This post written by No More Freeways co-founder Chris Smith.
You can also read it on BikePortland. Please share widely!
Fighting freeway expansion is a marathon, not a sprint, but right now we need to sprint to Salem.
Longtime advocates who have followed our freeway fights know that a decade ago we battled the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) to a standstill, only to have the freeway lobby shift their expansion efforts south to Rose Quarter. While ODOT is still grappling with trying to find a design that satisfies multiple stakeholders (and fill a $1 billion funding hole), expansion advocates have revived the CRC with the Orwellian name of the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR).
The IBR project team is more sophisticated than a decade ago; they’ve already spent something on the order of $10 million on greenwashing communications pushing their narrative that we have to replace this bridge before it collapses in an earthquake (and inflation drives the price tag up even further) while soft pedaling the five miles and seven interchanges of freeway expansion that are not related to the seismic concerns of the existing span.
But our side has also gotten more sophisticated. No More Freeways is part of the 33-member Just Crossing Alliance (JCA) to make sure that an eventual bridge replacement is centered in environmental and climate justice. JCA members truly do want to see the existing bridge replaced, but only with a right-sized bridge with excellent transit options that doesn’t include billions of dollars of wasteful spending on additional freeway interchange expansions. We fear that without significant oversight from the Oregon Legislature, ODOT and the IBR team will stumble forward with a bloated, massively oversized project that will once again fail to deliver a new bridge because of agency hubris, exorbitant cost overruns, and numerous forms of likely litigation related to the Coast Guard’s concerns and advocates’ insistence ODOT’s freeways pass basic scrutiny of environmental law.
Virtually every major ODOT project in the past twenty years has gone substantially over budget, robbing the state of billions of dollars we need for other crucial statewide transportation investments.
Here’s why we need your support right now.
The current center of the battle is legislation to provide Oregon’s “down payment” of $1 billion on the $7.5 billion project. The imaginative proposal from the Joint Transportation Committee: borrow it from future General Funds (the ones that pay for housing, education, health care) and future gas tax and vehicle registration fee revenue (when ODOT already says it cannot maintain the roads adequately). In other words, we’ll force our kids to pay for it, while neglecting to fund the basic road safety, climate, seismic and maintenance initiatives that we should pay for ourselves at present to prepare for our children’s future.
The JCA believes that the Oregon Legislature should honor their obligation to financial stewardship of the state’s limited resources by only providing funding with stipulations directing ODOT to right-size this proposal. The legislature has the power of the purse string to put specific guardrails on this project to demand ODOT explore options like a lift bridge or a tunnel that would significantly reduce costs and project bloat, ensuring Oregon has the resources we need in the years ahead for the substantial investments in transit, passenger rail, street safety and maintenance across the state. This financial commitment from the state will allow ODOT to continue to pursue federal funding to assist with this project and keep the IBR on schedule without committing to the disastrously oversized project as currently proposed, along with its attentive cost overruns.
Join Just Crossing Alliance in Salem on April 13
The 33 member organizations of the Just Crossing Alliance will be in Salem next week for a Day of Action on April 13th showing legislators there’s a more responsible path to ensure this bridge gets built to our community standards without bankrupting the state. We’ll be focusing on our Right Size, Right Now campaign with our SAFER platform:
- Size Matters
- Fund Transit & Safe Bike, Walk, and Roll
- Environmental Justice
- Resilient to Earthquakes
We’re a people-powered campaign and we need you to join us. You can help by:
This is the most significant opportunity for us to demonstrate to legislators across the state that Oregonians are eager to support good transportation investments that don’t bankrupt the state, don’t fry the planet, and don’t fill our communities with air pollution. Can you join us?
Many community advocates will be taking the 7am Amtrak Bus leaving Union Station. Tickets still available – come ride down with us!