Rex in a Box?

A mildly positive outcome from last night’s Columbia River Crossing task force meeting.

After about an hour of testimony, almost all of it from advocates for more options going into the DEIS process, the task force got down to the real business – deciding whether to add a fourth option to the alternatives.

Rex Burkholder played it cool, electing not to advance a specific option that might be shot down on technical grounds, but instead moving to create a sub-committee to bring back a potential option in 30 days.

The debate was interesting. There was a clear faction wanting to advance only the staff recommended options (big bridge or nothing) while another clear faction was not going to advance into the DEIS without more options. Along the way there were fear tactics (“if we don’t move quickly we may miss the next federal funding cycle”) and parliamentary moves (“we should separate the amendment and vote on the staff recommendation first”).

In the end, Oregon co-chair Henry Hewitt had to remind the group that if they didn’t enter the DEIS phase with some kind of consensus they might all just as well go home. The Burkholder ammendment passed with a solid majority, and the full motion to move into the DEIS phase then passed unanimously, although Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who had been instructed by his Council to ONLY vote for the staff recommendation only raised his hand in assent after it became clear he was at risk of being the only ‘no’ vote.

So good news for the moment, but I wonder about the longer term. Clark County Chair Steve Stuart openly opined that staff would try to kill the 4th option before it was born, and I fear that he may be right. There was much discussion of the new option needing to “meet the Purpose and Need” and pass “the same criteria” as the other options (and many feel the criteria applied are actually much more stringent than what the Purpose and Need statement requires).

So whatever comes out of the subcommittee is likely to face an uphill climb. And if no fourth option survives, I think the task force may well splinter permanently.

Rex will chair the subcommittee. Let’s see if he can navigate his way out of the box.

So good work to all the advocates that made it clear that no choice was not a choice. And keep paying attention, it’s only the beginning.

Here’s the early coverage:

5 responses to “Rex in a Box?”

  1. Listening to the debate last night was interesting. Listening to what came out about Federal Government financing was even more interesting and should help drive the decision for a middle ground option. Basically what was stated is the Feds are still paying 90% of Interstate Highway projects while usually covering only 60% of transit projects. Furthermore, the Feds will also help pay for infrastructure that is part of the Interstate system such as interchanges.

    Also at the meeting, Fred Hansen of TriMet spoke of building a new six through lane freeway bridge with high a high speed transit component, and using the existing bridges for local traffic, bike and pedestrians. That would mean the Feds would pay for 90% of the new highway lanes but only 60% of the transit portion of the new structure. The rest would require local match money. Funding for any upgrades or changes to the existing bridges was left somewhat up in the air.

    In my testimony to the CRC, I proposed a similar option for a new six full service through lane freeway bridge that would eliminate some of the safety issues associated with freeway travel on the existing bridges, but with a combined highway and rail transit option using one lane in each direction on the existing bridges. The other two lanes in each direction on the existing bridges would be retained for slower speed local traffic, and for the SR14 and northbound I-5 interchanges to and from Hayden Island. The latter would keep federal funds flowing into the existing structures because the bridges would be become part of the I-5 northbound interchange to the Interstate system. Lastly, I recommended the existing pedestrian sidewalks could be widened similar to what was done on the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland.

    From my prospective, I question the need for high speed transit on a structure that is 4400 feet long and would have stops at both ends on Hayden Island and Vancouver. In addition, by only adding a new six full service through lane freeway bridge, the foot print on the landscape, including the existing bridges, would be about the same as the staff proposed big new bridge with no additional freeway lanes added, just moved.

    From a regional financial stand point, and getting the most for the money the Feds can supply, the most prudent option the new subcommittee could propose would be to build a new freeway only bridge with the existing bridges used as part the Hayden Island Interchange and for local traffic, transit, pedestrians and bicycles.

    What the region does not need from the sub-committee is a yet another socially engineered pipe dream that targets motorists, and expects them to pay for infrastructure that subsidizes the other modes of transport. Such a move would not balance the benefits with the costs as it relates to who pays the bill. If the freeway lanes are tolled, the tolls should only apply to pay the local match for the motor vehicle infrastructure, NOT the transit, bike or pedestrian components or portions of the project.

  2. Interesting post Terry and a perspective I appreciated reading and perhaps even agree with. Nevertheless, I don’t think you should have put that last paragraph in though. You use logic and reason in your entire post, but then conclude it with a personalized emotional appeal using generalized cliches and stereotypes. You may think it is true, and that is fine, but by including such statements you severely limit the power of your arguement and the ability for individuals to objectively reflect on your suggestions.

  3. Henry was chair of the Governors’ I-5 TF which voted 10-10 on the arterial bridge issue in spring of ’02. Had Metro voted Yes then, “6-2-2” would have been in the TF’s recommendation for further study. As it is, this most logical and cost efffective option refuses to go away.
    I have little confidence that CRC staff will do an adequate job evaluating something less than a big bridge…they just have too much invested in their work to date. And it may not be enough to know that a federal judge will, no doubt, review the final DEIS; yes, I bet this will end up in federal court like the salmon issue.
    I wonder where Earl B. is on this, and how big a federal earmark he thinks the region can get; but its clear that a split region will get zip. Better a consensus on an approach that gets some things done than a divided CRC victory with no chance for funding.
    If I were Rex, I would be sounding out the congressional expert on livable cities for what could fly. Could Earl favor the big bridge?

  4. Dan,

    I appreciate your comments, and you may be correct about my last paragraph viewed as limiting my argument. However, the last paragraph is logical, at least to people who are willing to look outside the current political funding box. The logic is simple; balancing the costs with who receives the benefits. In a multi-modal project of this magnitude, all modes of transport benefit with an improved river crossing. Therefore, the users of all modes of transport should help pay for it. Only having one mode of transport tolled can be viewed as discrimination by class.

  5. There to me is no question that the direction the pro bridge builders were heading is to develop an alternative that will not offer a real alternative to building this approximately 228 foot wide bridge.

    I was at the CRC meeting when they put together the “Purpose and Need” statement, that will prevent any other real set of alternatives from seeing the light of the day. The only hope is that reasonable people get to these sub-committee members and suggest to them it is not all about a very tight “Purpose and Need” that eliminates even looking at I-205 and the BNSF RR Bridge. It even eliminates looking at alternate corridors. It eliminates truly everything that is not just about replacing or not replacing the I-5 Interstate Bridges.

    So what do we do, we prove that there are alternatives that do not require replacing the bridges, even if they do not meet their “Purpose and Need” statement. We prove to them that we can reduce the number of cars and trucks in the I-5 corridor and eliminate the congestion that creates the emissions that in combination kills people and businesses and that we can do it more effectively then they can with dimes to their dollars.

    Will they listen, I do not know. Will they bring in people with real knowledge that have the vision to identify all of the pieces to this puzzle, that is a big question.

    I have been around this problem for to many years and have researched the options with thousands of my personal hours invested and I know there are much better and affordable solutions then this one big replacement bridge for our region.

    But their “Purpose and Need” and evaluating criteria were put in place to eliminate ever choice but one!

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