Columbia River Crossing, The Bridge To Bankruptcy

by lewwaters

Bridges almost always end up with nick names as taxpayers cast aside the official designated name and express their views of them through locally attached names. We saw that with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge nicknamed “Galloping Gertie” due to peculiar gyrations and pitching those crossing experienced before it collapsed in a wind storm just 4 months after it opened in November 1940.

Sometimes the name is complimentary, such as “The Bridge of the Gods” up by Cascade Locks and sometimes the name expresses disgust at a high cost that isn’t justifiable, such as Alaska’s Gravina Island Bridge nicknamed “A Bridge To Nowhere” since it was projected to cost $398 million to connect Ketchikan with Gravina Island, a small community of about 50 people and a small single runway airport, accessed by ferry in about 7 minutes.

Locally, we have the Columbia River Crossing seeking to replace the aging but serviceable spans of the I-5 Bridge across the Columbia River connecting Washington and Oregon that with the forced inclusion of extending Portland’s financially troubled Max Line light rail a short distance into Vancouver is projected to cost about $4 Billion, before figuring in interest on bonds and the to be expected cost overruns. Once those are added, it is estimated to cost upwards of $10 Billion or more.

Saying the project is contentious is an understatement as it has been brought up in every political campaign for a number of years now. Current Vancouver mayor, Tim Leavitt campaigned heavily on not tolling residents for the bridge project, only to totally reverse his stand almost as soon as he was announced the winner. Our nickname for him now is “Tim ‘the liar’ Leave-it,” indicating how Vancouver citizens are disgusted with him and want him to leave office.

“Studying and planning” for the replacement since 1999, over $140 Million has been sunk into the insatiable abyss of the CRC with a recent approval of an additional $28 Million.

An independent audit of the finances of CRC raised several questions with no answers forthcoming from elected officials. Some, like Democrat 49th legislative district representative Jim Moeller choose to ignore questionable finances as he stated, “In a project of such huge scale and complexity, at least some errant billing and bookkeeping is inevitable.”

Such a dismissive attitude from an elected official over poorly kept books on over $140 Million of our taxes is completely unacceptable.

Since the release of Tiffany Couch’s independent forensic audit of CRC finances, our local paper of record, the Columbian has treated us to a series of articles and columns very favorable to the CRC. They have been favorable all along to the project, but the damning audit seems to have brought out a few more articles in rapid succession than previously seen.

We see CRC Ponders Slimmer Plan, an effort to convince taxpayers the project is being slimmed down to become more affordable. Portland, Oregon’s newspaper of record, also favorable to the project tried floating the same canard days earlier with Columbia River Crossing officials suggest significant downsizing to trim $650 million from the controversial project.

Portland, Oregon’s Willamette Week puts that erroneous notion to rest with their article, Still Big, Still Costly.

The Columbian also treated us to an op-ed by the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Paula Hammond, 4 key reasons why CRC needs to move ahead to follow the Oregonian’s It’s time to invest in a bridge.

We also saw Economic groups urge lawmakers to find dollars for CRC informing us of three self identified “community leader” groups, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Columbia River Economic Development Council and Identity Clark County penning a letter to the Washington legislature urging them to “just find the money” to build this monstrosity.

Bear in mind, this at a time Clark County is entering the 4th year of double digit unemployment, schools around the state failing, the state facing a $1.5 Billion budget gap, the city of Vancouver having to beg for federal grant to reopen and man a fire station and Vancouver losing the fifth most jobs as a percentage in the nation!

All along supporters of plunging more of our dwindling tax dollars down the dark bottomless hole of the CRC rely on scare tactics, claiming how “unsafe” the bridges are should an earthquake hit our region. At time they sound as if the bridges face eminent collapse just from normal daily use, which is far from true.

As seen in Interstate Bridges good for 60 more years, says Oregon website, Oregon Department of Transportation official stated back in 2005, after an electrical upgrade and inspection of the bridge, “With ongoing preservation the bridges can serve the public for another 60 years.”

It should be pointed out that the two spans of the Interstate Bridge, the northbound opened in 1917 and the southbound span opened in 1958, and seeing an estimated 130,000 crossings daily (2006) are not the oldest bridges in the country.

New York’s Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 and sees an estimated 124,000 crossings daily.

The main problem with the Interstate Bridge is that it is a drawbridge to accommodate river traffic, which causes delays to Interstate 5 travel when it is opened. Daily morning and evening back-ups, although blamed on the bridges, is actually due to poor freeway design through Portland, Oregon, something they remain reluctant to upgrade.

Only recently have some elected officials even questioned the financial effects businesses downtown will incur during the expected 10 years of construction. CRC only replies, “we’ll handle it,” with no indication of how. Increased congestion during construction is also not being addressed.

Indicative of how the project has been managed in the over 10 years it has been wasting our tax dollars, it was only recently revealed that some businesses may be razed to accommodate constructing 3 parking garages where those driving into downtown to catch the light rail component would park their cars “for free” at taxpayer expense, who will also be footing the cost to operate and maintain the light rail as well as construction of it.

That voters declined the expansion of light rail from Portland into our community 3 times now, once directly and twice indirectly, had no affect on elected official who simply ignored the voters’ voices and approved it on their own.

The Alaska Bridge to Nowhere came under congressional fire and the federal earmarks to pay the bulk of it were cancelled in 2005. It was used as political tool to bludgeon 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin over the head with.

Other than half-hearted tries to bring the light rail component to a vote, most likely within a gerrymandered sub-district instead of the whole county, it remains primarily citizens and taxpayers screaming over financial hardships this project will place on the backs of everyday citizens in Clark County.

How else can we really describe this project except as a “Bridge to Bankruptcy?”

33 Comments to “Columbia River Crossing, The Bridge To Bankruptcy”

  1. Lew, You did a great job of concluding the whole process that I have seen since 2007-08 til what is currently going on now.

    Thank you for taking the time to write a such a wonderful piece.

  2. Great Article Lew!!!. Please allow me to add
    a few facts. Based on information provided to me by the CRC, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request, the total numer of dollars picked from our pockets is 207 million dollars. And as far as I can tell that does not include the 50 million that that “Gavel Down Harris” thanked “Ear Mark Queen” Patty Murray for bringing to the table.

    What is even more disturbing is, as I have been informed by several politicians, they have no idea where the money is coming from and how it is being spent.

    And so it goes

  3. If you want to see WHERE the CRC is going, watch the 42 mins of the state house transportation committtee meeting from February 6, 2012.


    And yes, Larry you should watch this too! 🙂 You might need some more ammo to load into your email missives and blog?

  4. I’m just adding a small note to my above post. I mean watch the from 0 to 42 minutes. the state tolling authority, jim moeller, paula hammond & nancy boyd. A few other testify…

    But I think I might even scoop the Columbian and 🙂 or is this a repetitious problem?

  5. It’s easy to scoop The Columbian. They can’t see through their blinders.

  6. I intently watched the Jim Moeller, Paula Hammond and Nancy Boyd show for more than 50 minutes. With the exception of the issue on actually collecting the tolls, it was nothing more than rehashing the same old CRC party line. They must have the words they repeatedly use tattooed on their brains.

    But the explanation of how to actually collect the tolls got me to thinking.

    It was made quite clear that if by some miracle they ram this boondoggle down our throats, there will not be any booths to collect the tolls. All tolls would be collected electronicaly from those who have the electronic devices. For those that do not have the device, photo’s of their licence plates (some states don’t have two plates) will be taken and they will be sent a bill.

    Since one of the main reasons for tolling the bridge is to collect from those thousands of other state/ international travelers who would other wise be crossing the Light Rail Platform FREE I have a question?

    How big will our toll collection agency grow and how many people is it going to take and how much is it going to cost to contact every other state in the Union plus Canada and Central America to track down and bill those hundreds of thousands of driver that cross over the Light Rail Platform without an electronic toll collection device.

    Just a thought.

    And so it goes

  7. I posted that link Larry because I had not heard a lot of what was said. Now you are more in tuned to the sway of the CRC project, where I took a year or so off.

    From the link, they were saying that they were going to use the Washington state tolling system that they are using on the Tacoma Narrows and recently, the Highway 520 bridge system. Probably into the future, they will also be doing the Interstate 90 bridge and future transportation projects.

    The reason I posted that link, is not everyone is intune with what is going with the CRC project. Unless you breathe, eat and sleep it as some in our community do, I believe that people should have a chance to keep up-to-date with what is going on. Though that link is now about a week old.

    Ann Rivers also added a piece to that legislation that will not allow I-205 to be tolled. But it could be removed by legislative prerogative before the piece of legislation to the governor for signature.

    And to your final comment about them ramming it down our throats, I suspect that since this process has been going on for nearly 20 years that it would take a hail mary pass from the creator to stop it. Honestly, I moved on a year ago after dealing with this project almost nightly for fifteen years and never saw fruit bearing for my efforts go anywhere. Its a waste in effort in my opinion to continue fighting it.

    But everyone has their right to opinion and prerogative on this subject. And if things go as I have seen with with Tim Leavitt’s ideas about making the future vote “advisory only” do you think they are going to care about the outcome? If its advisory only, it will have NO teeth to kill the light rail portion of this bridge. The local politicians will simply just look the other way as it moves forward….

    If for some reason it does get voted down by the new bounds of the the TDB, which will basically be the City of Vancouver or downtown Vancouver only, do you really THINK the interests are going to take that lightly? Believe me, they are planning for every contingency and if they have to just minorly change a few “words” in some contract or redefine the Light Rail portion as “infrastructure” integral to the bridge like Paula Hammond suggested about a few years ago? And it would be paid for with tolls as a possibility?

    *sigh* I can go on and on but *IS* this the biggest fight I want to see happen in Clark County. Are the up-and-coming storm water regulations coming down to the county and city going to be more onerous than this bridge?

    Larry, if you want a real fight, those rules will BE a LOT more expensive to your pocket book than this fantasy bridge to nowhere. Do a little research on it….

  8. I’m sure there will be ways to “hack” the toll business just as there were ways to avoid the toll when the 2nd bridge was built. In fact, lots of people regularly paid no toll.

  9. Jack, in every sense of the word there probably is. And at some point, someone will get caught and prosecuted for not paying the tolls. There will always be ways to cheat a system. I watched a lot of this in the tech industry and they called it “innovation.”

    I suspect that they will start using some form of measurement system to check for fraud or people crossing the river and not paying. They are going to use license plate readers, though I know a few ways that I won’t suggest to get around this really nice options. 🙂

    They may even put state patrol on the Oregon state side or take pictures of people driving and someone will get charged.

    I do believe WASHDOT and ODOT will have some form of financial loss or percentages built into the financial model they are going to use for the tolling system bonds that will sold some time this fall. Any loss is either going to have to made up by commuters paying a HIGHER variable toll to cover the people who don’t pay or the states of Oregon and Washington will have to cover it.

    IN my own opinion, the feds are not going to pay 100 percent of this bridge. That is why the tolling authority and implementation is being put on this new bridge.

    And those who squirm or scream, that we don’t need a bridge, you have made the valid points plain and simply. I just don’t think many of the local politicians care or are listening.

  10. Jeremy and Jack,

    Gentleman I agree with both of you and I thoroughly undrstand the problems that are involved in collecting the tolling dollars and the ways to circumvent the system.

    What I want to know, adding the CRC tolls to all the tolls being implemented in the nothern part of the state, and more to come, how big is the tolling branch of the transportation system going to grow and how many more government employees will be added to the continually growing transportation empire.

    After calculating all the admisistrative expenses, salaries, health and pension plans for the newly created tolling branch of the Transportation Department will tolling produce much of a profit without periodic increases of taxes and tolls?

    And so it goes

  11. It’s like any tax Larry, It will grow every year and never go away. Government has an insatiable appetite for other people’s money and is very out-of-control.

  12. And Jack that is why we voters need to re-establish term limits for all politician. If we vote out the incumbents often enough they may just come to the realization that we are still out here and want a voice in how, why, when, where and why our tax dollars are spent.

    And so it goes

  13. The CRC is all about the money.

    Leavitt : PBS Engineering will make millions off the project.

    Gathe: His wife, Wylie, a former paid lobbyist for C-Tran.

    Holmes: His former employer, MacKay and Sposito, will make millions as well.

    Burkman: A paid WSDOT consultant/employee.

    Stuart: His spouse, the Keep Clark County Moving PAC manager.

    They could all care less about the toll you’ll pay.

  14. Tolling also has far-reaching social engineering ramifications because it is essentially a limitation on movement. Tolling will Balkanize communities, and dampen our mobile workforce. A mobile workforce is the bane of unions and totalitarians everywhere because people & businesses can just up and leave if they don’t like what’s going on around them. The idiots who we elect to represent us are incapable of understanding what’s happening, nor do they have the intelligence to do anything about it.

  15. Actually Martin, I believe they do know what they are doing and it is all by plan.

    Don’t you notice the planned high density housing along the choo choo tracks?

    Pretty much as was seen in the Soviet Union and Eastern Germany long ago.

    The real idiots are those who keep returning these people to office.

  16. Lew, you must know a higher class of elected official if you think they have a plan.

  17. Martin, it doesn’t take much intelligence for empty suits to follow the orders of those behind them in the shadows.

  18. Lew, I AGREE with you on that… But who do you think is in the shadows? (Name some names, or at least give me a specific outline of who you think those people are?)

  19. I don’t necessarily have specific names, Martin, but suspect those promoting “social engineering” and owners of light rail manufacturers might be a good start.

    Then too, many leaders in the Democrat party are following someone as they continue to promote socialism and Marxism.

  20. Lew, I’m with you on “light rail manufactures.” In fact, that’s my point – if you put our inept politicians up against the highly competent and qualified business world – it’s been be a bloodbath.

    I don’t want this conversation drifting too far afield but Obama is having problems with the left because he is NOT a Progressive. However, I agree that the Democratic Party has been compromised by the Progressives.

  21. Lew and Martin

    Those pulling the puppet strings in Clark County are:

    a. Identity Clark County (Includes the Owner of the Columbian and several millionaire developers who just received Property Tax Breaks.
    b. Columbi River Economic Development Council.
    C. VAncouver Chamber of Commerce.

    If you look at their Rosters the same people are on all these decision making boards.

    And so it goes

  22. I tend to agree with Martin regarding Obama. I don’t think he’s a Progressive nor a Marxist of some sort. I think he’s a typical Democrat. He’s in the left spectrum of his party, and as such believes in a overly hefty dose of government intervention, but he’s also shown himself to be remarkably pragmatic when needed.

    As far as behind-the-curtain string pullers, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone who will look at it objectively. I don’t think it’s as much to do with corporate intervention as it has to do with social engineering. Oregon politicians ( okay, not all Oregon pols, mainly tri-county pols) believe that SW Washington residents are not properly educated regarding transportation issues in the region and have taken it upon themselves to train us – whether we want it or not. Washington pols like Leavitt, Pridemore, Moeller, etc. are going along for their own reasons (power, money, ego, political philosophy, etc.). The Queen Bee of ego gratification will continue to push this until she leaves office in 2013 – she’s probably angling for a job with the Obama administration.

  23. The biggest problem we face is getting people into government that have a few brains and some common sense. The current crop of Bozos is about as Left as they can get and about as dumb as a box of rocks.

  24. Craig,

    I beg to differ, First of all Barack Hussein Obama is not just another democrat he is a Marxist puppet controlled by those who have, since Roosevelt was in office, been trying to turn the USA into a socialist/communist state.

    As for the Local folks, I have been followig these rascals for more than 20 years, I have been to court with the city twice. I had an office set up for me in city hall to review documents when the Hilton Hotel was rammed down our throats. Another one is planned for me to review the CRC Document. In my learned opinion they are, if not corrupt, easily managed by the folks with the big bucks. When you get a chance take a look at who the members of Identity Clark County and the Columbia River Economic Development Council are, you will be shocked.

    To use some old but not worn out words. Follow the Money, but wait that is not all. Power is the new thing. Those sitting in their “cushioned seats of authority” cannot get enough of it.

    So I urge you not to forget these power hungry people who are dictating to us and indoctrinating our children are more than anything else, drunk with power.

    And so it goes

  25. In thinking about “tolls”, it dawns on me that there is one way that citizens can “recoup” some of the money they have to spend each day to commute to work in Peetown.

    We all know that Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax. And I think that a lot of Clarke County residents have gotten “passive” about making purchases in Oregon because of the inconvenience of running across the bridge just to save a few pennies.

    Well, sales taxes amount to more than a “few pennies” these days along with higher gasoline and tobacco taxes. Oregon also redeems bottles and cans, whereas Clarke County residents dump them into the trash or recycling and get nothing for them.

    The way for commuters to “recoup”, would be to plan ahead and do as much of their shopping and bottle-returning in Oregon as they can before they come home. I mean, they’re already there and have paid the “tolls”, so they might as well save those “pennies” in sales taxes before they come back home.

    It may not be as much as they spend on “tolls”, but I’ll bet that with careful planing one could save quite a bit of money that would otherwise have went to Washington State for stupid boondoggles.

    And I have a feeling that such a concerted effort would cost the State plenty, not to mention the “good feelings” one would derive from the “process”.

  26. Since the bulk of our population now is in east county, they can always jump across the 205 bridge, run up Marine Drive to Jantzen Beach an shop sale tax free.

    With cars getting so much better mileage, it might even pay for west county residents too.

    There is always more than one way to skin a cat 😉

  27. hahaha.. Great ideas guys. 🙂 But doesn’t the Washington and Oregon bottles and cans have different information on them to let the bottle system reject them? I mean reject the Washington bought ones…

  28. OH, one more things guys. There is a new $100 yearly fee just passed by the Washington state legislature. So no, this is the START on raising fees on electric and hybrid vehicles…..

    And then you can ADD a good number of tolls to drive to Seattle coming up within the next decade. 🙂 Yep, you just watch…..

  29. Most bottles & cans sold in Washington are Oregon redeemable as are the plasic water bottles. It’s amazing how all that stuff adds up, too.

    If all the commuters started now planning their “trips” in advance, they could get a “head start” on cutting their commuting “bills”, just as the State wants a “head start” on collecting the “tolls”. If you plan your grocery shopping, you could easily save $10 a trip.

    As I said, people have become lax about saving the sales tax money by shopping in Oregon. They’ve opted for the “convenience” of the local supermarkets.

    It’s time for a “re-focus” since the State is so “focused” on screwing the taxpayers out of more money fo a BS project.

  30. Jack, my goodness, don’t advertise that you break the law.

    First, you must pay USE TAX on anything you buy out of state. (Ask Gary Locke – remember, he was cited on a purchase from Hawaii.)

    Second, getting Oregon bottle deposit money from Washington bottles is also illegal.

    p.s. I have been cited, though not penalized, for both of these offenses.

  31. Martin, this is the age of the Tea Party. Piss on “laws”. Our government is totally tyrannical and way out of control.

  32. Jack, you can’t be critical of the Occupiers breaking the law if you think it’s okay.

  33. The “Occupiers” just look like stupid asses to most people, Martin. That’s because they’re IDIOTS.

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