Public projects, political capital, and the sunk cost fallacy

How the sunk cost fallacy, particularly applied to political capital, can cause public officials to insist on the timely completion of dubious projects.
A few months ago, I went “meta” and did an article on the Gordian knot of compromises the political process forces on public projects (and on private ones, too; though we seldom get to see the dirty laundry that results from corporate cock-ups). This article, likewise, switches gears from the nitty-gritty of transport projects and politics to the higher-level topic of what forces drive public policy decisions. Today’s article is dedicated to the Sellwood Bridge replacement project and the reaction to the news that Clackamas County voters are unwilling to help fund the project.

Rather soon after the vote was announced, Multnomah County commissioner Deborah Kafoury had this to say:

Now that Clackamas County voters have spoken, we will roll up our sleeves to try to complete this important project without their help. Safety concerns dictate that we must fix the badly deteriorated bridge, the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon. Replacing the bridge must remain our top transportation priority.

This prompted a few howls of outrage those opposed to the project or its funding scheme (including a regular PT contributor who is a well-known local transit critic), noting that the campaign in favor of Measure 3-372 suggested dire consequences, including possible closure of the current bridge (which is in poor structural condition, and already closed to large vehicles, including trucks and busses) if funding is not secured.

I’m not going to debate here whether the “yes” campaign crossed any ethical lines. Bluffing and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) are part and parcel of political campaigns, and the “no” side engaged in some rather speculative claims of their own–suggesting that approving a $5 vehicle license fee to help pay for this project would pave the way for many more such levies in the future (“its not just $5” was a popular campaign slogan used by opponents). But it was fairly obvious that Multnomah County was bluffing, somewhat–and that they are not about to permit the existing bridge to close without a replacement being built.

This article takes a look at why.

Sunk costs

There’s a well-known economic fallacy known as the sunk cost fallacy. In the sunk cost fallacy, already-expended (or committed) capital is cited as justification for continuing some course of action, even when that action may be no longer viable. Commonly expressed, it goes like “we’ve already spent $x on this, so we might as well finish it”. Rational analysis shows that the money spent is already long gone, so ought not factor into any decisions going forward–only future costs and benefits should be considered by decision-makers.

Why does the sunk cost fallacy frequently trip up decision-makers? It’s not because they can’t read a spreadsheet. In many cases, it’s because changing direction is tantamount to an admission of error. And in some cases, a decision-maker may have even higher personal stakes riding on a project than just ego or pride–in my professional career, I’ve been on several projects deemed vital to the health of the enterprise–with the clear implication that heads will roll if the project does not run to completion. Many of these projects ended badly, with heads rolling anyway.

Another way to approach the issue is to note that decision-makers are managing multiple different “resources”, only one of which is the money of the organization. Another is their personal political capital–in many cases, a manager (or an entire organization) will need to expend significant amounts of this in order to bring a project to fruition, with the payout only coming if the project completes. And political capital is typically spent all up front–if a change of direction occurs, the political capital is gone.

Yet despite this, a scene that plays out all too frequently in the boardrooms of the world is the executive asking the subordinate if he/she is willing to “bet their job” on a particular course of action. While such queries may be helpful in sniffing out BS (and in providing continual motivation once a course of action is approved), it effectively commits the subordinate to the project–and may cause her to defend the project even when common sense makes it obvious that the whole thing ought to be scrapped.

The public angle

Many aspects of the public sector make the sunk cost fallacy particularly troublesome. For one thing, most public works projects are financially back-loaded: most of the money isn’t spent until concrete starts to pour. Given that, prior to the start of construction, there ought to be ample opportunity to explore options and ensure that the project is really the right thing to do. The Columbia River Crossing is often criticized for the over $100 million spent on planning to date, but that figure is still a drop in the bucket compared to the over $3-$4 billion the project is expected to cost (a figure which many critics think is ridiculously low).

Yet the project sponsors are proceeding as if there is a gun to their heads, effectively declaring the current plans closed to any significant modifications. Project leaders, and their sponsors in Salem and Olympia, speak of deadlines and dates as though their life depended upon it–even though the project hasn’t secured all its funding yet, and is facing harsh criticism from many quarters.

One likely explanation is that many involved in the project–Governor Gregoire, to a lesser extent Governor Kitzhaber, and numerous officials in both DOTs, have bet a lot of political capital on the project, and thus have quite a bit at stake in seeing it run to completion. Many sponsors of the project all have their wants and desires, and have been promised these (ample highway lanes, green elements like light rail and ped/bike facilities)–and are expecting that they be delivered. A significant change in the project’s direction would cause many of these fine upstanding public officials to lose face–and in the case of the elected ones, would provide plenty of ammunition for political opponents. (Both Kitzhaber and Gregoire won election in close races).

In the case of public projects, time is also an important factor for many reasons. If Federal funding is involved, the NEPA process is a major headache; significant changes can add significantly delay. Securing funding requires lots of delicate negotiations, and grants often come with expiration dates–delays in the planning phase can jeopardize the receipt of funds needed for completion. There’s also the factor that politicians like groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and often would prefer that these happen during their terms in office.

Finally, public-sector projects frequently attract political opposition of a nature not found in well-run private companies. (In a well-run company, disputes over the necessity and/or parameters of a project are swiftly ironed out, and bad-faith participants are removed. That said, there are many poorly-run enterprises where it is not unusual to find employees or entire departments trying to undermine the projects and initiatives undertaken by some other part of the company). But what is often considered a bug in the world of business, is a feature in democratic politics. And political actors often try to throw wrenches in the gears of projects they oppose (or which are associated with political adversaries), and this is considered all part of the game.

One way to do that is to propose major changes in a project mid-course–which is one reason that savvy decision-makers will regard any such proposals offered later in the project with suspicion. Picking on the CRC again–proposed design changes promoted by Portland mayor Sam Adams were pretty-much rejected out of hand by the project committee and by the governors–who all but accused the mayor of offering proposals in bad faith in an attempt to gum up the works on a project whose current direction the City of Portland is adamantly opposed to. And it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this–along with the whole “iconic bridge” shtick, is exactly what Sam was up to.

Back to the Sellwood

Given that, it’s rather obvious that “we may have to close the bridge if this doesn’t pass” was a bluff. The Multnomah County commission has invested quite a bit of political capital (and planning dollars) into the current project, and thus isn’t going to fold up shop just because Clackamas County voters aren’t willing to contribute to the project. (Likewise, Milwaukie MAX is proceeding on schedule despite all the controversy around its funding, and despite the likely prospect of Clackamas County voters overruling the generosity of their commissioners on this project as well. At this point, no county ordinance has been passed to allocate the funds, so there’s nothing for opponents to refer to voters–but it’ll happen).

In some ways, this is unfortunate. The withdrawal of Clackamas County’s funding share provides an opportunity to reconsider the Sellwood Bridge project (there is much about it that I don’t care for). Asking one county’s voters to help pay for another county’s infrastructure is indeed unusual, especially when the design of the project isn’t particularly geared towards the users from the other county, so I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Clackamas County voters. More on this will come on my next article.
But it appears that instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, Multnomah County intends to press on. To be fair, given the decrepit state of the current bridge, time may be really of the essence–and that significant delays in the project might result in the existing bridge being closed without a replacement in the pipe.

But from here, it looks like there’s a lot more riding on the current bridge project than bikes, busses, and cars.


16 responses to “Public projects, political capital, and the sunk cost fallacy”

  1. While sunk costs should never be considered in decision making, preliminary engineering work is an important factor in these projects. The CRC group may not be concerned about the $100 million already spent, but they might be concerned with the cost and time of having to complete preliminary engineering for a new concept.

    Personally, I believe the alternatives should pencil out as a better option, even with the time/cost of preliminary engineering factored in.

  2. I agree with Chris I. to some extent. Some “sunk dollars” are very valuable and should not be wasted. Time spent on alignment studies, public input, environmental impact, etc… Those can all be reused in most cases, at a bare minimum be used to inform future plans.

    However, we shouldn’t stick with a bad design as we learn more simply because we previously spent money on it.

    When does a project become a “money pit”?

    I feel as though the Sellwood bridge should still be built – however I would take the lesson that counties can not count on neighboring counties.

    During my tenure on TPAC I saw Clackamas County spending a lot of money on projects that could have easily gone to Multnomah or Washington counties. It is silly in our region to even have this discussion. All three counties benefit from infrastructure *EVEN IF YOU DON’T PERSONALLY USE IT*. This whole culture of “I don’t ever use that so I won’t pay for it” will doom the entire region. People may not use something but goods and services they DO use may depend on it greatly. Even the most hardened “Couve” hater from Portland benefits from goods and services that exist in Vancouver and greater Clark County. That is without considering worst case scenarios like earthquakes and whatnot where we need all of the good reliable infrastructure we can have for emergency response…

    “No man is an island entire of itself.”

    We succeed together, or fail on our own.

    I am OK with my Multnomah County “donations” to the bridge project (two of my vehicles registered for four years in the past couple months) even though I am leaving the region and will not even use the facility.

  3. Long before the fee referendum made the ballot and has been raised countless times throughout the campaign:

    “After signing an agreement with the city of Portland, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen said that bridge construction would be completed by the end of 2016, even if Clackamas County voters reject the fee. Cogen added that the partnership would “find a way” to complete the project.”

    Commissioner Bernard himself has acknowledged the same thing. Following one of the board meetings on the fee Bernard said he was sure the bridge would be built without the Clackamas County share.”

    Yet the unethical campaign lied about it. Including by Kafoury trying to help out the yes vote.

    Of course now they are back to reality and facing the need to move it forward as always planned.

    Kafoury has flopped so far back that the bridge has surpassed all other transportation projects to “our top transportation priority”.

    A remarkable development that the bridge has now risen above the Milwaukuie Light Rail, Streetcars and all other projects.

    Who’d a thunk it could be?

    Voters were keen to the YES campaign’s failure to address how the MLR was a higher priority than a bridge supposedly about to fall down.

    But that was another blatant lie, that the bridge could fall at any moment, ushered along with pics and mention of the Minneappolis bridge.over and over again.

    That was a deliberate effort to have voters cast their vote under false impressions.

    Side note: It is inappropriate to keep referring to well known RAIL transit critics as “transit critics”. That comes across as an intentional effort to marginalize rail critics as just irrational anti-transit activists.

    There is no question the yes campaign crossed ethical lines. Their entire campaign was a line crossing.

    While on the other hand you seem to be excusing that behavior as acceptable based on a contrived moral equivalency to the no campaign.

    It is not true that it was merely “speculative claims” of the extended and raised fee to pay for more similar elements. Before it became apparent there was a blowback commissioners, various city council members and others were giddy in bragging about keeping and raising the fee to pay for all sorts things not basic infrastructure.

    That was on of the primary red flags voters saw as needing to stop.

    I beleive the CRC has now devoured $130 million. Hardly a drop in any bucket and certainly involved insane levels of incompetence and waste.

    The $1.5 billion Milwaukie Light Rail is the most egregious and offensive “proceeding as if there is a gun to their heads, effectively declaring the current plans closed to any significant modifications.”

    Even with an even greater funding gap than the Sellwood Bridge and another rejection coming from Clackmas County proponents do not care.

    You can keep telling yourselves otherwise but Clackamas County does not want MLR or the LO streetcar, period. Clark County does not want the CRC-Light Rail.

    Forcing them, through unethical campaigns and conniving politicians & bureaucrats is an outrage.

    Calling unacceptable blatant lies by elected officials a “bluff” is the kind of psin that prevents consequences and more of the same.

    Clackamas County, Chair Peterson and now Chair Lehan have both stated they have no money. Their budget committee and finance department ALL recognize the county is maxed out in debt. and has an insufficient reserve as well.

    The only way to raise money and pay for MLR, as stated by Lynn Peterson, is their McLoughlin Are (Urban Renewal) Plan.

    The petition to require voter approval for County UR will easily make the November ballot and will pass.

    Any attempt by the county to pass an UR plan to fund MLR will go down in a landslide.

    The County and TriMet both know this.

    Likewise Milwaukiue and LO residents are preparing petitions to stop funding for the two projects.

    More rejection.

    Of course you are right about the Sellwood Bridge project design having many objectionable elements.

    Of course Multnomah County & Portland intend to press on. That was always the case. Despite the $135,000 yes campaign line crossings.

    There is a lot more riding on the current bridge project than bikes, busses, and cars.

    The entire episode has been a dishonest charade of planning to minimize facilities and capacity for motor vehicles of all kinds.

    Perhaps you can use this report (below) on Tacoma Street with various plans for traffic and development potential.
    Not only does this report reveal better information on the traffic flow but shows how Portland has used the bridge as excuse to not adopt one of the Tacoma street boulevard plans but how Tacoma Street is then used as an excuse to not build a four lane Bridge.
    There’s some good ideas for Tacoma here that a four lane bridge would work well with.
    It’s all been effectively covered up.

    Tacoma is an eyesore, most of it the same as it’s been for 35 years, and could use one of the designs in the report to create a lovely boulevard and rejuvenation along with 4 lane bridge with adequate ped/bike facilities but no Streetcar mucking it all up, especially on the west end.

    The 37 feet for ped/bike use in the current preferred design has got to go.

    This report is quite good. It details the already long failing choke points that will worsen and divert traffic onto adjacent neighborhood streets
    under all of the current choices.

    Ask and answer, why do these choices ignore the city’s own data?
    It’s transportation suicide to do so.
    Page 12
    There are three capacity constraints on Tacoma
    Street: the bridge, and two signalized intersections at 13th and 17th Avenues.
    The two lane bridge constrains the volume of traffic in each direction
    to 1,800 vehicles per hour. In the eastbound
    direction, the travel demand is already in excess of
    1,800 vehicles in the PM peak hour and is
    projected to grow considerably. Thus the bridge
    meters [chokes] traffic flow to the east during the peak
    and much more

  4. I would like to see a detailed license plate study of bridge traffic, commercially available today as automated license plate recognition. It would provide the registration address of the vehicles using the bridge by time of day and direction once and for all. (Some cities use it for tolling too)

    We should look at closing the bridge entirely for the construction to save money. It would save the $20M, likely more, and be safer for the workers.

  5. Look-

    All we need to do to save money is to close and demolish the current bridge and then build the replacement. Just send a big sign to commuters & commerce that they don’t matter for the year or so it takes to build a replacement.

    The reason its so expensive is that we’re trying to keep traffic flowing through a construction zone. That’s what happens in the developing world

  6. Steve: Long before the fee referendum made the ballot and has been raised countless times throughout the campaign: “After signing an agreement with the city of Portland, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen said that bridge construction would be completed by the end of 2016, even if Clackamas County voters reject the fee. Cogen added that the partnership would “find a way” to complete the project.” Commissioner Bernard himself has acknowledged the same thing. Following one of the board meetings on the fee Bernard said he was sure the bridge would be built without the Clackamas County share.”

    I think we agree–the posturing about “we need money from Clackamas County to do the project” is not credible.

    Yet the unethical campaign lied about it. Including by Kafoury trying to help out the yes vote.

    As noted, I’m not going to defend the conduct of the yes on 3-372 campaign. I don’t consider their message to be all that out-of-the-ordinary as far as politics goes, and the “tip of the iceberg” theory promulgated by opponents is likewise dubious (the state legislation enabling Multnomah and Clackamas counties to levy the surcharges was pretty specific to the Sellwood Bridge project, and didn’t grant a new general taxing power to either county). Compared to some of the lies that are bandied about in political campaigns, the campaigns both for and against 3-372 were pretty tame.

    Regarding the Sellwood Bridge’s prioritization vis a vis other projects, including “Streetcar” and MLR–two things have occurred. First, when the bridge was discovered to be in worse shape than thought (and subsequently closed to large trucks and busses), that scrambled the priorities. Second, the state legislature, as noted above, made a funding vehicle available for this project during the 2009 session, one that only can be used to replace the Sellwood Bridge. By the same token, the state has allocated a certain amount of money on MLR, and on upcoming Clackamas County road projects such as the Oregon City Jughandle (reconfiguration of the OR213/Washington Street interchange) and the Sunrise JTA project–these funding allocations are inflexible, in that they can only be spent on the projects they were designated for. Via the power of the purse, the Legislature has a great deal of influence over what projects get built, and they don’t always follow Metro/JPACT’s advice as to what is important.

    Given the choice between a high-priority project that is unfunded, and a lower-priority project that is funded with inflexible funds (which can’t be diverted to the higher-priority project), the rational course of action is to build the lower-priority project. At any rate, I’m not sure what your complaint is here–that the bridge is being built “out of turn” compared to its stated priority in long-range planning documents, or that the long-range planning documents elevate things you dislike (such as the aformentioned rail projects)?

    Regarding the CRC–just to be clear, I’m not defending the project committee or the $130 million (an unusually large figure)–simply noting that the $130 million in sunk costs ought not commit the region to spending another $4 billion in construction costs. The money is gone. It has bought us some useful information, but the expenditure is not a good reason, by itself, to continue a dubious project. I think you and I agree the project as structured is highly questionable, though I suspect we strongly disagree on what the better alternative would be.

    Regarding MLR, I think I already stipulated that I expect Clackamas County voters to, when they get the chance, torpedo the County’s contribution to that as well–and I think the folks at TriMet and Metro are already planning for that contingency (they would be stupid not to, even if they do act surprised when it occurs…) Though as I’ve advised previously, I have my doubts about the constitutionality of the proposed urban renewal law that you are referring to. Given that Clackamas County is a general law county, there is no legal mechanism by which county voters can constrain the actions of the board of commissioners. Even the recent 3-372 vote could technically be reversed by the board tomorrow if it so choose–while I expect that the Board wouldn’t dare oppose the will of the voters in such a flagrant manner, nothing prevents them legally from doing so–the constraint in this case is politics, not law. (A free bit of advice for your friends at AFP–if you really want to limit the powers of the Board of Commissioners, pass an initiative to convert Clackamas County into a charter county first. Once a county charter is in place, you can then amend it to terrorize the commissioners to your hearts’ content).

    Finally, the specifics of the current Sellwood Bridge project will be addressed in the next article. As hinted above, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to your position–the design of the current bridge proposal, with its mandated connection to Tacoma Street, is not optimized for regional traffic movements and thus regional funding may not be appropriate. But more on that later.

  7. Rob,

    33,000 vehicle a day cross that bridge you suggest closing entirely for the construction.

    There are many other ways to both save money and to find funding.

    If the bridge were truely the top priority JPACT would have it at the top of their list.

    But no one has explained why it is not even on their list.

    CRC-Light Rail should be killed until
    better stakeholders can make better decisions.

    Of course the legislature funding is flexible. The legislature could re-allocate project funding.
    And the legislature has no role in JPACT allocations.

    Regarding the Sellwood Bridge’s prioritization vis a vis other projects, when was the bridge scrambled to the priority it deserved? I missed that. It was postured that way by the yes campaign but they left out any mention of all the the higher priorities.
    Only recently did anyone like Kafourey call it the top priority. But who knows what she meant.
    The definition of top would place it above MLR,CRC, Streetcar etc. Is that what she meant?
    Or not quite?

    It’s pretty troubling that you pass off ass acceptable ordinary politics the sweeping and multi faceted lying by the yes campaign.
    But that was my earler point. How acceptable blatant lying by politicians and bureaucracies has become.
    You either haven’t sufficient grasp of the extent of lying or have fallen for it as being the new normal politics.

    As I mentioned earler the very real tip of the iceberg concern was indeed promulgated by fee proponents were were speaking out about raising it to $43 and spreading it out to dubious county and city spending.
    If you are unaware of these pronouncements and loose lips I can see how you may be skeptical.

    But the potential to have the new fee revenue stream extened to additional missapropriation was virtually certain considfering the track recrod of the proponents.

    The no campaign was completely honest is exposing the spoken intentions of the proponents and their ability to later hijack the fee for the unwanted agenda.
    The fact that they cannot be trusted was justified and central to the opposition vote.

    Compared to some of the lies that are bandied about in political campaigns, the goverment’s campaign for 3-372 reached new levels of blatant dishonesty.

    Right out of the gate Chair Lehan took it to new heights. Here’s a good rundown.

  8. I’d almost rather see people find a way to take a project through, even if it’s not the most popular outcome. Or we can copy the Buffalo Metro Rail’s example with the Tonawandas Corridor:

    The NFTA purchased twelve Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars in the 1980s to serve the Tonawanda turn-out, a proposed Metro Rail extension to Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. These cars were built by the St. Louis Car Company and acquired by Cleveland, Ohio’s Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority second hand in 1953. It was determined after initial trial runs that the PCCs were too wide for existing station platforms and the plan was abandoned. The PCCs were subsequently sold to the Brooklyn Historical Railway Association (BHRA), from where they were scrapped in 2003 when the BHRA folded.

    That’s just the Wikipedia copy/paste. The long story involves what they payed for the tracks, which now sit empty. (Okay, what they payed for the cars was bad, but they sunk those costs, too.) They basically wasted $45 million of purchased assets, counting the ROW, trackage, bridges, culverts, and vehicles, but scrapped because fixing the project plus the estimated $650,000/year in ongoing operational costs was too expensive. Nevermind that fares would have covered about 3/4 of the operational costs, they were scared out of it because of operational costs and fixing some platforms.

    A whole ton of fighting over a 6 mile light rail line with a bit of grade separation, which would have almost doubled their more-rapid transit infrastructure. Which they had already sunk most of the costs of.

    If someone wants to complain about our South Waterfront, they should check out Buffalo’s Outer Waterfront. It’s like SoWa, but without the streetcar, tram, towers, low-rises, parks, residents, businesses, employees, or OHSU. Millions spent over decades with no solution.

    Or check out their Cobblestone district; (it’s kind of like the Pearl, but no art galleries or supermarkets and pretty much all parking lots). Or their transit mall; (after twenty years of fighting they’re adding cars at a fairly high cost). Or their major crossing over a border; (after twenty years of fighting with Ontario over costs and designs, they’ve gotten nowhere).

    Ignoring sunk costs and starting from scratch over and over again is not a good long-term plan for a region. Not every plan can be completed, but pushing things back until they’re in development hell isn’t a good solution either if it’s a problem that actually needs to be solved.

  9. Dave,
    You seem to think there are no fine developments without light rail or streetcars.
    Offering up examples of distant projects which floundered supposedly because no rail transit was involved.
    Why go elsewhere when examples abound here in our own region that contradict your pitch entirely.
    Even the Pearl is not credited or dependent upon the streetcar. That’s a convenient myth.
    If the streetcar disappeared in an instant nothing would change.
    Everywhere there are better options than SoWa including SoWa which could have been fully developed years ago, consistent with the once required declining building heights towards the river, without any public subsidy.
    The entire Tram, biotech jobs, Homer, TOD, high rise/high density episode was mandated with the prohibition of all other approaches.
    Charlie Hales said yesterday that nothing was there before but a self storage business and vacant land and it’s too soon to declare it a failure.
    Yeah sure. I guess we have to wait until millions more are spent adding everything the Rose Quarter/convention center area has then private investment will be spurred?


    Hales said SoWa’s only problem was the economy an that PSU/OUS is building a new biotech research building. Huh?
    He left out that he and Vera prohibited plans for development they did not approve of, that new building is not a research building at all,
    and the SoWa model is the biggest money pit in Oregon history, now getting Light Rail, bridge, streetcar extension and endless government spending for academia and planers to dabble.
    Beaverton Round same, while just up the street The Crossings bustles with activity every day of the week.
    Orenco Station? Oh brother.
    Bridgeport Village, Kruse Way, Charbonneu etc. all happened without the $100 million in taxes Villebois will devour.
    But the Charlie Hales Cascade Station whopper takes the cake.
    His earlier mission and mandate to spend millions in tax money to create a ped/bike/transit oriented mini-city while “prohibiting” any BIG BOX/auto oriented uses flopped like nothing else.
    Will he be mentioning that nothing was there before Ikea, Best Buy and the big cluster of auto oriented stores and restaurants created that bustling development?
    No because he and Vera prohibited every bit of it until it laid fallow for years.
    Do you think Hales is proud of Cascade Station?
    And here he is in a brief period of honesty.
    This video with Charlie Hales explaining that MAX failed to spur development flies in the face of the repeated and forever embellished claims that it does.

    I was there at the Independent Review Committee hearing when former TriMet lobbyist Bernie Bottomly, now PBA lobbyist, told the committee “all of Portland’s rail lines have been enormously successful leveraging $8 Billion in investment”. A few short years ago the tale was $3 billion. It’s amazing how this tall tale keeps getting taller.

    So what does Hales have to offer Vancouver, Milwaukie or Lake Oswego?
    The Beaverton Round, 25 years of money pit Gresham/Rockwood, SoWa or try to force a Pearl upon their communities against their will?

    Back to your original point about cancelled projects.

    I’ll wager Milwaukie Light Rail will have that happen at some junture and that many of the Stakeholders recognize that likelihood right now but irresponsibly don’t care.
    They want that crown jewel transit bridge so bad they don’t care about anything including the Sellwood bridge.

  10. Someone with some actual construction knowledge needs to advise our local planners. According to the standard line of reasoning pertaining to the Sellwood Bridge such American icons as the Golden Gate or the Brooklyn bridge would be nearing the end of their lifespans, too. If the doubters would take a little deeper look they would discover that the numbers cited for the viability of the bridge don’t mean a whole lot:
    The Sellwood’s ratings? Its deck and superstructure also are in “poor” or “serious” condition, but its substructure, including supports under the roadway, are rated “fair,” one notch higher than poor.
    The latest load ratings on the Sellwood show the bridge can handle more weight than the 10-ton limit the county imposed in 2004, said Ian Cannon, county bridge engineer. The county went with the 10-ton limit anyway, to ensure the span’s longevity. Even if the county had all the money it needed to pay for a replacement bridge today, it could take six years to finish the planning and construction.
    The Sellwood has had several load rating studies performed through the years, and those prompted weight restrictions since the 1980s.

    There’s the factor of neighborhood politics going on with the Sellwood Bridge…which is why it will inevitably remain a two-laner, even as traffic increases. Realistically, there should be an entire revision of strategy of what to do with that traffic, combined with how to get a good share of any plan paid for with federal money. But that plan would have to be accomplished within an economy where public expenditures are being closely scrutinized.

    The Sellwood Bridge could never be upgraded to further serviceability in the way that other Portland bridges have been. (I don’t think any of the other projects have exceeded $40 million.) But with an estimate of $300 million in the current proposal it’s no wonder it’s raised criticism. Commissioner Kafoury has come out with questions about the expense of the Lake Oswego Streetcar; I hope she and the other MultCo. commissioners could also see a problem with the Sellwood bridge plan, too.

  11. Dave,
    You seem to think there are no fine developments without light rail or streetcars.

    What in the hell are you talking about? I talked about how another region (that I happen to have been born and raised in and am quite familiar with) screwed up a rail project by diverting and postponing things endlessly with no solution in mind. I don’t know why you made the rest of that up, but it makes you seem very dishonest to me.

    Offering up examples of distant projects which floundered supposedly because no rail transit was involved.

    Wow. And I thought rubber could be stretched out.

    That’s one way to take it, or there’s the way the author (me) was talking about it. I was talking about how throwing out “sunk costs” can lead to bigger costs when everything becomes about compromising over and over without ever making a decision.

    Maybe you need to see this part of the post again:

    Ignoring sunk costs and starting from scratch over and over again is not a good long-term plan for a region. Not every plan can be completed, but pushing things back until they’re in development hell isn’t a good solution either if it’s a problem that actually needs to be solved.

    Or just read my entire post again if you can be literate for a moment. You’re the one stretching out a list of problems that I cited into being all caused by not expanding rail transit.

    If you want to make everything into some bull[****] (sorry, there’s no better word) rail vs. everything else argument, fine. I was trying to make a point about how stupid it is when some people are so focused on their agenda that they can’t see the forest through all the trees. For example, sabotaging projects because they’re biased against a type of project, as you’ve clearly shown yourself to be on here.

    Thanks for being so transparent. It’s nice when someone makes their agenda so clear like you have.

    [Moderator: Dave, some of these remarks are clearly personally-directed. Your original words were indeed stretched way out of shape, so I’m allowing this comment to stand with minor edits, but please dial the anger back. – Bob R.]

  12. When comparing two courses of action, one underway and one proposed as an alternative, discount sunk costs only applies to the former–a new project starting from zero ought to have a higher burden to climb, lest one contantly scrub and restart projects, never completing anything. We’re not in this state at present on the Sellwood Bridge–usually, attempting to complete a bad project against all common sense is a bigger problem in public project management than the endless restart cycle–but it’s something to watch out for.

  13. Dave,
    What agenda or bias is it that seeks to “sabotage”?
    Common sense and public sentiment is neither a bias or agenda.
    Defaulting into that tired routine about opponents having the bias and agenda is no substitute for addressing the problems.
    I especially reject the idea that CPI has any bias or agenda.
    The only bias and agenda is that which pushes these projects around, over and through sweeping public opposition, public votes and the reckless financing schemes to bring them about.
    There is absolutely no common sense, or majority public support for madness that is MLR. The layers of opposition for the variety of fatal flaws stack up more than enough reasons to sabotage that boondoggle.
    The crowds that showed up at hearings and ultimately stopped the CC fee scheme were not the biased or agenda ones. They were voters rejecting an agenda and bias being forced upon them.

    It’s bias and agenda that led to the preferred design of the replacement bridge. Sacrificing common sense entirely.
    Up thread I provided the city’s own detailed evidence of the need to accommodate traffic on both Tacoma and the Sellwood bridge which would also facilitate rejuvenation of the corridor.
    All of which has been ignored while producing the most costly and dysfunctional bridge design possible.
    The expansive Lake Oswego Streetcar opposition is not agenda or bias driven.
    Neither is the CRC/Light Rail opposition.

    The effort to taint opposition as some sort of irrational or selfish entity didn’t work with the dishonest Yes on the Fee campaign and would not work on the any subsequent votes that are allowed.

    Any bias and agenda that needs to scheme, connive and prohibit public votes deserves to be sabotaged. Never has anything in Oregon deserved to be stopped more than MLR. It is the ultimate attempt to complete a bad project against all common sense. Proving that the agenda and bias involved is so extreme it is incapable of recognizing or acknowledging any fatal flaw. In pushing forward it is willing to raid any and all coffers in total disregard for everything but building it. Same goes for the LO streetcar and CRC/Light Rail. Any and all costs are meaningless.

    When the public does get to vote they make excellent saboteurs, 63-37%.

    You want to see some transparent agenda?

    Here’s a fine example of agenda and bias from the Mayor of Lake Oswego who after declaring a potential conflict of interest, (law firm represents Streetcar manufacturer and developers), perpetrated actual conflict of interest by casting the deciding vote to push forward with the Streetcar.

    “I see it as an obligation of a city, a municipal corporation, to communicate with its citizens,” he said. “My goal as the mayor is to have an informed vote with neutral information.”
    Hoffman has also supported officials participation in past Rail-Volution conferences, which bring together advocates of transit and alternative forms of transportation from across the country.
    “As the council goes through the analysis of whether a streetcar is or is not good for the community, it might be helpful for three or four councilors to go,” he said at a past budget committee meeting. The city council planned to send at least two people to the next national rail event.

    Hoffman says he wants “an informed vote with neutral information” then unethically recommends officials participate in the heavily biased Rail-Volution which is the epitome of bias and agenda.

    Might as well have things explained by TriMet and Metro.

  14. Steve,

    Your suggestion that your particular point of view is the objective one, and that CPI (a transparently political organization) is somehow “unbiased”, gave me a good hearty laugh. While CPI is officially nonpartisan, its no more (or less) unbiased than the Sierra Club. Both organizations hold certain ideological positions to be axiomatic, and everything else they write, say, or think springs from there.

    But if you don’t believe me, read CPI’s “About Us” page:

    Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity. Cascade promotes property rights, incentives, markets and decentralized decision-making.

    This is basically a prettied up description of libertarian ideology, which is exactly what CPI espouses in practice. Not that there’s anything wrong with this–its a free country, after all–but the idea that they are somehow bias-free is a rather funny joke. (Got any more?)

    Next, you’ll be telling us that Objectivists are actually, you know, objective.

    On the subject of the bridge itself–how do you propose accomodating more traffic down Tacoma Street, given the present character of the neighborhood? Remove all the on-street parking to put in four lanes, or go back to the old arrangement where the right lanes were for driving in rush hour, parking at other times (and those who didn’t move their cars got towed)? Put in a viaduct or (as suggested elsewhere) a tunnel? Or simply bulldoze the Sellwood neighorhood for being in the way? And regardless of which is chosen–why would the City of Portland consider doing such a thing, when the primary beneficiaries would be out-of-town residents? As far as Portland goes, that debate was settled 34 year ago when Frank Ivancie ran on essentially that platform (“If Ivancie were mayor, you’d be home now”), forgetting that suburban voters don’t get to vote in the Portland mayoral election, and got creamed by Neil Goldschmidt.

    It was probably a bad idea for Multnomah County to ask Clackamas County to chip in for the bridge–we agree on this point, it seems. But any suggestion that Portland ought to pave over its neighborhoods to build highways so folks in Damascus can get downtown faster, is worse.

  15. EngineerScotty,

    Thanks for underscoring my point about who is biased and agenda driven. I provided specific, cold blooded, x rated examples of agenda driven bias up thread and you provided nothing but your laughter and CPI mission statement.

    Of course CPI is not without preferences and leanings but they are essentially objective in their research and reports. I think you may be so accustomed to what the grossly biased TriMet produces that you have difficulty recognizing their CPI’s objectivity.

    CPI is nothing like the Sierra Club at all.

    There isn’t even anything in their “About Us” page remotely indicating the kind of bias always suggested here.

    John Charles has been exceedingly specific and objective in characterizing TriMet’s fiscal crisis. In stark contrast the heavily biased and agenda driven McFalane used the rhetoric, “apples and oranges put together to make an unreasonable number” in response to Charles quoting TriMet’s own audit. So who’s demonstrated bias on all TriMet matters? It’s been exceedingly obvious.

    So what exactly is CPI’s intent with TriMet other than having it run efficiently and honestly?

    There’s big difference between literally or completely bias free and effectively without bias. And there’s proportionality. The YES campign for the fee was so biased the whole campaign was a heavily biased propaganda machine involving politicians blatantly lying.

    On the subject of the bridge itself–I don’t need to propose anything because all the work has been done by the city. Identifying the problems, including all the choke and overflow, and providing several remedies of which a couple of them turn Tacoma into an attractive boulevard.

    But you have to read the report. It’s quite good, I was glad I stumbled upon it and I can see why local it was disappeared during all of the recent bridge “planning”.

    Declaring any plan, read or otherwise, as paving over the neighborhood so folks in Damascus can get downtown faster if more bias.

    As the report states there are many local problems in need of remedy. The failing road system and neighborhood street overflow is worsening.

    An attractive boulevard and bridge that better accommodates current and future traffic is needed. You apparently see any version of this as a freeway that destroys all of Sellwood.

    The current plan ignores everything, worsens the choke points, worsens the overflow, and keeps Tacoma (which needs a bulldozer) as an eye sore in perpetuity.

    This is tremendous example of a heavily biased agenda.

    So we’ve come full circle.

    Of course it was a bad idea for Multnomah County to ask Clackamas County to chip in for the bridge. But again it was the biased agenda that not only produced that stunt but at the same time is diverting vast sums away from the bridge and other infrastructure needs. The same agenda did not even enter the Sellwood on the list of JPACT projects.

    None of you have explained how this certainly top priority never made it on past JPACT lists and is not on the current one.

    Even now as it is called the top priority it fails to become any priority.

    Now that’s severe bias at work.

    Nothing I have said or anything produced by CPI suggests Portland ought to pave over its neighborhoods.

    The only alternative to TriMet and Metro is not paved over neighborhood.

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