Friday, February 10, 2012

Columbia River Crossing, The Bridge To Bankruptcy

Bridges almost always end up with nick names as taxpayers cast aside the official designated name and express their views of them through locally attached names. We saw that with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge nicknamed “Galloping Gertie” due to peculiar gyrations and pitching those crossing experienced before it collapsed in a wind storm just 4 months after it opened in November 1940.

Sometimes the name is complimentary, such as “The Bridge of the Gods” up by Cascade Locks and sometimes the name expresses disgust at a high cost that isn’t justifiable, such as Alaska’s Gravina Island Bridge nicknamed “A Bridge To Nowhere” since it was projected to cost $398 million to connect Ketchikan with Gravina Island, a small community of about 50 people and a small single runway airport, accessed by ferry in about 7 minutes.

Locally, we have the Columbia River Crossing seeking to replace the aging but serviceable spans of the I-5 Bridge across the Columbia River connecting Washington and Oregon that with the forced inclusion of extending Portland’s financially troubled Max Line light rail a short distance into Vancouver is projected to cost about $4 Billion, before figuring in interest on bonds and the to be expected cost overruns. Once those are added, it is estimated to cost upwards of $10 Billion or more.

Saying the project is contentious is an understatement as it has been brought up in every political campaign for a number of years now. Current Vancouver mayor, Tim Leavitt campaigned heavily on not tolling residents for the bridge project, only to totally reverse his stand almost as soon as he was announced the winner. Our nickname for him now is “Tim ‘the liar’ Leave-it,” indicating how Vancouver citizens are disgusted with him and want him to leave office.

“Studying and planning” for the replacement since 1999, over $140 Million has been sunk into the insatiable abyss of the CRC with a recent approval of an additional $28 Million.

An independent audit of the finances of CRC raised several questions with no answers forthcoming from elected officials. Some, like Democrat 49th legislative district representative Jim Moeller choose to ignore questionable finances as he stated, “In a project of such huge scale and complexity, at least some errant billing and bookkeeping is inevitable.”

Such a dismissive attitude from an elected official over poorly kept books on over $140 Million of our taxes is completely unacceptable.

Since the release of Tiffany Couch’s independent forensic audit of CRC finances, our local paper of record, the Columbian has treated us to a series of articles and columns very favorable to the CRC. They have been favorable all along to the project, but the damning audit seems to have brought out a few more articles in rapid succession than previously seen.

We see CRC Ponders Slimmer Plan, an effort to convince taxpayers the project is being slimmed down to become more affordable. Portland, Oregon’s newspaper of record, also favorable to the project tried floating the same canard days earlier with Columbia River Crossing officials suggest significant downsizing to trim $650 million from the controversial project.

Portland, Oregon’s Willamette Week puts that erroneous notion to rest with their article, Still Big, Still Costly.

The Columbian also treated us to an op-ed by the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Paula Hammond, 4 key reasons why CRC needs to move ahead to follow the Oregonian’s It’s time to invest in a bridge.

We also saw Economic groups urge lawmakers to find dollars for CRC informing us of three self identified “community leader” groups, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Columbia River Economic Development Council and Identity Clark County penning a letter to the Washington legislature urging them to “just find the money” to build this monstrosity.

Bear in mind, this at a time Clark County is entering the 4th year of double digit unemployment, schools around the state failing, the state facing a $1.5 Billion budget gap, the city of Vancouver having to beg for federal grant to reopen and man a fire station and Vancouver losing the fifth most jobs as a percentage in the nation!

All along supporters of plunging more of our dwindling tax dollars down the dark bottomless hole of the CRC rely on scare tactics, claiming how “unsafe” the bridges are should an earthquake hit our region. At time they sound as if the bridges face eminent collapse just from normal daily use, which is far from true.

As seen in Interstate Bridges good for 60 more years, says Oregon website, Oregon Department of Transportation official stated back in 2005, after an electrical upgrade and inspection of the bridge, “With ongoing preservation the bridges can serve the public for another 60 years.”

It should be pointed out that the two spans of the Interstate Bridge, the northbound opened in 1917 and the southbound span opened in 1958, and seeing an estimated 130,000 crossings daily (2006) are not the oldest bridges in the country.

New York’s Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 and sees an estimated 124,000 crossings daily.

The main problem with the Interstate Bridge is that it is a drawbridge to accommodate river traffic, which causes delays to Interstate 5 travel when it is opened. Daily morning and evening back-ups, although blamed on the bridges, is actually due to poor freeway design through Portland, Oregon, something they remain reluctant to upgrade.

Only recently have some elected officials even questioned the financial effects businesses downtown will incur during the expected 10 years of construction. CRC only replies, “we’ll handle it,” with no indication of how. Increased congestion during construction is also not being addressed.

Indicative of how the project has been managed in the over 10 years it has been wasting our tax dollars, it was only recently revealed that some businesses may be razed to accommodate constructing 3 parking garages where those driving into downtown to catch the light rail component would park their cars “for free” at taxpayer expense, who will also be footing the cost to operate and maintain the light rail as well as construction of it.

That voters declined the expansion of light rail from Portland into our community 3 times now, once directly and twice indirectly, had no affect on elected official who simply ignored the voters’ voices and approved it on their own.

The Alaska Bridge to Nowhere came under congressional fire and the federal earmarks to pay the bulk of it were cancelled in 2005. It was used as political tool to bludgeon 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin over the head with.

Other than half-hearted tries to bring the light rail component to a vote, most likely within a gerrymandered sub-district instead of the whole county, it remains primarily citizens and taxpayers screaming over financial hardships this project will place on the backs of everyday citizens in Clark County.

How else can we really describe this project except as a “Bridge to Bankruptcy?”

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