BRIDGE BUCKS: Tom Hughes and Loretta Smith (top left). Bob Stacey and Karol Collymore (bottom right).
Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Metro President David Bragdon and other local officials came together this week to endorse a scaled-down version of the Columbia River Crossing.
Instead of building a new, 12-lane I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, as endorsed by project managers, local leaders on the CRC's project sponsors council threw their weight Monday behind a 10-lane bridge with a smaller interchange on Hayden Island.
They also blasted what they called the project's previous top-down management style by Oregon and Washington state officials, saying local collaboration is crucial.
"It's a multimodal, multijurisdictional project," Bragdon says. "It takes a truly engaged process."
Already-elected leaders want more collaboration, but the issue of how best to build the estimated $3.6 billion project is creating sharp divisions in the two biggest local candidate contests on the November ballot.
In both the Metro president's election and the race to represent North and Northeast Portland on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, trade unions that stand to gain jobs from a bridge have plowed money toward candidates they see as friendly to the project. Metro has a role in the project as the region's transportation planner. Multnomah County has no direct part to play, but for a project this sensitive, any elected official could gum up the process.
Since the May 18 primary, Metro presidential candidate Tom Hughes has taken a combined $11,000 from the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon, the Local 48 electricians, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters and the Oregon plumbing industry. County commissioner candidate Loretta Smith has collected $1,000 from the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and the Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37.
In both cases, the unions' support has helped those candidates keep pace in the fundraising race since the primary. Hughes, a former mayor of Hillsboro, has raised $116,000 overall since May 18. His opponent, Bob Stacey, has banked $118,000 since May 18 overall. In the county race, Smith and her opponent, Karol Collymore, have each raised $11,000 since the primary.
"The bridge is important, and those candidates gave us their commitment to supporting it," says Lynn Lehrback, state political director for the Teamsters union, which endorsed Hughes and Smith.
The irony is this: A candidate's stance on the bridge may be key to fundraising, but observers like Pacific University political-science professor Jim Moore say it's not likely to be the central issue for voters in either race.
In the Metro race, Moore says voters are more worried about land-use issues. In the county race in North and Northeast Portland—where residents suffer pollution and gridlock from the bridge—Moore says the CRC could be more important. But only if Collymore comes out strongly against an expansive project.
"There are a lot of union people who live in that district," Moore says. "It seems to me to be almost an act of desperation if you make that a central part of the campaign. It could really blow up on you."
And Collymore, an aide to county Chairman Jeff Cogen, isn't exactly charging into battle against the bridge.
"I've heard some people say that I do not support CRC, but that isn't necessarily true," she says. "I think it needs to be smaller, and the environmental impacts need to be more fleshed out."
Smith says she backs the 10-lane bridge alternative.
"I support unions that are building living-wage jobs, and I support Columbia River Crossing," says Smith, an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "[Unions] recognize that—that it's about jobs."
In the Metro race, Stacey is a former director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Oregon. His most powerful support comes from groups like Sierra Club and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
But like Collymore, Stacey isn't angling to make CRC the center of his campaign. He says the main issue in the race will be growth management.
"We both support getting the [bridge] built. The distinction is that I have some standards," Stacey says. "It should not increase pollution."
Hughes says a 12-lane bridge has the best chance of reducing congestion. The 10-lane bridge backed by Adams and Bragdon's group is "essentially the same plan," Hughes says.
Hughes acknowledges his stand on the issue has given him an edge with unions. But he says other voters share his support for the project.
"I get asked about it at almost every conversation I have, whether it's with a union or out in the neighborhoods," Hughes says. "I almost never heard anybody say we ought not to build a bridge. The question is where and how fast we're going to build it."