Columbia River bridge not dead yet

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By GENE H. McINTYRE

If former President Ronald Reagan were alive today and living in Oregon, he’d likely say something like, “There you go again!” A comment like that from him now would be in reference to the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) as was planned between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., to replace the Interstate 5 bridge.  It is, one might say, currently in a state of moribund.

But wait! Hold on! We learn now that the proposed bridge is not so dead after all.  The governors of Washington and Oregon see their business and industry pals as cashing in on it, beyond the cost of planning with anticipated “thank you” political donations.  So, yes, of course, they continue to be in favor of building it.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has a lot on his plate now. He has turned the bridge project over to the his head of the CRC intergovernmental affairs and government relations, Patricia McCaig, a person who may have a lot at personal financial gain at stake in this matter.  After all, she is under ethics complaints for incurring a conflict of interest and failing to register as a lobbyist in Salem, which—surprise!— she denies.

More than $170 million has already been spent planning for the CRC and there are those who don’t want to see that money “wasted.”  But that money has already been spent (wasted?) as the “last” design, before Washington state’s Senate said, “No!” was vetoed by the U.S Coast Guard due to its height limitations for river traffic.

Then, too, there are the dedicated opponents on the Washington side who do not want light rail connections with Portland. They simply want to keep Washington state residents from using greater convenience to access Portland businesses and sales-tax-free large-scale shopping centers.  Keep them shopping in Washington is thought to be their mantra.

I view the replacement bridge, if one is to be built at all, alongside the current bridge, as a dumb idea.  Why? Because, as the population grows, and you know it will because the northwest U.S. remains, due to the slings and arrows of global warming, one of a few nice (and safe) areas left to live in this country, it will continue to direct north-south I-5 traffic into downtown Portland with even greater traffic gridlock and the spitting-out of unnecessary cancer-causing pollutants into Portland, a city by 2010 census of 583,778 Oregonians.

In other words, like Interstate 205  to the east, there ought to be built an over-the-Columbia-pass to the west of the current Interstate 5 bridge that would funnel traffic outside Portland’s city limits.  Also, it could be designed to access Highway 30 and more direct travel to Oregon and Washington coastal communities.

What’s going on though is that this CRC thing has a lot of Oregon politicians and business/industry people licking their lips over loose public money and the chance to steer it into private pockets.  This is what this matter is really all about.  Washington state legislators see it as a chance for some Oregon folks to line their wallets and that their taxpayers would pay half the cost but probably get much less than half of the profits from it.

It has been reported that 79 supporters of a somewhat revised CRC have written a letter to Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to which the governors have favorably responded.  It reads in part that “for the city of Vancouver and the state of Oregon, this project is our economic lifeline to a future of possibilities.  Without it we are hamstrung at every turn and our region will be trapped by traffic.  Retaining businesses that depend on freight movements will be difficult, recruiting new businesses and industry will be next to impossible.”

This is hogwash.  If there is money to be made anywhere in America, business and industry interests will find a way to deal with every and all contributing factors.  Never forget that in these United States, outside of blood relations, it has been proven time and time and time again that the making of money and the use of the power it wields are this nation’s most cherished value and where there is any way at all to make it, our citizens will find it—with or without a new bridge from Portland to Vancouver.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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