Bi-Partisan Group of 20 House Members Dings CRC

After years of debate about the proposed Columbia River Crossing project, backers of the bridge, lightrail and highway project have failed to convince some pretty key stakeholders that the project will reduce congestion, can be completed anywhere close to its $3.2 billion-$3.6 billion tentative budget—or is even necessary.

That, at least, is the takeaway from a straightforward letter [PDF] submitted yesterday by 20 members of the Oregon House as part of a hearing on House Joint Memorial 22, which "urges [the] federal government to fund Columbia River Crossing Project."

The 12 Democrats and eight Republicans who signed the letter preface their concerns with the disclaimer, "raising questions should not be construed as opposition to the new bridge." But the issues raised by the 20 lawmakers—one-third of the Oregon House—consider unsettled are so fundamental to the project's moving forward that they cast a pall over the chances of legislative support for the project.

Here are some of the key concerns the letter raises:

1) Congestion reduction: "It appears very much in question whether the CRC, absent Rose Quarter improvements [which are not included in the project] accomplishes much more than shifting the I-5 bottleneck to the south."

2) Traffic projections: A traffic increase is both the rationale for the project, and through tolling, would provide a key element of financing. "In the few years since the CRC's projections were issued, traffic over the bridge has not only failed to increase as forecast, it has actually declined," the representatives write..."[and] the decline in traffic preceded the recession by two full years."

3) The lawmakers' big picture conclusion: "If we are materially off-target on both projected costs and projected revenues, this could created enormous downside exposure for Oregon taxpayers," the representatives write. "We are not sure that this downside risk has been fully digested."