Most of the local press coverage tends to present the Independent Review Panel report on the Columbia River Crossing as an “endorsement” or “approval” of the project.
While there is no question that IPR concurs that a project is necessary, the report is actually fairly critical, not the rubber stamp that many of skeptics feared. Sarah Mirk at the Mercury does her usual excellent job of honing in on the key points:
- The $3.6 billion cost estimate of the bridge is not accurate. The design of the bridge has changed significantly since the project staff did an in-depth cost estimate validation process, so the pricetag for the current design hasn’t been seriously fact checked.
- The local “consensus” about the bridge doesn’t agree on much. The locally preferred alternative that politicians and highway planning bigwigs OK’d in 2008 “reflected a very low level of agreement between the parties”… which is why the project is stalled over serious disagreement now.
- The environmental impact analysis is seriously incomplete. The bridge has changed so much (especially in regard to its footprint on Hayden Island) since the first environmental impact statement that the panel recommends drafting a new supplemental one. Also unresolved? Environmental justice issues.
- The bridge is an untested, experimental design. The CRC staff identified nine bridges around the world that are similar to the “open web” design proposed for the CRC. But the review panel said that none of those nine are actually similar enough to use as a model, writing, “The open-web design is unique with no history of construction or performance.” That means the bridge would have to be thoroughly tested, a process that could cost $600,000 and take three years.
- Widening the bridge could just make the Rose Quarter the new traffic pinch point. The review panel noted that concerns about pushing traffic south into the Rose Quarter are still unresolved.
I’d also point out that as I read the report, while it clearly says a project is necessary (I agree – as do many of the skeptics), I don’t actually read anything that says a supplemental bridge approach is out of the question.