December 4th, 2009 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Proposed Mega-Bridge Drifts Toward Gridlock



The big official news recently about the proposed Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland and Vancouver is the shaving of the price-tag from $4.2 billion to $3.6 billion.

Today, the Project Sponsors Council (which includes local electeds, transit officials and Department of Transportation officials from Washington and Oregon) punted on whether to vote to approve the down-sized option. Hayden Island residents —who face the loss of a Safeway, their primary shopping option, and the carving up of the island— turned up in force to pan the new approach.

In the long run, however, the best hope for Hayden Islanders and the project's many other critics may be the continued absence of funding for the project—and the result last month in the Vancouver mayor's race.

Metro Council President David Bragdon, a long-time critic of what he calls a "1970s approach to transportation" embraced by the two state DOTs, today highlighted an even bigger problem: no matter what squishy price-tag project sponsors advertise, there is no money for the project. Rather than tossing around grandiose designs and an endless series of possibilities, Bragdon suggested, it would be more realistic to start with how much money is actually available and design what—if anything—is affordable.

“Let's start with the revenue [or fiscal capacity to pay] likely to be available, rather than starting with the price tag of a particular version.” "Let's start with the price-tag," Bragdon says.

Whatever the cost, CRC staff have assumed that much of the money will come from tolling. "Tolling will be an important source of funding, along with federal and state dollars," says the introduction to the CRC's current tolling study.

That assumption looks a lot less solid after Tim Leavitt defeated Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard. In bridge terms, the election replaced an incumbent who was comfortable with tolling the new bridge with a tolling opponent.

Leavitt's position is slightly nuanced: he's fine with tolling in principle but wants an exemption for commuters and companies doing business between Oregon and Washington. That approach is a logistical challenge that probably would not fly legally because it discriminates against non-area residents. And most importantly, it would starve the project of tolling revenues that project sponsors acknowledge are a crucial source of funding.

Before any new bridge can be built, Clark County residents would need to vote to approve additional costs for C-Tran's share of the bridge's light-rail component. Although such a vote would not specifically address tolling, Portland Mayor Sam Adams says it could become a referendum on tolls and thus the entire project.

Adams says Leavitt's election, along with growing concerns about the proposed bridge's failure to reduce greenhouse gases, has contributed to his renewed skepticism about the CRC project. (He was against it before being for it and is now against it again).

"I now have a key partner who is opposed to tolls," Adams says now.

 
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