Wednesday, March 07, 2012

CRC and WSDOT: Defending the Indefensible

After years of “studies” and planning, not to mention sinking nearly $150 Million of taxpayer money into the abyss we call the Columbia River Crossing project, revelations previously marginalized, if not hidden, seem to be coming forth in a rapid pace. By all appearances, more and more it shows that we “Hounds of Whinerville,” citizens and business owners who have spoken against this boondoggle have been largely correct in their warnings.

The appearance of gross incompetence of this project is almost unimaginable. That anybody would even attempt to defend this high level of incompetence is even more unbelievable. But, with every revelation that has come out, that is exactly what some elected leaders and directors of the WSDOT and CRC continue to do.

How can we forget the abysmal treatment of forensic accountant Tiffany Couch after her independent audit of what documents she received from CRC pertaining to the finances of the project raised several red flags? Questionable payments, unaccounted for funds, questionable accounting practices all swept under the rug as WSDOT used two of their top level people to review her findings before writing them off and claiming theirs was an “independent review.”

Tie that to the claims of 49th legislative district representative Jim Moeller who said of her findings, “In a project of such huge scale and complexity, at least some errant billing and bookkeeping is inevitable,” before demeaning Ms. Couch with, “I think that Tiffany is doing the job she was hired to do, and that’s stop the project” questioning her objectivity due to her being hired by successful businessman David Madore, a critic of the project.

But who questions Moeller’s “objectivity” what with the project being in his district?

We “Hounds of Whinerville” have long proclaimed the primary reason for the new bridge was in order for Portland, Oregon to invade our community with their light rail and we have been scoffed at every inch of the way by supporters, including Vancouver’s mayor, Tim Leavitt. So what was the reaction when the Willamette Week revealed that the Oregon Supreme Court acknowledged, “The massive Interstate 5 bridge and freeway project is a ‘political necessity’ to persuade Clark County residents to accept something they previously didn’t want -- a MAX light-rail line from Portland to Vancouver?”

It’s difficult to figure out as so far, it has not even been acknowledged by any supporters, including the Columbian newspaper.

Funding for the outrageously expensive project, the highest cost to date for any project in Southwest Washington State has been a bone of contention. In spite of opposition to tolling by taxpayers, the legislature is moving ahead with plans to begin tolling even before construction begins. C-Tran is moving ahead with plans to stick residents with even more sales tax to fund operations and maintenance of light rail and a Bus Rapid Transit project down Fourth Plain Boulevard that could cause many businesses to shut down while Mayor Tim Leavitt continues to renege on his word of opposing tolling and obtaining voter approval for further tax increases.

Revelations of wrong data being used for future projections of the ability to pay for this boondoggle are also ignored and marginalized as we see officials continue to seek other funding including restricting just who gets to vote for the proposed tax increase as they may once again gerrymander a tax sub-district, even though those outside the district would also have to pay the tax whenever they shop within the sub-district.

Even the revelation that Washington State will foot the cost fully for maintaining the bridge causes the blinders to go up higher.

Every step of the way we continue to see big problems, incompetence and inflated egos from those proposing and supporting this nonsense. But none yet have risen to the level of the recent revelation that after all of the years of supposedly planning and studying this albatross that has cost taxpayers $150 Million, a necessary permit for construction from the US Coast Guard was denied because the clearance from the river to the bottom of the bridge is too low!!

As can be expected and in further showing the sheer lunacy surrounding this project, CRC officials now criticize the Coast Guard claiming, “the USCG declined multiple opportunities to document any serious concerns regarding bridge clearance over a period greater than five years,” from CRC director Nancy Boyd.

First and foremost, it is not up to the Coast Guard to go to CRC to warn of such problems, it is incumbent upon the CRC to seek their counsel as planning is being done.

In the revelation of the proposed bridge having insufficient clearance for river traffic, we read of another report in 2008 noted “infrequent clearance needs of 100 to 110 feet by marine contractors, but the vast majority of vessels, tug and tow boats, tall sailing ships, cruise and passenger ships -- needed far less headroom.”

Even with the “infrequent need” clearance cited and remembering the new bridge will not be a draw bridge as currently spans the Columbia river, it is incomprehensible to then read, “There are no apparent significant adverse impacts from the (95 foot) vertical clearance” planned for the new bridge.

Are they planning on those “infrequent need” vessels to all be submarines?

But even beyond that, in a document supplied by the CRC and in their possession for 8 years, we read concerning the I-205 bridge just upriver from the I-5 crossing, “the height of the I-205 bridge from the river as 136 feet over the main stem channel. The center 300 feet of the bridge has a 144 ft clearance.”

What level of incompetence is it that knowing these bridges handles the same river traffic, that the new bridge was planned with less clearance?

Putting this huge mistake off on the Coast Guard is just another diversion to draw attention away from what has to be the highest level of incompetence since the “Whoops” fiasco of the early 1980’s.

It is time to bring this nonsense to a screeching halt. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler needs to demand an investigation into the goings on surrounding this project and full accounting of where nearly $150 Million has gone, followed by criminal prosecutions if warranted.

Then let’s start over and draw this out right, design something we actually need, will actually work and is affordable.

Enough is enough!

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