The $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing keeps getting more expensive for taxpayers, even before it gets built—in part because the price of a pet project of the National Park Service is going up.
Buried in the CRC budget is $16.9 million to pay for a new museum in Vancouver—specifically, a "curational facility" to house artifacts dug up at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site during the project's construction.
CRC officials claim the museum is required mitigation for taking up to 3 acres of historic Fort Vancouver property for construction of new highway on-ramps.
But no federal law requires a public museum, and the price pencils out to about $129 a square foot—on par with spendy Pearl District real estate.
Forensic accountant Tiffany Couch first revealed the line item as part of her work combing through the project's finances for anti-CRC activist and Clark County Commissioner David Madore.
The spending has angered U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), whose district includes the CRC. "I don't feel like this is based on need as much as want," she tells WW.
The Columbian reported last month Herrera Beutler—long a critic of the CRC—sent a letter March 6 to CRC co-director Nancy Boyd objecting to $10 million for a museum in a transportation project's budget.
Boyd's response, a March 26 letter to Herrera Beutler obtained by WW, says the museum will include "interpretive elements," including exhibits on the properties that are destroyed or adversely impacted by the CRC. (There are no buildings standing on land the CRC will claim.)
In the letter, Boyd acknowledges the projected cost of the museum has jumped to $16.9 million.
Fort Vancouver—just north of the Columbia River—is the city's namesake, a 208-acre site that was a British fur-trading post in the 1800s and also served as a U.S. Army barracks.
The National Park Service already has a secure, climate-controlled facility on site where it stores more than 2 million archaeological and historic artifacts. But that facility is nearly full, park officials say. "There is merit and there is reason to this," park service curator Theresa Langford says.
Herrera Beutler disagrees. "I do question if this is the best use of dollars," she says, "at a time when everyone is concerned about the price tag of this project.â