CRC Surrealism at the Cabinet Meeting

One of the several advisory groups I sit on is the Mayor’s Transportation Cabinet, which met last week.

The Columbia River Crossing was the major agenda item, and it’s taken me a few days to recover enough from my deep depression over the conversation to write about it.

It’s like some kind of reality warp has overcome our political leadership around this project. Cases in point from the discussion:

  1. A report on the Bridge Review Panel recommendations, which essentially said throw away the current design, was positively positioned as setting direction for selection of a design type move forward with.
  2. An ODOT official indicated that the deck truss alternative would preserve the plan for Hayden Island that had support from the community. This was immediately contradicted by a Metro official who pointed out that part of the Bridge Review Panel report was a recommendation to revisit the idea of replacing the Harbor Bridge, which potentially throws the Hayden Island plan into doubt.
  3. The importance of being ready to seize Federal funding opportunities was emphasized. However the City of Portland lobbyist in Salem made it clear that no state funding would be forthcoming in this legislative session and ODOT characterized the state funding as a “multi-session process”.

Through all this the Mayor maintained a very positive demeanor about the project moving forward.

It makes me crazy.

To his credit, the Mayor does continue to allow us skeptics a full opportunity to voice our concerns, but it as far as I can tell it has little impact. And I don’t mean to fault the Mayor specifically for falling into the reality-distortion field, as far as I can tell it has captured all state and local officials in Oregon and Washington.

Meanwhile, here are two cautionary tales for projects like this:

15 responses to “CRC Surrealism at the Cabinet Meeting”

  1. I remember reading that extra bureaucratic work required for the two prettier designs would add 1-2 years before construction could start and I could hop on a MAX train to Vancouver, compared to the deck-truss design, which is similar enough to the design that was dropped not to trigger something. Is that accurate?

  2. Did they just evaluate construction costs, or complete life cycle costs? (maintenance, estimated span life) It looks like they are just evaluating construction costs…

  3. “Reality warp” is a great description for the mindset surrounding this project. I have no idea why our elected officials are rallying around this debacle. Money, I suppose, but where’s the payoff in backing a project that we’ll never be able to pay for? Particularly when it means rejecting less-ambitious alternatives that actually could be funded and built?

  4. I’ve been on “reality warp” projects at work before, where everyone knows that the project is a dog–but nobody dares cancel or restart it.

    They ain’t fun.

    Some times, it’s simply a desire to recover sunk costs–despite the fact that business execs have it drilled into their skulls in MBA training that sunk costs should be ignored when making decisions. But often times, there is a political dynamic which comes into play–one which asserts that cancellation of the project itself would constitute failure, and be an outcome as bad or worse as muddling through, wasting more money, and delivering a solution which is ultimately unacceptable.

    What’s going on at ODOT and WDOT, I don’t know–but it sounds like they may believe their own dire warnings about the need to finish: If we don’t do THIS project that we’ve spent all this money studying and planning, then the bridge will never get built, ever. That it’s either the present design…or nothing.

    Whether that is reality, self-delusion, or simply an elaborate game of chicken, I have no idea.

  5. I pick “self-delusion” AND “elaborate game of chicken.” It sure as hell ain’t “reality.”

  6. “Whether that is reality, self-delusion, or simply an elaborate game of chicken, I have no idea.”

    Job security meets herd instinct.

  7. Question #2… how many governors, commissioners, and/or metro councilors are willing to do so? (And what about the City of Vancouver, Multnomah and Clark Counties, and/or SWRTC?)

  8. Once again, fine reporting, Chris.

    I spoke at last Thursday’s Metro meeting stating that CRC is no longer any kind of problem but a political problem, hoping to smoke out new councilor Barbara Roberts’s position on the issue.

    The old pol’s (she is older than I) stone face never quivered. I’d not be surprised if she already has been bought.

    The legislature is in session. Go down to Salem and hammer on the members of the Senate and House transportation committees.

    “And a partridge in a pear tree.”

  9. How many politicians would it take saying no to kill this project?

    The best shot is to work on C-TRAN board members, who could turn against the project. C TRAN board meets next on March 8:
    C-TRAN Board Meeting

    * 5:30 p.m.
    * C-TRAN Administration Building
    2425 NE 65th Avenue, Vancouver

    Or to make sure the legislatures in both states vote against funding it, which is supposedly the position espoused by the Oregon leaders as of this January.

    Or the US House could refuse to fund it, which is a very good possibility. You can write to Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking member on Highways and Infrastructure subcommittee, and make that request. Even if you are not a constituent of his district he does represent you in his role as Ranking Member.
    Washington, DC Office
    2134 Rayburn H.O.B.
    Washington DC, 20515
    Phone: (202) 225-6416

    Eugene Office
    405 East 8th Ave. #2030
    Eugene, OR 97401
    Phone: (541) 465-6732

    Coos Bay Office
    125 Central, Suite 350
    Coos Bay, OR 97420
    Phone: (541) 269-2609

    Roseburg Office
    612 S.E Jackson Street, Room 9
    Roseburg, OR 97470
    Phone: (541) 440-3523

    Reach him by e-mail,(link: or call the Oregon office toll-free at 1-800-944-9603

    Or you can write to US House Transportation chairman Rep. John Mica, or to WA Dist 3 Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler. All of these people can be construed as representing you because of their chairing roles on various committees.

  10. Maybe we need to just build a new freeway and bridge that entirely bypasses the Portland Metro Area and let the outlying areas benefit from it instead. Let Portlands bridges fall down while they keep fighting wasting money and getting nowhere!

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