A poor economy and, of all things, political wrangling (!) have created an uncertain future for the Columbia River Crossing project, the effort to build a new bridge between Portland and Vancouver.
From The Oregonian:
In an interview with The Oregonian late Thursday, Portland Mayor Sam Adams said he would release a statement today saying he will suspend his support for a bridge of up to 12 lanes, a compromise deal he helped write with Vancouver Mayor Royce E. Pollard in February. That deal helped get Portland City Council agreement for a bridge of up to 12 lanes, something Vancouver wanted in exchange for its support of Portland’s much-desired light rail extension across the bridge.
“I’ll respect the will of the voters in Vancouver and Clark County on light rail,” Adams said. “I just want to make it real clear: No tolls, no bridge. No light rail, no support from me on the Columbia River Crossing.”
Translation: there will be no “grand compromise,” and there likely won’t be a new bridge. At least that’s how I see it. They’ll fool around eliminating interchange improvements and such, but this thing has been leaking water for quite a while, and that’s a shame. Hooking Clark County up to Portland’s already extensive light rail system would be a forward thinking and perhaps vital transportation achievement for the region, especially when oil prices skyrocket again.
As The Oregonian article notes, possible tolls on a new span have become a hot issue in the race for Vancouver mayor, which pits long-time incumbent Royce Pollard against sitting council member and developer-toady Tim Leavitt.
A lot of folks bemoan the duplicity of politicians, so it’s kind of demoralizing to see Pollard receiving such a strong challenge mainly because Leavitt has seized upon populist opposition to tolls to advance his campaign, while Pollard has been intellectually honest about them for years. With state and federal transportation funds drying up, it does seem wildly unlikely a new bridge will be built without them.
I’ve long held that tolls should only be used for construction and maintenance costs, not “traffic demand management,” as a recognition that the public might see TDM as unfairly punitive to low and moderate income folks. Tolling bridges to pay for construction costs is such a common practice historically that you kind of wonder why anyone would even question it, other than this region has little experience with tolls compared to the east coast and midwest.
So here we are about one year after the worst financial shock since the Great Depression, with the official unemployment rate in Clark County at 13.9%, and we can’t build a bridge. What should have happened, of course, was that construction should have started on Jan. 30, and as thousands of construction jobs were created the regional economy would have received a tremendous boost; a jump-start if you will.
That’s not realistic, as it would have taken longer even if any kind of decision had been made, but really. Enough is enough. The region needs to have the I-5 spans replaced, and woe to the region if Leavitt unseats Pollard and has to stick to his anti-tolling position.
Our ancestors built the Golden Gate bridge, essentially putting their own homes at risk to finance it, in the midst of the Depression, but that was another time and place. We can’t build any bridges now, over water, over land or to the same definition of reality.
The ultimate irony to me, as someone who fought for better school funding and for making developers pay their fair share during the housing bubble, is that the nihilistic approach would be to oppose any new bridge, because as congestion continues to mount fewer people will want to endure the hassle of commuting from Clark County. The existing spans become, in effect, a de facto toll measured in hours wasted, which will mean fewer jobs and fewer houses in Clark County.
But silly me, I hope to have a vital, functioning economy in this region for my kids to enjoy, and a big part of that is making sure goods and people can be transported smoothly back and forth across the river, and the current spans simply aren’t up to the job.