As the supporters of the Columbia River Crossing boondoggle start to edge toward the exits (State Senator Lee Beyer, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is the latest, reports Willamette Week), it's time to reflect on why this project failed -- or, more exactly, why the expensive planning, networking, and lobbying effort to build this project failed. I have some thoughts.
1. The planners set out on their trip without having a destination in mind. Along the way they fell into detours to look for an iconic bridge design, arguments about whether the replacement bridge would have twelve lanes, or ten lanes, or eight lanes, or six, and an eleventh-hour realization that the bridge as designed would be too short for three major users of the river and the federal government.
2. Portland's insistence that the bridge include light rail, and refusal to compromise even as the highway component shrank from 12 lanes to a bridge no larger than the current bridges, turned Vancouver's and Olympia's mild support into active opposition, and persuaded the Washington legislature to direct its funds somewhere else.
3. The overblown propaganda in support of the bridge ("The current bridge is the only stoplight between Canada and Mexico," for example) eventually backfired, and brought the public around to doubt the more sober statements from the CRC backers.
4. As the bridge backers, under fire, shrank the bridge from 12 lanes to 6, and continued to argue that the current bridge doesn't have enough capacity to serve demand, the public rightly noted that it doesn't make sense to spend $3.5 billion to replace two functional three-lane bridges with one functional six-lane bridge.
5. And finally, the reason for the title of this post, is that the political insiders on the Oregon side who were pushing for the CRC listened only to the views of the elected officials in Vancouver, and took them as representative of the views of the Clark County public, in much the same way that the United States in 1977 assumed that because the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Pahlavi, was friendly to the United States, the Iranian people were also.
I think that the public would have supported, and even possibly been willing to pay for, an 8-lane fixed bridge with 135-foot high water river clearance that passed over Hayden Island without direct access and did not include light rail tracks. Alternatively, I think the public would have chipped in to rebuild the railroad bridge to raise it about 30 feet, which would cut out 90% of the lifts of the freeway bridges, and put light rail tracks on the railroad bridge. I also think that the more sensible of our local politicos will be happy to wait 8 or 10 years before they touch this issue again.