Days before possible vote, Senators in the dark about CRC project

Days before possible vote, Senators in the dark about CRC project

“I have not seen any renderings at all, and yet I am going to be asked to vote on it.”
— Oregon State Senator Betsy Close

On Tuesday we pointed out that despite $170 million and years of planning the largest public works project in our state’s history, realistic visual representations of the Columbia River Crossing project are not available to the public. Detailed renderings showing the widened lanes on the freeway, interchanges, and the bridge deck — the type of imagery that’s standard practice across the country to illustrate proposed transportation projects — are not available on the official CRC project website. When asked repeatedly to see such images, CRC staff has shared only cartoon sketches and plan drawings buried in PDF documents.

Visualizations like this one created by
Wisconsin DOT (taken from a video animation
of a project) are standard practice for
major projects; but the CRC does not have them.

Given the powerful and ethically questionable lobbying going on behind this project, it appears this is not an oversight but rather willful deception by ODOT and CRC staff who want everyone to think this whole debate is simply about “building a bridge.” The politicians, lobbyists, and consultants pushing this project know that massive freeway expansion projects are not just an outdated way to manage a transportation system, they are also very unpopular with Oregonians — especially residents of the Portland region.

With a vote on the CRC bill (HB 2800) possible on Monday (3/4), I was curious if Oregon’s 30 senators have a good idea of what they’re voting on. Have they seen complete and realistic visualizations of the project? Or have they only seen the ubiquitous side-view of the new bridge design that ODOT and CRC staff prefer? I contacted each Senator and asked a simple question: Have you seen detailed visuals and renderings of the lane expansions and interchanges planned for the CRC project (besides the ubiquitous image of the new bridge)?

In the past few days, I heard back from seven Senators. Every one of them said they hadn’t seen such images. I’ve pasted each of their responses below:

Senator Betsy Close (R-Albany)

I have not seen any detailed visual renderings. I have not seen any renderings at all, and yet I am going to be asked to vote on it. I watched the hearings on TV and I testified there. I did not see any visual renderings there, either when I was in the committee personally or on TV while watching it in my office. They did provide me with a map of the area, a very nice map of the area that the existing bridge is in in the surrounding communities… My answer is no. I have not seen it. I don’t think anyone in our caucus has. Maybe Sen. Starr?”

Senator Brian Boquist (R-Dallas)

[I have] not seen any of the drawings in detail. [I’ve seen a] couple at a distance… The present bill is not friendly to my district so I’m a No vote.”

Senator Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland)

The answer to your question is no, I have not seen the rendering but I did not specifically ask for it. I can follow up with ODOT to see if they will send it to me… the photo that was delivered does not show the rendering but I did only asked for the aerial photo.”

Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene)

“I have not seen any “official” visual renderings, but I’m not on the committee. Further, I had not heard that the affected area was five miles in length. I’d be surprised to learn there were no visual renderings presented during the committee’s hearings. (There weren’t.) I have seen a friend’s mock up computer image he put together to show me an alternative bridge design.”

Senator Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls)

“I have neither seen nor been able to obtain anything other than vague conceptual renderings of the proposed bridge and interchanges. Our latest briefing were during the noon hour today when the presenter was unable to provide the requested visual renderings.

I have deep and ongoing concerns regarding the potential total cost of the project, the funding sources, and the detail of how the debt will be structured and how it will be repaid. The total cost appears to be limited in the proposed legislation but in my opinion that limit is not realistic because once the project is under construction it is highly unlikely that it will be abandoned due to cost overruns regardless of the total final cost.”

Senator Chip Shields (D-Portland)

Via his legislative aide:

“Sen. Shields has not seen a full design rendering. He thanks you for bringing this to our attention, and he has asked me to look into it…”

Note: When Sen. Shields’ office asked ODOT for some renderings, they brought over the same vague, cartoon sketches, images and overview drawings from their website that do not offer a realistic vision of the freeway proposal (images taken by Sen. Shields’ legislative aide):

Senator Mark Hass (D-SW Portland/Washington County)

“I probably don’t disagree with you. I’m a visual learner; but I haven’t been on the inside. I do share your sort of, curiosity about, why at this stage we don’t have some renderings? I’ll talk to Chip [Shields] and [Senator] Lee Beyer. You’ve piqued my curiosity.”

While I only heard back from seven of 30 Senators, they all reported that they haven’t seen complete and realistic renderings of the CRC project. That 7-0 record leads me to believe that many other Senators who didn’t respond would say the same thing. This seems like a big deal, given the fact that these elected officials could be asked as soon as this Monday (3/4) to move this project forward, potentially obligating Oregon to a $450 million loan that will cost $27 million a year for 30 years to repay.

Whether or not this purposeful deception makes Senators uneasy enough to vote against HB 2800 remains to be seen.

For background on this issue, read our story, Will the real CRC project please stand up?.


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