Summary 12:35 pm— Whew, tense meeting. The points that stood out during the hour of public testimony and hour of bigwig debate are that the CRC made a big mistake rerouting the planned I-5 replacement on a course that demolishes Hayden Island's commercial core. Also, the decision makers on this seem to be split into two basic camps: Mayor Sam Adams and Metro President David Bragdon feel the project is not answering important questions about the bridge's environmental/community impact and also think the $2.6-3.6 billion budget is too big to actually ever fund. The other leaders involved in the project think the bridge is on track both in its goals and its budget and needs to move forward quickly to get off the ground and create jobs. The council, as I predicted, avoided an up-or-down vote on the bridge package and will pick up the discussion again at their meeting next month. NOW, back to the juicy details of the meeting... /end update
The big CRC showdown meeting this morning is off to a hot and fast start.
Anti-big bridge protesters packed the sidewalk outside the Port of Portland building behind a banner reading, “New CRC, Same Ol’ Problems.” The bigwig Project Sponsors Council discusses today whether to support $650 million in “refinements” to the I-5 replacement bridge project, but many environmentalists and at least two members of the Council think the project is headed in the wrong direction, cost cuts or no.
StoptheCRC.org activist Shannon Palermo opened a giant Christmas present on the street before the meeting as TV cameras swarmed. “What’s in this new package?” shouted Palermo, “Oh! It’s the same old thing!” Pulling out dozens of cardboard car cutouts, Palermo asked opposition members to wave the cars and their protest signs during the meeting.
But a security guard cut that short: no signs allowed inside, he said. “Isn’t it a public meeting?” asked Palermo. “Public meeting, private property,” he replied, turning away all those with signs.
OH SNAP! Below the cut: David Bragdon speaks from the heart, lame-duck Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard complains that Portland is foisting light rail on his city and Sam Adams worries that funding the CRC might mean no federal money for any other local transportation project for a very long time.
Looks like one of my predictions about this meeting is proving correct: the bigwig group will likely not take a vote up or down on the controversial new bridge package.
“My preference would be not to vote today and that allows for a different give and take to this meeting,” said Mayor Adams. “Given the significant cost and values associated with today, my preference would be to discuss, but not have the pressure of taking a vote today.”
“I didn’t expect we would vote today, so maybe we’re in agreement on that,” replied chair Henry Hewitt.
Planning Commissioner and transit activist Chris Smith noted that since the bridge project began four years ago, local governments have adopted strong goals on climate change, like Portland’s Climate Action Plan. “I don’t think there’s any way to get this refinement right when you’re not judging it against the right criteria,” said Smith, urging the council to request a new draft environmental impact statement.
Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocate Michelle Poyourow spelled out why her group became an opponent of the bridge after sitting in on its planning process for two years. The BTA wants a bridge with great walking and biking facilities that also fosters healthy, bikable communities on both sides of the river. “The CRC plan that you considered earlier this year failed on both counts. This current project also fails on both counts,” said Poyourow.
The main argument reiterated in favor of the bridge has been jobs, jobs, jobs. “The business community is behind you,” said Ginger Metcalf, representing the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. “The construction industry isn’t in a recession, it’s in a depression,” said a rep from the construction unions. “Every month that this project is delayed, there’s going to be more people who aren’t going to be able to make their COBRA payments, who will lose their health insurance.”
CRC project representative Patricia McCaig briefly addressed the heartfelt testimony from Hayden Island, noting that the CRC had worked with Hayden Island residents for years to create a plan for their community. “The refinements were hard for people to hear,” acknowledged McCaig. “But I think there is a growing appreciation for the benefits refinements will bring.”
“I think this is the catalyst to breathe life into Hayden Island,” said ODOT director Matt Garrett. “At ground zero we can grow and bloom a community.”
Mayor Adams and Garrett got into a bit of a disagreement about how fast the Council should move on the bridge project. Adams says he still has a lot of questions about the new plan and wants to stretch out the discussion until next month and hold more frequent meetings.
No big surprise, Garrett says he has a “sense of urgency” about the bridge and wants to get going ASAP. “I would not want to be caught on our heels. I think we should move the ball forward on this,” said Garrett.
Metro President David Bragdon piped up that he thinks moving the project forward will require creating a budget that can actually get funding. Or, in wonk-speak, “look at a budget in terms of fiscal capacity.” “There’s a lot of controversy in the region about what people here locally are willing to pay,” said Bragdon. “I think we need to have those conversations pretty quickly: what’s a realistic prospect in the Oregon legislature, what’s a realistic prospect in the Washington legislature?”
“Everybody seems to be kind of sitting on their hands,” griped Vancouver’s lame-duck mayor Royce Pollard. “You know, the Vancouver city council voted unanimously about a year ago for a 12-lane bridge. Anything other than a 12 lane bridge for the city of Vancouver is unacceptable.” The mayor went even farther. “Portland said we want light rail and tolls. You’re getting it. Vancouver said we want 12 lanes. What the hell do we get out of this deal?”
In a closing summation, Metro President David Bragdon didn’t mince his words: he believes the project has lost sight of its goals.
“I think the flaws in the refinement are the same underlying flaws in the project,” noted Bragdon. “In the case of Hayden Island, we’ve said repeatedly that we want to make a better community. And that objective was sacrificed very quickly. It makes me very nervous about the approach we’re taking… I cannot vote for any more blank checks on this project because, frankly, I’ve seen what happens. We ask for information and it’s not forthcoming.”
The audience at the back of the room broke into applause, but Chair Hewitt quickly replied, “I don’t see much benefit in debating the issues you have articulated.”
Adams picked up the discussion, saying he has come to fear trade-offs funding the CRC would bring on a federal level. Adams is afraid that if the feds allocate the money requested for this bridge, it means we might not get any funding for “any other transportation project in this region for a long time.”