Salem River Crossing: The CRC's Mini-Me

With the northern half of the Oregon's attention focused on the controversial Columbia River Crossing, the state's got a little-brother project in the works an hour's drive south.

Meet the Salem River Crossing: an estimated $687 million bridge connecting West Salem to the Salem Parkway that's stirring up the waters in Marion County.

Like Interstate 5 to Clark County, traffic from Salem's downtown over the Willamette River is undeniably a problem. But opponents are questioning whether a totally new, pricy third bridge is necessary, the Salem Weekly reports.

The city of Salem and other stakeholders are still in the process of picking their favorite option, which includes not building anything at all, improving the existing bridges for somewhere between $4 million and $20 million, or constructing a new one for hundreds of millions of dollars, the newspaper says.

The problems faced by the CRC—a $3.5 billion megaproject to replace Interstate 5 bridges to Washington, improve five miles of highway interchanges and add light rail to downtown Vancouver—are beginning to show there.

True for both the CRC and the SRC: Traffic on the existing bridges is well below what planners predicted when work began in 2006.

Both are also behind schedule: the CRC won't start until late 2014. In 2008, plans for CRC construction were set for 2010, and by 2010, word was construction would start in 2012. The SRC is now more than four years behind as well, with planners hoping for federal approval in 2014, the Salem Weekly says.

Both projects also have big spending plans—but neither has any money dedicated for construction.

"You could cut/paste 'Columbia' for 'Salem' and it would be just as true," Portland economist and CRC critic Joe Cortright writes WW in an email. "As Dave Barry would say 'I'm not making this up.'"