of dollars in U.S. debt, America’s credit rating downgrade, a teetering Wall Street financial system, unacceptable unemployment levels and crippling personal credit debt, it would be fiscal foolishness to further burden taxpayers in this besieged economy.
The Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project carries a $10 billion* price tag. To date, how the project will be funded has not been ascertained and is referred to as a “debt bomb” by Chris Girard in his preface to the Cortright Report. Despite the heavy price tag, the CRC project falls short of fixing other known transportation issues, such as the bottlenecks at the Rose Quarter and the Terwilliger Curves on the Oregon side of the river, and congestion restrained by limiting the river crossings to only two.
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