This morning, Portland mayoral candidate and Commissioner Sam Adams dropped his controversial $5.5 million plan to plop the old Sauvie Island Bridge over I-405 at Northwest Flanders Street. The "recycled" bridge would've been dedicated to bicyclists, walkers and the otherwise un-motored.
The reason, he said, was new information from the Portland Office of Transportation, which Adams oversees. The bureau's financial folks projected a $2 million shortfall in gas tax revenue from the state, which constitutes a big share of PDOT's budget.
There's one big problem
with this explanation.
A share of the state gas tax goes into a part of PDOT's budget called "general transportation revenue." And Adams had never proposed paying for the new bike bridge with general transportation revenue. He was going to pay for it with a combination of system development charges, urban renewal dollars from the Pearl District, state and federal funds, and money from the city's general fund money.
: Adams hung a decision that was pretty evidently political on a projected gas tax shortfall, even though the gas tax wasn't going to pay for the bridge
When his spending choices are criticized
—as when opponents say, sometimes unfairly, that he buys streetcars at the expense of sidewalks—Adams points out, sometimes correctly, that different types of projects are paid for out of "different pots of money."
But here, Adams is trying to have it both ways
, by claiming that a shortfall in one pot of money requires cutting a project paid for out of another pot.
Since there's so many different goddamn money pots—and it's hard not to doze off at phrases like "general transportation revenue" and "system development charges"—few outside City Hall have so far noticed Adams' sleight of hand.
PDOT director Sue Keil
tells WWire that even though the bike bridge was to be paid for with outside funds, Adams feared rising costs for the project would eventually force it to dip into general transportation revenue.
"Sam asked us to review project costs on everything," Keil says. "He was concerned that there was going to be escalation in that project's costs
and other projects' costs. And frankly, the gap would be on transportation's back, if they went ahead with it."
"With the escalation in fuel and asphalt and concrete, you name it, I think it's a pretty safe bet that the price would've been higher."
Updated 5.35 p.m.
Adams doesn't just blame rising fuel prices for his decision. There's also the fact that his original sole-source contract for the project would've capped the bridge cost at $5.5 million. Adams says that after Commissioner Dan Saltzman—"with the best of intentions"—wanted a portion of the project to go out for competitive bidding, that cost certainty was lost.
Now, Adams says, "I can't assure myself or the public that I can bring it in at $5.5 [million.]"
Adams also says Mayor Tom Potter's opposition to the project "poisoned the well" for any efforts to privately fund the bridge.
"It's just factually incorrect for the mayor to say that this corridor is safe," Adams says.
on BikePortland.org—online home of the city's bike lobby
, which broke the bad bike bridge news last night—is mixed. Here's a sample:
"Is it just me, or is Sam starting to show a trend of supporting visionary projects and then backing away when it becomes politically difficult to back the project? I am very disappointed by this reversal."
"Nice how he did this after I just mailed in my vote for him. Not that it would have affected MY vote, but certainly it seems like a shifty political bait and switch."
"I'm more in Sam's camp than ever after this move. ... I DO understand how the picture changes with $ figures and Sam has proved, once again, his vision in supporting the re-use AND his prudence in pulling the plug. This is NOT a matter of betrayal or politics."
The mayoral campaign of Adams' chief opponent, Sho Dozono
, released this gloating statement this afternoon:
PORTLAND, Or.-Mayoral candidate Sho Dozono issued the following statement regarding the Sauvie Island Bridge project today at City Hall.
“For the sake of the taxpayers I am pleased that my opponent came to his senses and ended the Sauvie Island Bridge project. This proposal is the most recent, in a long list of projects that are completely out of synch with the City's core priorities. If I was not running for Mayor and challenging City Hall's spending, my opponent would have continued to ram-rod this pet project through,” Dozono said.
“With recent media accounts of the $18.5 million cost overrun to the city's new payroll computer system and the doubling of the cost of the Eastside Streetcar Burnside/Couch Couplet project, Sam Adams knew that spending $5.5 million on a bridge for the Pearl District and NW Portland was not going to make Portland taxpayers happy,” Dozono said..
“I have consistently communicated my opposition to the Sauvie Island Bridge project. I support safe alternative for pedestrians and cyclists. There are so many other pressing priorities such as safe sidewalks for all of Portland's school children and the lack of affordable housing for Portlanders who are one paycheck away from losing their homes,” Dozono said.
“Commissioner Sam Adams indicated that his “flip-flop” on the Sauvie Island Bridge project is due to rising energy prices. How can anyone not be aware of rising gas prices? Since the beginning, Commissioner Adams has manipulated City Hall to spend money on his projects without the scrutiny of the general public,” Dozono said.
“Portlanders have the opportunity to send a clear message to Sam Adams, one that says you want a City Hall that is accountable to taxpayers. As Mayor, I will focus the City on providing core services to Portlanders,” Dozono said.
“My campaign is focused on prioritizing spending. I have promoted a rainy day fund to weather downturns in the economy. I have proposed a $50M set aside specifically for infrastructure and public safety so that core services will not face budget cuts in budget-cutting years. I have the experience to lead in challenging economic times,” Dozono said.