NO CLIMATE? NO BRIDGE.
Have you heard about ODOT’s Interstate Bridge Replacement Program?
You probably know the freeway expansion by its former name, the Columbia River Crossing. The CRC was not a bridge replacement, but rather a proposed $5 billion, five mile, twelve lane freeway expansion in Oregon and Washington that just so happened to also cross a river. The project was notorious for cost overruns, outright deceptions and lies from the agencies and politicians supporting it, and it lined the pockets of egregiously overpaid consultants who ultimately ended up building nothing. After over a decade of trying (and spending $200 million on planning), the project was abandoned, in part due to the tenacity of advocates on each side of the river.
Well, in the past few years, ODOT and WSDOT are making an effort to revive this project. And despite the flowery rhetoric, as BikePortland recently reported, every single one of the proposed options for the IBR that have so far advanced include a full ten lanes of freeway, and only minor commitments to transit or pricing. The project – already a financial and climate disaster even by the standards of 2012 – is even more shocking to see proposed a decade later, in a year in which every elected official claims they care about Building Back Better with climate-smart infrastructure. And while they claim its just ten lanes, with the CRC, the two state highway departments lied about and concealed the fact that they planned a bridge structure widen enough for a 12-lane freeway. Sound familiar?
To be clear, No More Freeways agrees that we need better transportation options across the Columbia River. It’s important to maintain important and seismically vulnerable structure. WDOT’s own studies show the bridge can be brought up to current seismic standards for about the same cost as demolishing it. The daily congestion and the air pollution it causes should be addressed with pricing in a way that minimizes traffic, not maximizes revenue for ODOT. Transit expansion should be prioritized in funding and policy with any proposed expansion, including looking at options to invest in high speed rail or commuter rail using the BNSF bridge downstream. Now is the time to take a fresh and full look at a much wider range of alternatives, such as the Common Sense Alternative, which could be implemented much more quickly, at much lower cost and provide enormous transportation benefits while not increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There’s mind boggling potential to create tens of thousands of jobs, lower carbon emissions, empower communities with transit options, and address congestion through smart policies and investment.
Unfortunately, ODOT is doing none of these things, instead spending over $5 million on communications and PR alone to try and fool the public while proposing essentially the exact same failed plans for a massive freeway expansion, with microwaved, leftover blueprints from ten years ago. If you’d like more information on all the ways the Columbia River Crossing 2.0 is the same disaster as the previous proposal, you should definitely check out Joe Cortright’s run down in City Observatory.
Local elected officials have an opportunity to demand that ODOT study an iteration of this proposal that does not increase carbon pollution. We could be building a true replacement for the existing bridge that invests in transit, congestion pricing, and high speed rail and doesn’t increase capacity for more cars – but curiously, ODOT and WSDOT won’t commit to studying any iteration that deviates much from the original failed CRC plans from ten years ago. And they won’t study iterations that only have the existing six lanes of freeway.
Fortunately, Metro has an opportunity to demand that ODOT prioritize climate investments – and can withhold money if the agency doesn’t comply.
And we need your help to give the Metro Council the guts to do just that.
No Climate? No Bridge.
This month, the Metro Council will vote on whether or not to amend the MTIP, which would include allocating an additional $35 million from Metro to the Interstate Bridge Replacement. Metro Council President Lynn Peterson and Jo Ann Hardesty have already voiced their concerns about the project’s lack of focus on climate; a coalition of advocates (including No More Freeways) echoed these sentiments in a letter sent last week.
Metro could withhold this money until ODOT pledge to study an alternative of this project that would be carbon neutral by ensuring that the new bridge does not induce more driving. This would be consistent with the position that Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González took this summer, when he pledged to vote against any further freeway expansion. The Metro Council has already expressed significant skepticism for this proposal, in a work session as recently as this past month.
No Climate? No Bridge.
The Metro Council needs to hear from you: can they call themselves climate leaders while giving ODOT money to move forward with freeway expansions?
Please email your Metro Council, and help share our content. In your testimony, mention your name, what Metro District you’re in (look it up here), feel free to share your personal story why you care about stopping freeway expansions. Do you have a story about climate anxiety? Do you want to see investments in better transit instead? Are you worried about air pollution throughout N/NE Portland that will come with widening I-5? Do you want to see funding instead spend on ODOT’s numerous other dangerous arterials, including TV Highway, 82nd Avenue or McLoughlin?
As ODOT gears up to receive over a billion dollars from the recently passed federal Infrastructure Bill, it’ll be incumbent upon all of us to persuade local, regional, and statewide leadership to demand that every dollar ODOT spends is in accordance with our climate, equity, health, and congestion relief goals. This represents the first opportunity for freeway fighting advocates to loudly demand the Metro Council hold the line with ODOT on climate.
WE NEED YOU TO TELL METRO TO STAND UP TO ODOT:
NO CLIMATE, NO BRIDGE.
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