CRC update: Kitzhaber drops “CRC” moniker, activists heat up

CRC update: Kitzhaber drops “CRC” moniker, activists heat up

John Kitzhaber acceptance speech-2

CRC? Never heard of it.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Controversy and opposition has dogged the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project for many years. That controversy — along with a daunting price tag estimated at $4 billion — has made it extremely difficult for politicians to vote in support of funding the five-mile freeway widening and interchange building mega-project.

Now, with increasing pressure to move forward after several years and over $100 million spent on planning, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber has teed up a bill (H.B. 2260) in in the legislature that would make the project an official state priority and would give the state authority to raise revenue through tolling (something they’ll desperately need to come up with Oregon’s $450 million (without interest on bonds or cost overruns) share of the project). But, as the Willamette Week pointed out yesterday, there’s one thing missing from the bill: the Columbia River Crossing.

Project rendering shows scale of just one part of the proposed highway expansions. But pay this no mind, it’s just a “bridge replacement project.”

Instead of the name the project has been known by since Day One, the Governor refers to the project in the bill text as, “The Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program.” Here’s more on the name change from the Willamette Week:

“The rebranding surfaced at the Oregon Leadership Summit in December, when the Oregon Department of Transportation handed out buttons with an I-5 highway sign and the motto “Build That Bridge.”

Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), chairman of the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee and a strong supporter of the project, says the new name is aimed at clarity, not shaking off controversy.

“What I’ve found is, that name ‘CRC’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything to people,” Read says.”

(Interestingly, Metro also used the “replacement Interstate 5 bridge” term in a story about the project on January 7th. That wording earned them some quick criticism from several people via Twitter.)

This name change is troubling to me on several levels. First, it seems like an obvious move to confuse the public and cleanse some of the toxicity around this project. I’m not sure who Rep. Read talks to, but I think the vast majority of people in this region are aware of what the “CRC” is and that moniker is arguably more descriptive than “The Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program.” And secondly, the new name is simply (purposefully?) misleading.

While project staff and boosters want everyone to think this is just about replacing an old bridge, the reality is that the bridge is a relatively minor portion of the project. Estimates put the cost of the bridge replacement at just $800 million. The real money is in the massive new highway interchanges that must be renovated and/or built. Estimates put the highway elements of the project at $3 billion. The highway expansion and new interchanges on the Vancouver side alone will cost about $800 million.

Project backers seem to understand that selling the public, politicians, and the media on “a new bridge” is much more palatable then selling five miles of wider and louder freeway expansions that will lead to even more tailpipe emissions right in our backyards. If this was just a bridge replacement project, it would likely have been done by now. It’s the massive highway and interchange elements that will cost the most money and do the most damage to our way of life.

It’s a point activists have been trying to hammer home for years…

Regardless of what CRC supporters in Salem call the project, it’s future looks no brighter than it has in recent months. The outlook for the project from Washington is getting worse by the day. And, even with a sense of urgency to move forward this session, activists are heating up to make sure it goes nowhere.

On Friday, February 1st, political action committee Bike Walk Vote (who supported mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith in large part because of his opposition to the CRC) is hosting an event dubbed, We Can Do Better: A night of information & democratic action to stop the CRC. The event will be a chance to learn more about “the realities of the CRC,” get an update on where it stand in the legislature and take action. Volunteers plans to kick-off a statewide letter-writing campaign aimed at “flooding the mailboxes of our representatives.”

The forces working to push the CRC along are powerful; but there are also many forces pushing back. 2013 will likely be defined as the year we find out which side is stronger.

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